A Note From Noah

On Monday, February, 7th, two swastikas were carved into the door of the Fourth Universalist Church (DNA.info article). The church sits right around the corner from us, on Central Park West at 76th street. Rabbi Joy Levitt, our executive director at JCC Manhattan, reached out to Reverend Vogel, the senior minister at the church, who invited us to join at the Interfaith Solidarity Vigil the church will be hosting this Friday, March 10, 5:30-6:30pm (details here; speakers include, among others, former nursery parent Rabbi Marc Margolius and Borough President Gale Brewer). We are sharing information about the vigil with members of our JCC community, as we believe it is important to stand with our neighbors in solidarity against the rise in anti-Semitic and hate crimes our city is witnessing.

Last week, we hosted Nancy Kaplan from the Anti-Defamation League for a parent chat in my office. Nancy and Jean Schreiber facilitated a conversation with several of our parents about how to promote an anti-bias attitude in our children and communities, and how to respond when our children are exposed to acts of anti-Semitism, racism, and bigotry. Many parents who could not attend the talk requested notes from the morning; sharing the above invitation for the March 10 vigil seems the right opportunity to offer these notes.

Nancy encouraged us to ask our children (and ourselves), “What can you do, in your space, every day, to be the type of role model that you want to be?” We spoke about how each of us has the power in “our space” to promote acts of kindness, to strive to create the world you want, and to show your children that their words and actions matter. Nancy urged us to tell our children that, “even as a young child, you do have power. Be powerful in your circle.” I found this line so meaningful, and particularly resonant in the context of a Reggio-inspired school.  Our children flex their power in a democratic society every day in our classrooms, as they discuss and debate the details of classroom life: Who gets to be the line-leader? Why do you get to use the paints and I don’t? How do we share playdo? These questions, and how our children navigate them, really do matter. These questions are where meaningful education takes place.

We spoke with Nancy about showing children their power rather than our despair; about “keeping adult thoughts at the adult level” yet impressing upon children that when they see something wrong, they should stand up and say it.  Our children might be troubled, scared, or confused if we choose to share the depth of anguish that swastikas on a church door bring us; instead, they benefit from seeing us, their role models, standing proudly together and saying “no” to such hateful acts. Nancy drilled in on the nuanced yet significant difference between these two reactions.

Lastly, Nancy shared three important ideas for parents interested in raising strong, resilient Jewish children in spite of anti-Semitic actions: (1) Instill a sense of Jewish pride; (2) Show them that being Jewish in your life is a really important thing; (3) Teach them that we stand up for people who are marginalized.  

For each of these points, I keep going back to the upcoming holiday of Purim and the story of Esther. In my Purim Note last year, I wrote that “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; they can take action for their community in times of need, as Esther and Mordechai did.  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.”

Those ideas will always be at the heart of a Jewish community.

There are many ways of doing this – of standing up proudly, of being the role model you want your children to see. This year we saw Sandra Brudnick, Amy Kessler, and Ilona Coleman each deliver a heartfelt d’var Torah at PA meetings; we saw our students band together for bake sales and drives to benefit those who have less than they do; and this Friday we are looking forward to our first ever nursery-alumni Shabbat dinner, where 70 people will be attending and affirming that in life-after-nursery-school, their connection to Jewish community remains strong and matters deeply.

Whether you are attending the alumni dinner with an older sibling, or attending the vigil (they happen to be at the same time), or standing up in any of a variety of ways, I encourage you to keep Nancy’s words in mind:

Find power in your space, and show your children the power they have in their space.