We are thrilled to welcome you to a new school year!  As I walked through Heschel today, I could feel the excitement and joy in the air.  Over the past weeks, our teachers, staff, and administrators have worked energetically -- collaborating and planning, studying and organizing, reviewing and rethinking -- to get our school ready for a year of learning and exploration.  I am so grateful for the incredible work that so many members of our team have done over the summer to bring innovative and creative new ideas and technologies into all of our divisions. I am also extremely grateful to Richard Wisniewski and the entire building and maintenance staff not only for the superb work they do each summer, but also for the exceptional work they did this year to improve some of our spaces.  Please be sure to visit our new Institutional Advancement offices on the 6th floor of our 20 West End Avenue building and our new High School offices on the first floor.

Of course, as we have prepared and planned over the summer, our students have been absent.  And, without them, our community has felt woefully incomplete. By the end of this week, as all of our students return, our community will once again feel whole.  

Appropriately, as we restore our school to its full membership, this week's parsha, Nitzavim/נצבים opens with Moshe's reiteration of the divine covenant with the Israelite community -- all of that community.  Carefully listing different sectors of the population, Moshe is very clear that everyone in the community must be a part of the covenant regardless of age, sex, occupation, or even status as a stranger.  Everyone must commit -- from the tribal heads/ראשיכם שבטיכם and elders/זקנכם to the wood choppers/מחטב עציך and water drawers/שאב מימיך.

In our own community, unlike in the community that journeyed through the desert with Moshe, our identities are far more flexible.  Sometimes each of us feels like a tribal head or an elder. At other times, each of us feels like a wood chopper or water drawer. As we move through the upcoming days, weeks, and months, we will encourage our students to take on different responsibilities, roles, and obligations.  Some roles, hopefully, will feel perfectly comfortable and natural. Other roles, hopefully, will feel like a stretch and will push our students outside of their comfort zones in productive ways. But, no matter what roles our students or we assume, we will all remain committed to our common purpose.  Like those who journeyed through the desert, our community thrives because of the magnificent commitment of all of our members.  We are all citizens of our pluralistic community.  We are guided by our mission statement, including its directive to create "an ethical learning community that inspires [our] students to become responsible, active, compassionate citizens and leaders in the Jewish and world communities."  

As you know, from every cultural and political corner outside of our school buildings, the air this summer has been filled with far more turmoil and rancor than compassion and responsibility.  I fear that it is all too easy in this climate to succumb to pervasive forces of cynicism. As educators, we do not have that luxury. Justice Louis Brandeis once observed that "the most important office, and the one which all of us can and should fill, is that of private citizen."  Thankfully, we all hold that office--and so do our students across all of our divisions. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to teach our students just how much their citizenship--within the Heschel community, the American community, the Jewish community, and the world community--matters.  I hope that, far from succumbing to cynicism, our students and our whole community will always be able to hold onto Rabbi Heschel's commitment to being surprised. As Rabbi Heschel observed, "an individual dies when he ceases to be surprised. I am surprised every morning that I see the sunshine again. . . We must learn how to be surprised."  Surprise can serve as the antidote to cynicism.

So welcome to what we hope will be a year of surprises in the spirit of Rabbi Heschel.  We hope that, true to that spirit, you too will learn with us this year. Once again, I am excited to partner with the Parents' Association to teach a community class.  In this year's class, with the partnership of some of my colleagues, we will study comparative topics in American and Jewish law. I hope you will come study with us so we can explore how our different legal traditions approach some of the fundamental questions that shape our social order.  In addition, back by popular demand, Chana Futterman, a member of our Lower School Judaic Studies faculty, will again be offering three levels of Hebrew classes for parents in our community. And, of course, there will be many opportunities for learning together at special events throughout the year.  Please mark your calendar, for instance, with the date of our special Kristallnacht memorial event later this fall.  Thank you for strengthening our community through your participation and learning.

Welcome back to school!  May our school year be filled with surprise, new roles, learning, exploration, and growth -- for all of Heschel's citizens.  

And may you have a shana tova/שנה טובה: A sweet new year filled with joy, health, love, and peace.

With gratitude for your trust, partnership, and commitment to our community,





Early Childhood Center • Henry Lindenbaum Lower School • Alan B. Slifka Middle School
30 West End Avenue, NYC 10023 • 212 784-1234
High School • 20 West End Avenue, NYC 10023 • 212 246-7717

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