October 13, 2016
11 Tishrei 5777
I am hopeful that you and your families had an easy and meaningful fast. Reflecting on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they were particularly special for me, as these were the first holidays here in Atlanta for the Leubitz Five. We shared holiday meals and davened with our new Atlanta and AJA community, and it was special and different and beautiful. Even though we were in a new place, it became clear to me that an amazing thing about Judaism, is that certain words and songs and blessings - whether in a home or in shul - can instantly transport you to a familiar place, regardless of where you are. When I heard the first notes of Kol Nidre on Tuesday night, I was instantly transported to the most comfortable and contented place. My heart was full and I soaked in all the beauty and awe of the holiday.
On Yom Kippur day, when we began the Al Chet (on account of this sin), I was very reflective - as many of us are. As we were reciting the 44 statements which bring us to the heart of the mistakes we’ve made over the year, I recalled that it is actually an alphabetical acrostic. The lines begin with the sequence of alef-bet. I’ll bet you are wondering “why”? It’s in that order, because this served as a memory aid back in ancient days before we had a printed siddurim (prayer book). When I was reminded of this, here was my train of thought (please, bear with me for a minute).
Al Chet > alef-bet > ABC’s > educating our children > AJA
I started thinking that we could have an Al Chet for AJA, focusing not on mistakes or sins, but the opportunities for growth. Let’s imagine an AJA Al Chet…
In our community, we can be better at:
- - Highlighting our areas of growth opportunities to the right people who can help us grow and change.
- - Being patient with our children, and with children around us who perhaps need extra focus or attention. Remembering that the success of our children is inextricably linked to the success of the class as a whole.
- - Understanding that we are all growing - even as an institution.
- - Inviting others to our Shabbat tables, not only the people already part of our own inner circles, but those who are not.
- - Showing up. Being present. Engaging with our children. Learning with them. They want and need to know that we are listening.
- - Demonstrating to the children the respect it shows to arrive early vs. late to events. Getting them to school on time, and not detracting from instruction time.
- - Speaking positively about other schools and shuls, highlighting what they are doing “right”, even if it is not how we do it at our school or shul.
- - Embracing the diversity in our community and allowing it to unite us instead of divide us.
- - Serving as ambassadors for AJA, spreading the word of the great education and community we offer here.
- - Having faith in the process, and in the educators who are working with our children every day.
- - Engaging in conversations with and around our children that are rich in middot (character).
- - Asking our children specific positive questions about how they demonstrated middot, and not “Interviewing for Pain”.
- - Attending school and community events with our children to demonstrate to them the importance of involvement.
- - Showing appreciation to our incredibly hard-working PTSA, by volunteering with them and registering for the wonderful events they organize.
- - Following the “who to contact” protocol at the school, starting with the teacher before elevating any questions or concerns.
- - Identifying what is really on our minds, not complaining about the peripheral issues, and having the patience to let the problem resolution occur.
- - Taking the extra minute to say “thank you” to the people in our personal and professional lives who are making an impact on us and on our children.
- - Encouraging our children to look around them, and see those classmates or peers who are alone - and work hard to include them.
- - Committing to not judge a book by it’s cover. Digging deep, getting to know a person and understanding who they really are before creating a label for them or judging their level of Judaism.
- - Unplugging. Limiting screen time for adults and children and making time to be Panim El Panim פנים-אל-פנים (face to face).
For all these, G-d of pardon,
pardon us, forgive us, atone for us.
ועל כלם אלו-ה סליחות, סלח לנו, מחל לנו, כפר לנו.
This may seem like a lot to consider. But...here’s the good news. Even though Yom Kippur has ended, we have more time to make these important changes. The sages teach that while the gates seem to close at the end of Neilah and the sound of the shofar seals them for another year, the gates don’t actually close until the end of Sukkot. If you have more to add, I encourage you to send them to me. I would love to hear your Al Chet for AJA or for your own family.