HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

A Mission and Vision of the Present

by Rivy Poupko Kletenik Issue: Mission & Vision

Lehmann makes many compelling points in his inspiring and richly ideational piece, but I would like to offer a response to some of his core underpinnings.

Lehmann makes many compelling points in his inspiring and richly ideational piece, but I would like to offer a response to some of his core underpinnings.

First, enough with communal responses to surveys that decry our community’s commitment to “continuity” and allege that all indicators predict a dire Jewish future. We cannot forecast the future; Jewish history is filled with examples of false prophets and failed messiahs. Instead, I would like to propose an alternate approach to this fixation with the future. I would challenge us to embrace the present, the here and the now, for ourselves and for our children.

Jewish parents and grandparents, and in fact the Jewish community from time immemorial, are enamored with the future. At a baby’s birth we proclaim, Zeh hakatan gadol yehiyeh. This little one? He will one day be big. Agreed, we all work towards our children’s future. We plan. We hope. We dream. But we cannot dare to plan and hope and dream to the exclusion of attention to the very real present.

Here is what I mean and from where I draw this idea of reorienting ourselves to the importance of the present for its own sake. As the youth Yishmael, son of Avraham and Hagar, languishes in the desert about to die of thirst after being banished by the command of Sarah, God sees him and then decides to save him. In Midrash Bereshith Rabbah, Rabbi Simon tells us that that the angels

   hastened to indict Him, exclaiming, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Will You bring up a well for one who will one day slay Your children with thirst? ‘What is he now?’ God demanded. ‘Righteous,’ was the answer. ‘I judge man only as he is at the moment,’ He said.
If God is able to suppress the temptation to judge into the future so must we. This is the doctrine of the present. We are not to be judged on the future, only on the present.

Here is my prescription for the Jewish community: let us give our children a Jewish present. Let us not be consumed and intoxicated by the future. Let us be sober about our present. To what kind of life do we aspire? What do we want for our children? A materially centered life of dogged hard work and days taken up with the majority of hours of their day employed in the service of breadwinning? No.

How about this new idea for day school recruitment. Most of us would wish for our children to lead meaningful, inspired lives. Why not then give them that right now in the present? Give them days that are taste of the ideal of chatzi laShem ve-chatzi lakh—half for you and half for the pursuit of the holy, days that are messianic-like with hours devoted to Torah study.

As adults we must necessarily give up this ideal in order to provide support for our families. But this childhood of our children, these are the good old days. Let’s give them the present of the present. Let’s talk about a Jewish education whose value is the right now: the glory of days with time for prayer, introspection and study—not for the sake of the future only, not only to guarantee dividends, but for the pleasure of a “right now” existence.

Practically speaking, let’s stop selling Jewish day schools as the places that will buy children an Ivy League education, a future high earning job, a Jewish future. Let’s start telling it like it is. Give your child a Jewish day school experience because every one of us deserves one slice of our life to be led idealistically, in pursuit of spirituality, immersion in Jewish ideas and envelopment in Jewish life. This is their one chance in their lifetime. Will it lead to a rich Jewish future? Let’s hope so. But why not give it to them now for the sake of now?

A second point: in his dramatic mandate Lehmann says that what is needed is “creativity in community, hybridity, transformative spirituality, textured particularity, and ethical audacity.” These are lofty, high minded goals and we need to be reminded of them. But they already exist. They exist in all of our schools. Perhaps not every period and not every teacher and not every course, but those noble values are alive and well in all of our schools, and to believe otherwise is to sell ourselves short and to commit a tremendous disservice to our current teachers—who are devoted, insightful and honorable.

A third point that I offer with hesitancy: What is missing from our schools is not quality in our program but quantity of student body. This is new and it will not change—such is the nature of the commitment of our people. This is not new either. This is the way it was and is; the commitment to higher ideals is rarely that of the majority in any group.

Finally, what do we need? We need confidence. We need pride. And we need to set our standards high and our expectations demanding. Stop dumbing down and stop giving over the impression the Judaism is fun and entertaining. It can be at times but mostly it is hard work, commitment and sacrifice. And just like most things in life, that which we are ready to sacrifice for is what usually is the most worthwhile.

Rivy Poupko Kletenik is head of school at the Seattle Hebrew Academy. rkletenik@sha613.org

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Mission & Vision

The key to a school's success is the articulation of a strong mission and vision statement and an administration and board that stick to these ideals. Mission and vision differentiate a school from its peers and proclaims the unique value proposition that the school offers. Reconsider the purpose and mission of Jewish day school education from a variety of perspectives. Then, gain advice for composing a mission statement and discover the range of uses that such a statement can serve.

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