Parshat Ha'azinu 9/22/23
In Parshat Ha’Azinu, Moshe urges B’nai Yisrael to remember Hashem by asking their parents and grandparents about the past. They who witnessed the power, care, and mercy of Hashem, the One who created us, took us out of Mitzrayim and delivered us to Eretz Yisrael, will transmit to you their collective memory, through Torah, that He is just, righteous, fair, and rewards the good in all of us.
In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, memory plays an outsized role. While the exercise can be an uncomfortable or even painful one, we take inventory of our shortcomings over the past year. We have tried to be just, righteous, and fair, but surely, we made mistakes. We may have inadvertently caused harm and failed to acknowledge or make amends for it. Perhaps we weren’t even aware of the impact our actions or inactions on others.
Maybe we are still reliving the hurt a family member caused us and have had trouble letting it go. If so, are we allowing the emotional weight of those instances to shape how we perceive those people? What if the tables were turned? Would we want others to see us through the lens of our mistakes?
If you spent Rosh Hashana with your family, it is likely that stories from the past were retold. Depending on who told those stories, the facts may have varied widely, however conveyed with absolute certainty. In your family, like mine, maybe there is someone who confidently remembers events as they never were and steadfastly refutes evidence to the contrary.
Stories, it is said, take on a life of their own. Every time we recall an event, our brain reconstructs that event afresh: adding, subtracting, blending, and reordering details without our conscious awareness. Not only are we usually unaware of this memory mashup, but all too often our confidence in our recall is stronger than the factual basis for it. It feels real, so it must be.
By design, physiologically, memories are unreliable. They are not etched in stone. Every night as we sleep, our experiences during the day are revisited, and selectively stored for later recall or let go of. We store only that which has personal relevance, emotional significance, and which involves our senses and physical interaction. Emotion is key, as the events and information we remember are interpreted, shaped, and stored according to the emotions we experienced at the time.
Imagine having a conversation that leaves you feeling hurt or embarrassed. Perhaps the other person said something inadvertently insensitive without realizing how their comment would have affected you. Time goes by and this is still weighing on your mind to the extent that the memory has left an imprint on your relationship with that individual.
Is it time to let go of that memory, or is it time to sit down and talk about it so we can repair the relationship? If we choose the latter, with both of us openly sharing our memories and perspectives of the conversation, we may find that we each gain a new insight into the other that helps strengthen and renew our connection. That conversation, replayed in our mind numerous times, may have been amplified and distorted over time without our even realizing. It may be eye opening to find that what happened wasn’t exactly as we recall. (Of course, it is also possible that the conversation that was emotionally charged for us was not even stored as a memory for the individual for whom it was emotionally neutral.)
As part of the social-emotional learning at OCA, we teach our students how to talk through the inevitable hurts and misunderstandings of social relationships. Key to developing a resilient and healthy emotional life is learning to use language to express one’s feelings, develop the flexibility to see an event through the eyes of a peer, reframe events using these new insights and perspectives, and continually work on building positive relationships. Providing our students with the tools and practice in these essential skills is a daily component of school life that begins in the ECC and continues all the way through MS.
As we prepare for Yom Kippur, may we apply the lessons about memory to heal our relationships with others. May we, like Hashem, strive to remember one another for the good, just as how we would like others to remember us. G’mar chatima tova!
Parshat Nitzavim 9/08/23
By: Dr. Deborah Rapoport, Head of School
At OCA, opening day is celebrated with decorations, special activities, festive music, and even an occasional circus performer. But the real stars are our students who bound out of their cars excited to see their friends, meet their new teachers, and set goals for the new year. It is truly a joy to behold!
We missed our students over the summer – the buildings are just not the same without the beautiful energy of our beloved children! Not unexpectedly, but always a wonder to behold, they grew taller and more mature over the long summer break. Who are they now in their colorful new polo shirts and dresses and how do they view themselves at the cusp of the new year?
We see several parallels between the start of the new school year and the scene at the conclusion of Ki Tavo and beginning of Nitzavim as Moshe gathers Bnai Yisrael to prepare them to enter the land Hashem has given them. It is the start of something new after the long “summer break” in the midbar. Like our students who return to school developmentally more mature and able to think in new ways, Bnai Yisrael is standing on the precipice, looking ahead to life in Eretz Yisrael with a new “heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear.” (Devarim 29:3)
Moshe implores Bnai Yisrael to recommit to Hashem as they head into this next stage of their lives. Similarly, we as a community of educators and parents recommit ourselves to instilling in our students a love for learning Torah and general studies and renew our purpose to inspire them to develop a personal relationship with Hashem.
Moshe reminds Bnai Yisrael that living a life of Torah is within their grasp. “It is not hidden from you and it is not distant … the matter is very near to you – in your mouth and in your heart – to perform it.” (30:11,14)
These pesukim form the essence of OCA’s mission and educational philosophy. That is, by breaking down complex skills and concepts into scaffolded steps, and learning by doing, our students organically internalize the eternal messages of Torah, feel the joy in tefilla, and develop a strong sense of emunah. Torah is in their mouths and in their hearts.
We, like Bnai Yisrael have choices to make, and we choose to uphold our commitment, as Moshe reminds us, to raise our children in the way of Hashem. To that to that end, forging our path as a school over the next three years, we are thrilled that our Board of Directors under the leadership of Lanie Carter completed and passed OCA’s first three-year strategic plan.
The four central components of the strategic plan begin with Educating the Whole Child. This includes ensuring that our curricula are comprehensive, academically challenging, and cohesive; our Israel education, creative arts, athletics, extra-curricular and mishmar opportunities are robust; and our academic, social-emotional, and behavioral support is comprehensive.
Our second goal is Recruiting and Retaining High Quality Teachers. Teachers are the treasured backbone of our school. In this time of teacher shortages, the Board and School leadership commit to establishing a competitive salary and benefits package for faculty and staff, strengthening our formal teacher onboarding and mentoring program, and creating opportunities for innovation, collaboration, and a pathway for teacher advancement and leadership.
Our third focus is in Building Our Community. Community is developed on several levels, both within the OCA community and between OCA and the greater Baltimore Jewish community. A hallmark of OCA, the strategic plan sets forth a goal of expanding the variety of cross-division and community chesed activities available to our students, continuing to build a strong PTA and Parent Ambassador volunteer network, and developing an outreach and engagement plan to build relationships with community rebbeim, leaders, and funders.
Finally, we are excitedly Planning for the Future in several ways. The board is committed to strengthening school governance and developing a lay leadership pipeline. It will be creating a multi-year financial plan reflecting OCA’s mission and educational philosophy and strengthening the School’s institutional advancement efforts. Thinking ahead to our next steps as a school, a subcommittee of the board is already working to identify prospects for a permanent location and initiating a capital campaign to fund the purchase.
No less than Bnai Yisrael as they look ahead to their future, do we feel a deep sense of gratitude to Hashem for giving us the opportunity to provide our children with the best education possible, so that they too will someday follow in our footsteps. May Hashem guide us in our efforts and may this year be one of joy, growth, success, and good health!