Opening Minds, Bridging Differences, Living Jewish Values.

Parashat HaShavua

Parashat HaShavua - Korah

כָּל מַחֲלֹקֶת שֶׁהִיא לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, סוֹפָהּ לְהִתְקַיֵּם. וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, אֵין סוֹפָהּ לְהִתְקַיֵּם. אֵיזוֹ הִיא מַחֲלֹקֶת שֶׁהִיא לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, זוֹ מַחֲלֹקֶת הִלֵּל וְשַׁמַּאי. וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, זוֹ מַחֲלֹקֶת קֹרַח וְכָל עֲדָתוֹ

Every disagreement that is for the sake of heaven will continue and those that are not for the sake of heaven will not continue. What disagreement was for the sake of Heaven? Between Hillel and Shammai. And which disagreement was not for the sake of heaven? That of Korah and his group. (Avot 5:17)

Korah and his conspirators, whose story appears in this week's parasha, provide the source material for Pirke Avot about the distinction between constructive and destructive dissent. According to Pirke Avot, the problem with Korah's protest is that it was not a מַחֲלֹקֶת לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם -- a disagreement for the sake of heaven. Unlike Hillel and Shammai, who despite their disagreements were united in their effort to find the true path to service of God, Korah's rebellion is portrayed as corrupt and ultimately a search for personal aggrandizement rather than a principled act of protest.

It is notable that the mark of a successful disagreement according to Pirke Avot is that it is one whose "end will endure." This seems at first like a strange definition. Don't we want the dispute to be resolved? That's not how the hakhamim, the rabbis of the Talmud, see things, as is evident from the way they chose to put their legal arguments together. Unlike later halakhic codes, which present a psak din, a legal conclusion, the Talmud preserves the opinions and judgement that that were knocked down right alongside the opinions that prevailed. The structure of the Talmud asserts that in a true disagreement, all sides of the argument should endure, offering a measure of respect to all sides.

There has been much to disagree about in the news and in the classroom this year. One of our deepest aspirations at Heschel is live up to Pirke Avot's model, to disagree in ways that will be for the sake of . Recognizing that our ideological diversity can be a great strength, we can still aspire to Rabbi's Heschel's charge to see ourselves as responsible for the societies of which we are a part.

Parashat HaShavua - Shelach Lecha

"I don't believe in God." This is not an uncommon reaction after reading the Bible's harshest portrayals of God, which are sometimes so challenging that the countervailing stories of God's beneficence seem to matter little.

This week, Bnei Yisrael make a terrible mistake in judgment when they do not believe God will enable them to enter the promised land, despite all that God has already done for them. Instead, they cynically and aggressively seek to return to Egypt, and God reacts with fury. God's first idea is to wipe out the entire people. However, in response to Moshe's entreaties, God relents and decides that "only" the generation that left Egypt must die. "Your corpses," God says, "will fall in this desert" / וּפִגְרֵיכֶ֖ם אַתֶּ֑ם יִפְּל֖וּ בַּמִּדְבָּ֥ר הַזֶּֽה (Nu. 14:32).

It is hard to believe in such a harsh God. There we were, a nascent nation, frightened and intimidated by our biggest challenge yet. A kinder and more empathic God might have recognized the flaws in the original plan to send us into battle, especially after our reaction. Such a God could have paused to reconsider how better to prepare us for the next step in our journey. But what happened instead? An entire generation was doomed to death in the wilderness. What kind of God would act like that?

For many, the answer is: "Not my God," which, it seems, can lead all too easily to: "There is no God." I think, however, it is important to reframe the issue. Is our own theology necessarily dependent on or limited to the biblical portrayal of God? It is not. For those who do not believe in the Bible's historicity, this might seem like an easier question. After all, if you do not believe biblical events actually happened, or only partially happened, why believe that God is as described in the Bible? Even then, though, one might be so offended by the biblical portrayal of God - by the notion that in our tradition God is thought of in this way - that alienation from God still results.

However, just as halacha, Jewish law, has evolved since the Bible, so too must our emunah, beliefs. This is not a new idea. Despite all biblical evidence to the contrary, for example, Maimonides maintains that we can know God's actions in the world but not God's emotions (Guide to the Perplexed I:53); and we cannot know God's attributes, but rather what God is not. (Guide to the Perplexed I:58)

Thus, while learning about and grappling with the biblical God is necessary, believing in God as portrayed in the Bible is not. This is not about shifting to a different God, of course, because only one God exists; rather, it is about forming one's own set of beliefs about our God. Who God is to others, including who God is in the Bible, does not dictate who God is to you.

