What do you do when you are a Schechter Bergen eighth grader on the Israel trip and you accidentally order five pizza pies in Hebrew instead of the intended five slices? Some may choose to argue, others would potentially refuse to pay, yet others might do what our eighth grader did, which was to own the mistake, buy all the pizzas, share some with friends and then share the rest with people in need.
Similarly, when you are an eighth grader in line at a restaurant in Israel on Yom HaZikaron and notice an Israeli soldier behind you, what do you do? You remember that you were taught that it is customary to offer soldiers a meal in gratitude for their service - and you do it.
When you are sixth graders and you are given a challenge to spread kindness - what do you make? You design a ”gratitude box'' in which you insert random notes of appreciation to your teachers and then walk around the building asking faculty members to pick a note from the box.
When you are a seventh grader at Schechter and you arrive at school the day after the Yom Ha’Atzma'ut carnival only to see trash all over the field, what do you do? Several seventh graders approached Mrs. Coxe, and volunteered to go outside, in the rain, to clean up the field so it wasn’t left for Sergey or Mervin.
When the war broke out in Ukraine, our older students, led by the Knesset, were moved to organize a drive to get needed supplies to the people of Ukraine and supported beautifully by our community in their efforts.
Finally, after learning about people in our community in need of food, our first graders decided to take action by making bookmarks to sell in order to raise money for a local food pantry. Not only did the students contribute, but they learned all about how their efforts made a difference.
In each case, our students extended themselves to the larger community. They recognize that there are needs beyond themselves in this world that require sacred action. Some students were guided by their teachers, others acted on their own initiative. In all cases, our students understood their responsibility to the community around them. In every grade at Schechter Bergen I can come up with examples of either individual students or entire classes responding to needs at school or in the community to make a difference.
These actions are not created in a vacuum. Our students continually learn what it means to develop empathy for others and then to extend themselves to help. Through explicit instruction and opportunities to act, one of the key signature strengths that we instill in our students, empathy, comes to life. It is framed in our core values of Tikkun Olam and Kehillah Kedosha. It is through this approach that we begin to help our students frame their lives and see the world in which they live through a Jewish lens.
It cannot be overstated how important it is to explicitly teach our Jewish values, model the behaviors and transform them into action. You have to be taught to be good, to be caring and to be empathetic - just like you have to be taught to hate.
While we need engineers, scientists, doctors and business people, what we need most of all are good people. Apathy, indifference, selfishness and evil all corrode society making each one of us vulnerable.
While it is not always easy to teach children to do the right thing, and sometimes it takes years for them to figure it out, we are all doing something right by not leaving goodness to chance. That is the Schechter difference.