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The First Day of School

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In the beginning of September, thousands of children marched off to their first day of school. We are blessed to call this our “popcorn” year, with four grandchildren starting first grade.

The post The First Day of School appeared first on Jewish Journal.

In the beginning of September, thousands of children marched off to their first day of school. We are blessed to call this our “popcorn” year, with four grandchildren starting first grade.

But I didn’t post their photos on Facebook or Instagram. I didn’t WhatsApp them to any groups, beyond our family.

Because I know that, the world over, there are thousands of people, women and men, who watch these children marching off to school and a knife pierces their heart. Do we also have to shove it in their faces on social media?

This is a shout-out to my friends who are not blessed with biological or adopted children; some may yet know that bleSsing.

This is a shout-out to my friends who are not blessed with biological or adopted children; some may yet know that blessing. Others may not. Yet all of them have spiritual children, who have learned from them or been influenced by them in some way. Perhaps in a classroom, perhaps in another framework, or perhaps they have read a book or seen a film, a play, or heard a song, or witnessed acts of great kindness, by someone, that changed their life forever. 

In honor of those friends, I share here an excerpt from the conclusion to my M.A. thesis that I wrote for Bar Ilan University in 2011, “Performing Ruth: Dramatic Exegesis in Religious Women’s Theater Groups, With an emphasis on the character of Naomi,” under the superb mentorship of Professor Susan Handelman. 

I also had the privilege of studying under the late biblical scholar, Professor Nehama Leibowitz, in the late 1960’s. “Nehama,” as she was called, had thousands of students — hundreds of thousands probably, including those who read her books — yet she had no biological children. I include her ideas in this excerpt:

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I believe that part of the message in Megillat Ruth lies in the fact that Oved is not really of the flesh and blood of Naomi and Elimelech.  

What this indicates is that what we leave behind in this world, what we give to this world, is not just a matter of biology. Naomi is a facilitator; no magic in the world will turn her into the mother or grandmother of Oved, who engenders the Davidic line leading to the Messiah. 

Like Job, Naomi – by extension – achieves a new family of sorts, but they can never replace the loved ones she has lost, just as the Jewish people, after pogroms, the Shoah, or terror, move on with spirit and create new families, but those who they have lost are not forgotten. They will always be backstage. The underpinning of sorrow remains.

What is the role of the mother-facilitator? 

Nehama Leibowitz cites the Akedat Yitzhak, a commentator who explains the reasons for Eve having two names –“Isha” (woman) and “Hava” (Eve), the “Isha” referring to her ability “to understand and become wise with words of intelligence and kindness” and the “Hava” referring to her biologically giving “life” (being the “eim kol hai” – mother of all living) to children, which the Akadat Yitzhak calls “the lesser of the two roles.” Or, as it says in Sifrei Ve’Ethanan, “You are children to the Lord your God” (Devarim 14:1), means that “[Your] students are called [your] children.” 

The idea of “children” is an egocentric one according to the Lebanese Christian author Khalil Gibran, who wrote in “The Prophet,” “They come through you but not from you.” 

We are all merely facilitators, whether biological, spiritual, intellectual or national…

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The message of Naomi is that, whether her goal is to facilitate the achieving of personal resolution, tribal resolution, religious resolution or family coexistence, life is extremely imperfect and challenging, and the goal of the individual must be to overcome adversity and sorrow to achieve meaning for himself and for others, whoever those others are.

A different mother figure was that of Deborah, who also had no children, but who was called “Eim b’Yisrael” (“Mother in Israel”). Her persona was one of … national action, leadership and victory. 

Are the mothers of Israel today Naomi’s or are they Deborah’s? Perhaps both. 

May this be a sweet, healthy and joyful year for us all. G’mar tov and hag sameah.


Toby Klein Greenwald is an award-winning journalist, director of the biblical Raise Your Spirits Theatre, and editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com

The post The First Day of School appeared first on Jewish Journal.

Source: Jewish Journal https://jewishjournal.com/commentary/340541/the-first-day-of-school/

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