Martin Buber tells the story of when HaChozeh MiLublin, the Seer of Lublin, was asked: "Show me one general way to the service of God." HaChozeh replied: "It is impossible to tell people what way they should take. For one way to serve God is through learning, another through prayer, another through fasting, and still another through eating. Everyone should carefully observe what one's heart is drawn to, and then choose this way with all one's strength." Buber then observes: "We are to revere and learn from" the greatness and holiness of others, "but they are not models which we should copy... All people have access to God, but each person has a different access. God's all-inclusiveness manifests itself in the infinite multiplicity of the ways that lead to God." (Noveck, Contemporary Jewish Thought, A Reader, p. 277-78)

It is your God. Access to God, connection with God, belief in God; these are not subject to the approval of others, to be defined by others, or even by the Bible. Nor do they come easily to anyone. Rather, as Buber says, "the way by which one can reach God is revealed only through the knowledge of one's own being, the knowledge of one's essential quality and inclination."


Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Jack Nahmod
MS Judaic Studies Head
Rabbinic Advisor N-8


Parashat HaShavua - Beha'alotcha

In this week's parsha, we once again find the Children of Israel crying as they are not satisfied with the manna falling from heaven, and we find Moshe angry at God for nominating him to lead these people. In expressing his frustration, Moshe says to God: "Am I the one who conceived this nation? Am I the one who birthed this nation? Why did you instruct me to 'carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries an infant,' to the land that You have promised on oath to their fathers?"

A midrash from the Mechilta (collection of midrashim on the book of Exodus) connects these verses to a similar moment in the book of Exodus when Moshe was frustrated with the nation. At that time, the Children of Israel were complaining of thirst and begged Moshe for water. Based on the verse in the Torah, the midrash reports that Moshe turned to God and said: "Master of the Universe, I am a dead man here in between You and them. They want to kill me." In return, God, who was worried that Moshe would be harsh in his response to the people, instructed Moshe to "carry the nation in your bosom as a nurse carries an infant."

The midrash explains that God offered this instruction as a way to calm Moshe down. In the words of the midrash: "when Moshe raises/escalates, God lowers/de-escalates the situation." Conversely, later in the book of Exodus, following the sin of the Golden Calf, God is prepared to destroy God's people and Moshe is the one who appeals to God and beseeches God to reconsider and return from God's anger. In this situation, the midrash states, God escalates, and Moshe restrains.

What a beautiful image for the relationship between parents and children or teachers and students. This is a vision of partnership and co-dependence. In some situations, the parent or the teacher is the one who needs to show restraint in order to ensure that the child can re-assess or re-evaluate a situation. In other situations, a parent or a teacher must open herself up to the possibility that her child or her student has the ability to offer a moment of perspective or insight. This moment has the potential to change a harsh outcome to one that is full of optimism and hope.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Dahlia Kronish
High School Director of Jewish and Student Life

Parashat HaShavua - Naso

נָשֹׂא, אֶת-רֹאשׁ בְּנֵי גֵרְשׁוֹן--גַּם-הֵם: לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם, לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם

Count (literally "raise the heads of") the sons of Gershon according to their clans." (Numbers 4:21)

In this week's parasha, God gives instructions to the Levites about the nature of their service in the wilderness. The Levites are the roadies of the Israelites' wilderness journey. They are charged with breaking down, carrying and reassembling the portable mishcon (tabernacle) as b'nai yisrael travel through the desert. This week's parasha details which tribe from among the Levite clan will carry which parts of the mishcon.

God begins by taking a headcount of the Levite clan, completing the census that was begun in last week's parasha. In this counting, God chooses an unusual word to command the census. God tells Moses, נָשֹׂא אֶת-רֹאשׁ (Numbers 4:22), meaning literally, "lift up the heads of." Other instances of a census in the Torah use a form of the word, pikeid, "enroll." This usage is especially notable because of the instructions that follow the census. We learn in Parashat Naso that the Levites' job is to be literally weighed down, as they engage in their sacred service of carrying the objects that will, when put together, enable the Israelites to serve God.

So which is it, are they lifted up or are they weighed down?

This year, a group of faculty members formed a reading group focused on issues of equity, justice and inclusion. As we have delved into different authors from Mazarin Banaji to Jonathan Haidt to Claudia Rankine, including some very powerful essays by Rabbi Heschel, the complexity and depth of the issues has made many of us -- including me -- wonder, "what can we possibly do about problems that are so deep and so systemic?"

