Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
In the heat of summer, especially down South, the start of school can feel far away – but it’ll be here before you know it! Starting a new school year is an exciting time, full of milestones and nervous butterflies; it’s also a chance to start fresh and reexamine how we engage with others. As an educator who works in the Jewish world and also in secular school programming, I’m already thinking about the school year ahead. I was excited when I found a resource from Keshet: Guidelines for an Inclusive Jewish Community to help others establish and maintain healthy relationships.
The Keshet poster for classrooms is available here; I was inspired to create seven examples to align with each of the seven values Keshet laid out in their Guidelines for an Inclusive Jewish Community. I wanted to thank Keshet for the resource and inspiration, and encourage you to find additional ways to enact the seven values so clearly laid out by Keshet. Whether last year had one too many food fights or you’re just looking for some community guidelines, it’s a great exercise.
Here are the examples I came up with for each of Keshet’s seven values for inclusivity (and check out their blog, too, for more awareness-raising posts and great content):
Acknowledge, celebrate, and support differences.
- Each of us learns and lives differently. Some of us need to move to learn while others need to see the words in a presentation. Some may be faster readers while their classmate may be a faster at calculating equations. Some of us may have legs that take us far quickly while others have minds that dream big in new worlds. Celebrate things that make us unique and powerful and seek to understand and help when peers may struggle. Each of us struggle and succeed at something. Acknowledge those realities and support each other.
Talk it out.
Shalom Bayit: Peace in the Home
- Disagreements happen. People throw food, gossip, and cheat. It is so easy to jump to conclusions about why something happened. If something negative happens, stop, breathe, re-center yourself, and cool off. Once you are in a mental place where you can listen (not as easy as it sounds) and calmly share your perspective, you should discuss what is happening. Seek to understand where the other person is coming from first. Not everybody will be friends, but to succeed everybody needs to peacefully coexist.
Don’t filter your image.
B’Tzelem Elohim: Created In God’s Image (Bereshit 1:26)
- Each of us is unique and beautiful and should be treated that way. When someone has a name you haven’t heard before, celebrates different holidays, or speaks another language, welcome that diversity. The world would be boring if everybody was exactly the same. Kindly ask them about their life, celebrate your differences, and look for opportunities to learn something new.
If someone trips, help pick them up.
Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh: Communal Responsibility/“All Israel is responsible for one another” (Shavuot 39a)
- The world where we hold the door for each other, grab an extra class supply for someone else, help pass out papers, donate our excess, and ask if anybody needs anything is a world in reach. It is incredible how quickly this can happen once someone starts. Be part of creating a world where all want to live.
Fewer memes, more poems.
Sh’mirat Halashon: Guarding One’s Use of Language
- Courage isn’t easy, but it can mean the world to someone else. If you find yourself in a situation where someone is talking negatively about someone else, step up and do something bold. You can leave the conversation, change the subject, or definitively state that gossiping isn’t something worth doing. Be a leader and bigger person. The impact of your decision may go further than you will ever know. People who gossip about others will likely gossip about you.
Bring treats on your birthday.
V’ahavta L’Reiacha Kamocha: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 / Rabbi Hillel)
- Who doesn’t love a good party? Each of us deserve at least one a year. Life can be tough; you won’t win every game or get an “A” on every test, and that’s okay. It is easy to get stuck on negativity and to count the hits. Remember, your life has immeasurable value and no success or failure should define you. Celebrate your life and let others share those moments with you. For birthdays, bring treats for the whole class—just be sure to check ahead for all allergies and dietary restriction guidelines!
Fill the lunch table.
Al Tifrosh Min Hatsibur: “Don’t separate yourself from the community” / Solidarity (Pirke Avot 2:5)
- It is only natural at the beginning of the new year to want to catch up with old friends and find out how they spent their break, share stories, and talk about plans for this year. But you might be overlooking the new student at the other table who doesn’t know anybody and feels like the joyous reunion is an impenetrable wall to break through. Be a friend and welcome others into the community. Who knows, you might find a new best friend.
Enjoy the rest of the hot, joyful summer, and here’s to a warm and inclusive school year ahead!