By Beth Steinberg
The first days of school… new notebooks, sneakers, teachers, classmates, and routines. And, if you were a student in Mrs. Steinberg’s classroom at Kadimah Academy, learning my rules and procedures. How to ask for a bathroom break, where to put broken pencils, the basics. But, you would also learn to practice kindness and respect towards everyone else in the room.
Building a classroom community was always my top priority at the start of each new school year. We had to create a “family” to be successful with the academics.
I feel the same way about the opening of the Community Religious School (CRS). Our mission this year must focus on creating a kehillah (community) of learners and guides where everyone feels welcome, safe, and comfortable.
Not only are we bringing together students from three different congregations, but we are welcoming back students who didn’t attend religious school last year as well as welcoming in unaffiliated families. We are also meeting in a building that is unfamiliar to some and are doing so in a cloud of stress, fear, and uncertainty.
Our country today is embroiled in vaccination and mask wars as the Delta variant pushes the rates of infection higher and higher. National news reports nation-wide pandemic fatigue, COVID burnout, and shared stories of “The Great Resignation.” We are, almost every one of us, exhausted and depleted from this virus. Imagine how our kids feel.
We’ve recently learned that Jewish overnight campers are suffering more homesickness this summer than ever before. Camp directors report higher levels of fragility and emotional volatility among campers. Mental health experts believe this is the result of campers’ limited opportunities during the pandemic to practice communicating with their peers and to manage their reactions to those encounters. Let us learn from this and structure our school accordingly.
The success of this opening year should be measured in smiles. By kids who feel seen, heard, and valued. By kids who make new friends. By kids who feel happy and safe at religious school.
To that end, we are kicking off the year with two training sessions presented by CRS parent Joanna Thompson, WNY Regional Director at Peaceful Schools. The first, scheduled for our teachers prior to the start of school, will focus on community building. The second will take place on Opening Day, 9/12, to help parents connect and create relationships through facilitated discussions and activities.
The Peaceful Schools principles dovetail beautifully with Judaism’s 48 middot (personal virtues). Peaceful Schools emphasizes 5 C.A.R.E.S. skills: Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-Control.
Middot are the values or moral traits we aspire to embody with our actions. A comparable list of middot might include Ometz Lev (Courage of the Heart), Achrayut (Social Responsibility), Menuchat HaNefesh (Calm & Composure), Savlanut (Patience), and several more.
We aren’t abandoning our Judaics or Hebrew curricula. We are pledging to care for your child’s mental and emotional well-being as part of their Jewish learning. Please be a partner with us in that endeavor.
Beth Steinberg is the Co-Director of the new Community Religious School that opens its doors on Sunday, September 12 at Congregation Shir Shalom in Williamsville.
Registration is now open for students in Pre K to 7th grade. All families in Jewish Buffalo are welcome to sign up here. If you have questions about the new school, email firstname.lastname@example.org