What I have begun to learn over the course of this year, and what our parasha teaches, is that what lies at the heart of any important question is a paradox. Perhaps that is how we know that a question is important. What is the nature of service to God? It raises you up and it weighs you down. It is a paradox. So too, the more we in the Equity, Justice and Inclusion reading group have learned, the more it seems beyond our ability to make any type of useful contribution to equity and justice. And yet that is the paradox we must wrestle with. Rabbi Heschel was clear that no matter how unmanageable the challenges may seem, we must make a leap of action. Our actions will be imperfect. They will not be enough. We will need a lot of humility and sensitivity to paradox. As we continue to learn and to act.

Rabbi Anne Ebersman
Early Childhood/Henry Lindenbaum Lower School Judaic Studies Programming Director & Director of Hesed and Tzedek

Parashat HaShavua - Shavuot

It is not accidental that, explicitly and implicitly, the Revelation at Sinai and our celebration of Shavuot reinforce the placelessness of Torah. Most obviously, we receive the Torah in the wilderness. This established for all time that the Torah is not limited to any one place; not, for example, to Israel, and within Israel not to the domain of a particular tribe. Instead, it was given in the wilderness, where nobody can claim special ownership rights over it.

The narrative of Revelation reinforces this point. Keeping track of Moshe, for example, feels like a game of "Where's Waldo." He first ascends the mountain to learn that at Sinai we will receive the Covenant (Ex. 19:3); then somehow conveys a message to the elders without descending (19:7). When we next find Moshe atop the mountain, we had not been told he ascended (19:12-13). He then descends to warn the people not to touch the mountain, ascends when summoned by God, then descends to warn the people again. (19:20-24) Immediately thereafter, Revelation begins. Is Moshe with the people? Apparently. Later we learn that he approaches God to receive the covenant and convey it to the people. (24:2-3) But hadn't that already happened?

God and Moshe also seem unclear about where the people should be. God instructs Moshe to tell the people to not even touch the mountain until the sound of the horn, at which point they can ascend. (19:12-13) Yet not long after, God curiously tells Moshe to warn the people to not descend into chaos (19:21), to which Moshe curiously replies to God non-responsively that the people cannot ascend the mountain, as if to remind God. (19:23)

This feeling of physical detachment or disorientation is, not coincidentally, also reflected in how we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot today. Whereas in Temple times we offered the first fruits of the land and recited the formula "Arami oved avi - my ancestor was a wandering Aramean" (Deut. 26:5), today we instead recite that formula in the Haggadah, the story of our Exodus. Not only that, but on Pesach we excise the final passage of this formula, where we once expressed gratitude to God for providing us with a land. (Duet. 26:9) Similarly, whereas in Temple times there was a ritual of waving the Shavuot offering, today we instead wave our lulav on Sukkot, when we reenact our wandering through the wilderness

In short, whereas once the holiday of Shavuot was rooted in the land, now - as a holiday celebrating Revelation - it is disconnected from place.

This week for me has raised profoundly mixed feelings of connectedness and detachment with regard to Israel, rootedness on the one hand and placelessness on the other. There was Israel's Eurovision victory, with an English song containing a universal message. The United States moved the Embassy to Jerusalem. And, on that very same day, our conflict with Gaza reached a fatal fever pitch.

While communicating with friends in Israel about the week's events, particularly the latter two, it occurred to me that our different reactions might be based on relative feelings of rootedness and detachment. My friends are there, fully connected to the land of Israel. Their celebration of the Embassy there is not complicated as much - it at all - by the feelings that I have here about American politics. At the same time, while upset by the events in Gaza, they might view the plight of a placeless people different from me, due to their ongoing physical connection with the land, as opposed to my episodic one. It is also true, of course, that my friends in Israel feel more physically at risk as well, if not in the immediate, then at least through the army service of their own children and fellow Israelis.

For those of us living outside of Israel, perhaps Andre Neher said it best. No matter how much we try and avoid it, eventually "the desert surges up from the depths of the memory. With its tensed cords it lays hold of one's mental equilibrium and shakes the Jew to his most hidden recesses." (They Made Their Souls Anew, p. 83). For my friends living in Israel, I do not think this holds true anymore.

