The words rang softly but clearly from one of our preK students yesterday, in his classroom’s Purim Play. Queen Esther (well, about eight Queen Esthers, to be precise, as nobody wanted to be left out!) was asking Uncle Mordechai what she should do with her conflict: Approach the King and tell him about Haman’s evil plan, outing herself as a Jew in the process? Or slink back, avoiding the controversy and keeping her identity secret? And 4yr old Mordechai answered, simply and proudly…
I tend to look for the power of children. It takes a re-orientation of our adult perspective at times, moving away from the cute, innocent, or humorous image that we sometimes have of young children. Especially in a Purim Play! And there were certainly many sweet and cuddly moments in the play. But in our school, in our community, we see children not for their innocence but for their strength.
Purim has been a great opportunity for your children, our students, to explore that strength. Our classrooms have been filled recently with talk about right and wrong, fairness and justice, individualism and community, identity and secrecy, bravery and courage. All of these themes permeate the Purim holiday and have come to the forefront in our curricula. Our JCC is a place where religion is used as a vehicle with which to access values, and through Purim we have accessed the power of our children. They can scare away the boogeyman, shaking their groggers at Haman, they can stand up for themselves as Vashti and Esther did, and they can take action for their community in times of need, as Esther and Mordechai did.
Our students have not only learned these values but they have enacted them as well this year. They have baked and raised money for clean water in Flint, MI; they have made sandwiches for NYC’s homeless population during last month’s Mitzvah Day; they have donated pajamas, and toys to children living in neighborhood shelters, and brought books to parents to read to their newborn children in NICUs. The voice of a young child carries power, and in our community we strive to create a space for that power to flow forth.
The news coming out of Brussels earlier this week has had me thinking about our children and their power in a particularly acute way. I believe that a school is a place of activism, and that our community is centered on social justice. I see our teachers as advocates for a better future, a future paved by the power of our children. Our job, in partnering with you in the raising of our children, is to create environments where empathy reigns and responsibility matters. If we get that right, our children are poised to not only make the world theirs as they grow but to make it better.
Our children are learning to Be brave! not only so that they can stand up for themselves now but so that they can stand up for their values throughout their lives. Our pedagogy around the Purim story, then, is not one of remembering how Esther saved the Jews but of how our children will enrich the world. The bravery and courage, the empathy and responsibility, that our children display each day in our classrooms sets them on the path towards making the world a place where the attacks in Brussels become a thing of the past. Purim reminds us to not shy away from evil or hide from a challenge but to step forward bravely, to find the Esther in our hearts that cares deeply about the well-being of our neighbors.
Laurie Pultman, co-head teacher in room 4, read a quote at her class Purim Party earlier this week: “The story of Purim is a reminder that we always have the power to act. There are moments when we are like Esther and have to stand up for what we know is right. And there are moments when we are like the Jews of Shushan and must recognize our own power and how to use it responsibly.” Our school is a place where children explore and exercise that power.
So I ask you, join me in a re-orientation of the lens we use to look at children. Look for their power. Look for their bravery. You might notice that they are already working to make the world a more just and kind place.