2 Elul 5777
Dear AJA Community,
I’ve written a lot about unity and connection - about inclusivity and being a school for all Jewish people. I always go back to something wise one of my Rabbis used to say: “I am a Rabbi to ALL of the Jewish people, and my practice is Modern Orthodox”. This holds true for me, as well. I am so proud of the diversity at AJA, and the committed connected community we have built and are continuing to build.
I thought of this diversity during the incredible eclipse we all shared, as I was staring up at the the sky in awe of what was unfolding. How could I not be thinking of the massiveness of the world and the beauty of G-d and the Universe? I wonder what all of you were thinking of as you experienced this phenomenon?
As I glanced around at this diverse group of our AJA students, families, faculty and staff staring up, I began to think about how many people were all staring up at the Heavens at the same time. For those precious moments, all of our diversity, differences of opinion, drama and trauma in our world just dissipated. We all just looked up. We focused on what connects us and not what divides us. It was magical. Each of us stepped out of our own day-to-day thoughts, and truly saw the big picture. Sometimes, we tend to hone in on the minutia, or things that may not be as important as the “big stuff”. Yet, we agree on much, agree to disagree as needed, and strive to focus on inclusivity.
One approach that can help create inclusivity is the creation of standards. It is important to always reflect on our practice, staying true to our values. We have several policies and protocols that we’ll be addressing and navigating through over the next few months to create consistency and transparency across ONE AJA. I believe that creating standards can foster love of Israel and connection to all of our fellow Jews. When we review our standards, some of the processes may be interactive discussions. I do recognize that culture and habits are often emotionally-charged and often difficult to change. I promise to enter these discussions with humility and understanding. Some review of standards will be decisions, and I will share and articulate the “why”.
One of those decisions is around the enforcement of the kippot policy in our building. As an educator, I believe that we need to live by example and model respect by demonstrating it to the children. As a Head of School, I believe that we need to offer an inclusive community to all of our families by creating a safe, welcoming and accepting space. It is important, in that context, to set a standard of asking all Jewish men who enter our building to wear a kippah, headcovering or hat (as long as it’s not a Patriots cap!). This is not a religious statement, it is a standard, and one that, quite frankly, we’ve had at our school for years. All of our Jewish male students and teachers, from Pre-K to 12th grade are expected to follow this standard, and we are asking all Jewish male parents and guests to do the same. We will have “bulk” satin kippot up at the front for those of you who need to borrow one while in the building, or you can buy the beautiful AJA knit kippot from our front office.
Why? The tradition of wearing a kippah is a custom in Judaism as a sign that we acknowledge and respect that G-d is above us watching over us. In Talmudic times, the practice of wearing a headcovering was reserved for men of great stature. In later generations, though, it became customary for all Jewish men to wear a kippah at all times, and especially during prayer. It has become a reminder to us of respect for each other, G-d and the community we are all included in. We view wearing a kippah as an important symbol of respect for the place, and not as a religious statement about the individual wearing it.
This is not a standard to divide us, it is to connect us. We all felt that incredible connection to the heavens and nature during the eclipse. Each of us went to a different place of reverence during the phenomenon. Those type of moments are so rare. Wearing a kippah as a standard in our AJA halls is but a simple reminder to us that G-d is above us, every day, not only when the moon eclipses the sun.
Rabbi Ari Leubitz