Enter Shavuot, just in time. Hopefully we can now hit the pause button on daily life and learn Torah. May we all experience Talmud Torah in the manner described by the Mishna, as "keneged kulam - equal to all else in life," and then, when we resume our daily lives, fulfill the ideal that it inspire us to act; and may that action bring Tikkun Olam, the repair of the world.

Shabbat Shalom and Shavuot Sameach,

Rabbi Jack Nahmod
Middle School Judaic Studies Head
Rabbinic Advisor N-8


Parashat HaShavua - Behar – Bechukotai

This week we read a double Torah reading. We conclude the book of Leviticus by reading both Parshat Behar and Parshat Bechukotai. The Chafetz Chayim (19th century/early 20th century rabbi named for his most famous work) wrote a comment on a verse in each parsha (Torah portion) that seem to be in tension with one another.

In the Torah portion Behar, there is a collection of pesukim that teach about the way we must treat a stranger who comes to live in our midst, particularly one who is struggling at our door. The Chafetz Chayim suggests that the function of this verse is to teach us that each and every action matters. You don't get a pass for being a good person in general if you make a few mistakes of this nature. The Chafetz Chayim communicates this message by quoting a parable that after a person's death, he is questioned about each and every mitzvah regarding whether or not he performed it accurately. The Chafetz Chayim explains that it is only natural that once in your life you will not have responded to one person knocking at your door asking for a loan. And that person, whom you refused, even if an exception, will return to his family empty handed and they will not be able to rebuild their lives. Their cries will go to heaven. These verses therefore remind us that each action is significant.

The Torah portion of Bechukotai, begins with the verse "if you follow My laws (bechukotai) and faithfully observe My commandments." The Chafetz Chayim suggests that following God's laws in this context refers to the study of Torah. When it comes to studying Torah, suggests the Chafetz Chayim, the focus is on the labor, the effort, the work, and not the product. Different than being a carpenter or a tailor, professions where product matters more than effort, when it comes to God's laws and Torah study, it seems that effort, intent, and labor matter more than the outcome.

I want to live in a world where these comments are not in tension with each other. In a world in which each and every action matters and we are held accountable for these actions; in which we work to ensure that we never close the door in the face of poverty or need. I simultaneously want to live in a world in which effort and intent matter as much as, if not more than, the action and result.

As we approach Shavuot and celebrate Revelation at Sinai, let us remember the way in which God reveals God's self to Moses after the events at Sinai. God tells Moses (and we repeat this every time we recite God's thirteen attributes) that God is full of Hesed and Emet. Emet (truth) can be understood as reflecting the attribute of justice. Hesed (kindness) can be understood as reflecting attributes of love, compassion and goodness. Just as we want God to embody both attributes, so too must we work to live in a world in which we hold ourselves and each other accountable, and we do so with love and compassion.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Dahlia Kronish
HS Director of Jewish & Student Life


Parashat HaShavua - Emor

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֱמֹ֥ר אֶל־הַכֹּהֲנִ֖ים בְּנֵ֣י אַהֲרֹ֑ן וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ לֹֽא־יִטַּמָּ֖א בְּעַמָּֽיו׃ (וירקא כ״א:א)

"God said to Moses: Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: None shall defile himself for any [dead] person among his kin" (Leviticus 21:1)

Rashi wonders about the repetition of the same verb twice -- אֱמֹ֥ר/ וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ -- and concludes that the purpose is "to warn the adults about the children," meaning to remind the adults that their most important job is to educate the next generation. For the past year and a half, in my new role as Director of Hesed (Kindness/Community Service) and Tzedek (Justice), I have spent a lot of time thinking about how we should be educating our students about both of these poles -- about the ways that they can take concrete action to be of service to others, as well as the ways that they can see clearly larger issues of justice and equity in our country and our world.

This week I accompanied the students from Grade 3 to sing for the senior center at Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center. As the children were singing "This Land is Your Land," I looked around the room, filled with older adults, mostly people of color, and wondered to myself if the lyrics were really true for everyone who was singing along with us. As proud as I felt of our students, I also felt a lot of sadness and confusion.

There is a second way to understand the verse I quoted above. What if the verb is not להיזהר (to warn) but rather להזהיר, to illuminate, as the Lubavitch Rebbe suggests? Now the phrase means "to illuminate the adults through the children." After we walked home from Lincoln Square, I asked the students about the experience. One boy said, "I thought they really liked our singing. It made me realize that sometimes even things that are easy to do can make a big difference." It was true. You could see from people's faces that they had enjoyed seeing the children and hearing them sing. With all of the inequities that were so apparent to me in the moment, it was still better that we made the trip. At that moment, that 3rd grade student illuminated something important for me. The questions I have been asking myself still stand. A critical part of a Heschel education needs to be wrestling with the difficult questions that are uncomfortable and have no clear solutions. At the same time, it doesn't have to be hard all of the time. I am glad that that 3rd grader enlightened me about the importance of noticing and appreciating the moments where it is in our power to make a positive difference. We will need the inspiration of such moments as spiritual nourishment in approaching the more difficult and hard-to-face questions, of which there are many.

