The School Year is Starting! (The School Year is Starting?) Drawing Inspiration from My Team

September 23, 2022

Welcoming Shabbat in my professional role looks very different from my previous Friday evening Shabbat practice! Our learners come together Friday afternoons for our Shabbat-based religious school program, and our weekly family Shabbat service is the cornerstone of each session. Our “Sunday school” is “Friday afternoon school.” Some parts of our program are very similar to Sunday religious school programs. We have classes that learn Judaics and Hebrew with teachers and madrichim, learners explore aspects of their Jewish identities from holidays to prayer to Jewish history to rituals. Our program, however, highlights a family Shabbat service as a communal worship experience instead of many supplementary religious schools’ Sunday morning tefilah.

For me, as the director of the program, the nervous anticipation of a religious school session, the rituals of drinking pre-religious school coffee and playing Jewish rock music to pump myself up, and the post-religious school adrenaline that I had at a Sunday morning program are all still there—but on Friday afternoons and evenings!

Like many educators, Jewish or secular, I’m having some trouble finding inspiration this year. Worries about Covid combined with the perennial stresses of enrollment and teacher hiring are daunting. Before writing this blog post, I turned to others in my MTEI Home Group. (Shout out to Barry’s Cohort 9 home group!) They are drawing inspiration from collaboration with local colleagues, intentional teachers who are thinking deeply, and families who are excited about creating community. But those are their sources of inspiration, not mine.

And then, there I was, interviewing a prospective teacher. I actually love interviewing candidates. I like learning about them, I like asking each candidate the same questions and seeing how they approach their responses differently. I like the puzzle of figuring out whether and how they might fit on my team. I like practicing the MTEI attuned listening skills that I’ve learned to bring to this task.

I asked this prospective teacher about what Jewish rituals they were bringing to their life now that they have their own apartment as an emerging adult. They thought for a moment and spoke beautifully about their Shabbat practice—resting in a way that feels authentic to them and appreciating k’lal Yisrael on Shabbat, that all of the people Israel are separating Shabbat from the week all over the world.

This sense of k’lal Yisrael and the prospective teacher’s recognition of this special shared experience moved me. I felt reinvigorated by their words, because sometimes in the midst of all of the details of leading and running a religious school program, I lose that sense of awe that this teacher holds so dearly to their Shabbat practice. It is amazing that Am Yisrael is welcoming Shabbat and separating it from their weeks!

I then shared with the candidate what one of my religious school teachers had told me last year: She loves coming to religious school on Friday because it’s a built-in transition from her work week into Shabbat. It doesn’t have the disappointment of leaving work and arriving at an empty apartment with a slump, or even the pressure of leaving work and arriving at a crowded social event. She describes it as a stepping stone from the mundaneness of her work week to the holiness of Shabbat.

I love this metaphor of a stepping stone to transition into Shabbat from her work week. I have shared it with parents to help them understand how to transition into Shabbat. I have used this metaphor with learners to help them understand how to get ready for Shabbat.

Drawing inspiration from this metaphor can help me transition into the school year, too. I get to help lots of learners and families welcome Shabbat into their lives each week. We sing songs, we light candles, we pray, we greet each other. With varying energy levels, differing amounts of Shabbat observance, and diverse Jewish backgrounds, we are all present to welcome Shabbat, together. And that is pretty amazing.