(January 7, 2021 / JNS) If you’re an American, chances are you woke up this morning wondering whether what happened in this country yesterday actually transpired. Like many people, you might be bleary-eyed from the countless hours of news footage that you watched, articles you read and tears that you shed. You also probably have a whole slew of emotions mixed up and pent up inside you and are venting them all in uncharted ways. Let’s not delude ourselves: What happened in the United States on Jan. 6 was devastating on many levels.
If you’re an American who also happens to be an educator—or in the case of readers of this article, a Jewish educator—you woke up this morning and did what we educators are conditioned to do. We desperately try to push aside all of our own feelings and emotions and put on a brave face. We stand before our students and open the floor for discussion, “So, I’m sure you all saw the news … .”
If you are one of those teachers facing your students today, you have an awesome responsibility. Today is not the day to begin your civics curriculum within your classrooms. Today is the day to continue the work that you have been doing up until now. You are ready for today because of all of the work you have done leading up to it. You understand that when you educate children, you are never just teaching the curriculum; you are teaching human beings. You also understand that you are not just teaching Jewish youth, but educating Jewish youth who are citizens of a broader society and country. And importantly, you understand that what happens in this country doesn’t just happen to our children, but is happening as part of the world that is our children’s.
Amid this morning’s scramble for resources, you will turn to source sheets that include the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and Prayers for the Government and Welfare of this nation. Like other organizations, we at the Jewish Education Project will be offering other educational resources. We know that you appreciate this support, and we know that you will continue to take advantage of the articles, lesson plans and source sheets filled with quotes from famous people. We also know that you just need to be there with and for your students. The true devastation was not felt yesterday and will not be felt today; it will be felt if we can’t educate a generation who has the knowledge, skills and commitment to become better citizens inspired and capable of building a better world. That has always been and continues to be the sacred task of all education.
A brief message for educational leaders: Please find a time to convene your faculty today or tomorrow, and give them a space to just be there for one another. Especially in this moment, where many people are feeling socially distanced, if not isolated, they need a forum to just be themselves. For many, work is the only space they currently have for such dialogue and processing. We know that when educators only put on stoic faces in front of their students that eventually, they will crack. It’s best to preempt that by doing what you do best—provide the conditions for your staff and faculty to be the very best educators they can be.
It is naive to think that the events of Jan. 6 were isolated incidents, and that “they too shall pass.” It is not naive to know that education, and perhaps only education, has the capacity to change the world.
Thank you to every educator—and every Jewish educator—who woke up this morning with the commitment to heal this fractured world. We thank you each and every day. May you continue to have the strength and wisdom that allows the rest of us to trust you all with our most treasured souls.
David Bryfman is CEO of the Jewish Education Project. Check out the Jewish Education Project’s Jewish Educator Portal for resources on “Surviving and Thriving Through Civic and Civil Engagement.”
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