Parashat HaShavua - Reflections on Israel's 70th

What is the significance of the passage of 70 years, and what can we look forward to in the next 70 years? This question is still on my mind only one week removed from celebrating Israel's 70th with our 8th grade in Israel. While there, I came across a beautiful Dvar Torah by psychologist Pinchas Lazer, who juxtaposes two versions of the story of Choni HaMe'agel, or Choni "the circle-drawer." In one, from the Babylonian Talmud, Choni sees a man planting a tree and asks, "How long does it take to bear fruit?" The man replies, "70 years." Choni asks, "Are you certain you will live another 70 years?" The man replies: "I arrived into a world with carob trees; just as my ancestors planted them for me, I am planting these for my children." (Taanit 23a)

This tale of caring and hope from generation to generation has a twist, however. Choni falls into a deep slumber. When he awakens 70 years later, the tree is bearing fruit. He goes to his former home, and from there to the study hall, yet nobody believes that he is who he says he is. Finding himself in an extreme state of loneliness, he prays to live no longer, and he dies.

This story, according to Dr. Lazer, has a tragic irony. A tree is planted to bridge one generation to the next, a sign of caring and concern. Yet Choni finds that 70 years later he is isolated and alone, with nobody willing to listen to him, to even consider his true identity.

How different is our existence today from 70 years ago when Israel was established! We of course hope that nobody from then would be treated or feel the way Choni does in this story. It is also true, though, that the gap between our reality then and now stretches credulity. It is not hard to imagine that someone asleep for the past 70 years would feel totally lost today. Thankfully, for us today, this can be attributed to how much better our lives are now. However, note that the story about Choni does not even mention whether life overall was better 70 years later, but rather how he himself feels. There is no guarantee that our improved situation today would assuage what Choni felt or someone today might feel. Thus, this story might be challenging us to consider the degree to which, 70 years after Israel's establishment, it reflects the ideals and goals of its founders. How much at home - how much of a sense of belonging would they feel - in Israel today?

And then there is the story of Choni in the Jerusalem Talmud. (Taanit 3:9) In that version, Choni sleeps through the destruction of the First Temple and doesn't awaken until the second one is built. When he then tells people who he is, they say, "We heard that when he entered the Temple courtyard it illuminated." He enters the courtyard and it does!

In this story, when Choni sleeps, there is no bridge to the future. In fact, as Dr. Lazer points out, he is completely out of touch with reality and misses two of the most dramatic moments in our history, the First Temple's destruction and then our return from exile 70 years later to build the second. Yet, despite this disconnect, when he returns he illuminates the Second Temple courtyard through his mere presence. This oblivious dreamer - the idealist - enlightens a later generation without any apparent connection to them! It is true that here, as in the Babylonian version, the people might not believe who he is, and therefore seek the proof of him entering the courtyard. However, they are at least open to him being who he says he is, and their belief is rewarded.

Are there those among us who remain dreamers about Israel, who pay little or no attention to the details of her daily existence - its successes and challenges - and instead cling to an ideal? Can we learn from this story that, despite their apparent obliviousness, they are still well worth listening to, perhaps still deserving of an influence over Israel's future?

One final point: note which of these stories is told in the exilic Babylonian Talmud, and which in Israel. In the Babylonian Talmud, the tree is a metaphor of connectedness between generations, some sense of awareness of the passage of time. One might expect that the idealistic dreamers would be in exile, out of touch with reality. Instead, the story of the dreamer occurs in the Jerusalem Talmud!

Thus it might be the case, perhaps by necessity, that 70 years into Israel's existence as a modern state, many of us - even and especially those who live in Israel - still qualify as dreamers, as idealists who sometimes seem out of touch with reality. Hayinu ke'cholmim, we were like dreamers, and dreamers we remain.

Shabbat shalom!

Rabbi Jack Nahmod
MS Judaic Studies Head
Rabbinic Advisor N-8


Parshat HaShavua - Tazria-Metzorah

In the midst of the discussions of leprosy in this week's double portion (Tazria-Metzorah), God tells Moshe and Aaron that when the Children of Israel enter the land of Canaan that God gives them as a possession (in Hebrew: achuza), God will inflict an eruptive plague (of leprosy) in the land.

A Midrash from Otzar Midrashim (Baraita of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair) questions the Hebrew word achuza (possession) and its usage here. The Midrash refers to a verse toward the end of the book of Genesis which it states that the Children of Israel dwelled in the land of Egypt and they "va'ye'achzu" (same root as the word achuza) the land. JPS translates the word in this context as "they acquired holdings in the land." The midrash translates the word va'ye'achzu as "and the land of Egypt grabbed them and held on to them" in such a way that if Israel had tried to leave Egypt earlier, they would not have been able to, as the land had a holding on them. The midrash emphasizes that the word va'ye'achzu incorporates an element of force beyond the Israelites' control. They could not leave the land of Egypt until they absolutely had to.

This is not the case in the future time that is described in this week's Torah portion. The midrash teaches that when God says "the land that I give you as a possession," God is using this word in contrast to the way this word was used in Genesis. When you arrive in Canaan, says God, don't assume the Land has a holding over you and you will be similarly enslaved as you were in Egypt. Rather, when you arrive in Canaan, the midrash states: חייכם ברשותכם היא – your lives are under your own authority. This was the true Zionist vision and mission: self-determination in our homeland.

We grew from a large family to a People in a foreign land where our destiny was not in our hands. We arrived at the promised land when we were ready to embody freedom which means take responsibility for our actions and our destiny.

What a joyous occasion to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel. May we never take its establishment for granted. May we always remember the people who gave their lives to secure its borders. And, may we work to continue to ensure that חייכם ברשותכם (your lives are under your own authority) – that we understand the awesome responsibility and challenge of the task and privilege that lies ahead – to continue to be an עם חופשי בארצנו a free people in our land.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Dahlia Kronish
HS Director of Jewish & Student Life


Parasha HaShavua - Shemini

וְאֵת, הַחֲסִידָה, הָאֲנָפָה, לְמִינָהּ; וְאֶת-הַדּוּכִיפַת, וְאֶת-הָעֲטַלֵּף (ויקרא י״א:י:ט)

"The stork, and the heron, the hoopoe, and the bat." (Leviticus 11:19)

The list of birds contained in Parashat Shemini which are not kosher and therefore cannot be eaten includes הַחֲסִידָה the hasidah -- the stork. Rashi explains that the bird is so named because of its hesed – it always shares its food with others.

On Yom HaShoah, Howard Pianko, grandfather of Bella and Noah Pianko, shared his parents' story with our 4th and 5th Grade students. They spent much of the war hiding in what they called "caves" which were actually pits dug by Polish farmers to store potatoes. Some farmers helped to conceal them, knowing full well how serious the consequences would be if their actions were discovered by the Nazis. There were others, however, who would go out on snowy days and search for footsteps in the snow so that they could apprehend and report any Jews that were hiding.

Howard was born in 1945 in his parents' hometown of Wysokie, the first Jewish child born after the war. His father travelled to Bialystock to get a mohel, who came to Wysokie only very reluctantly because he was concerned about a pogrom. As Howard explained to the students why the mohel was afraid to come to his town --- that even after the war had ended, there was still a serious danger of Jews being attacked by their Polish neighbors -- he said, "it is hard for me to tell you this part of the story. I don't want you to think that all Polish people were bad." He continued, "here is what the Chief Rabbi in Poland said to me when I visited in 2011: 5% really did actively help the Nazis. And 5% took great risks to protect Jews. The other 90% did nothing. The question we have to ask ourselves is, what will it take for all of us to move out of the 90% and into the 5% that take the risk to do the right thing?"

Later that day, I accompanied the 4th graders to the BJ soup kitchen to help make lunch for their guests. They all stood silently at the end, looking at the tables they had set and the food they had helped prepare. Several students came up to me after to plead to come again.

I don't know what gave some of the Polish farmers the courage and the hesed to help Howard's parents and other Jews. I don't know what makes a bird share its food with others (is this even true? Do storks even do this or is this just Rashi's fanciful imagination?) I can only place my faith in the power, over time, of an education that includes stories like Howard's and habits formed from participating in acts of hesed over many years and hope that these and many other experiences will lead our students to ultimately stand for something they believe in. And to follow the example of the non-kosher but nevertheless very generous bird, the hasidah.