Life in the wilderness

Liminality is the state of being on the edge — one foot in, one foot out. In social science, it used to describe one phase of several in which individuals shift roles, as in the shift from childhood to adulthood. For example, there may be a period of seclusion during the transition from single life to married life (we call it a honeymoon). The bride and groom, having just been ritually bound together at the beginning of their marriage, spend a period of time outside the community and return from their liminal time as a husband and wife.

BaMidbar (In the wilderness/desert) describes an extremely protracted period (forty years) of liminality, during which the Children of Israel travel at the outskirts and edges of society as they learn to be a nation. They depart Egypt as slaves, loosely organized and downtrodden, and eventually enter Israel triumphantly as a people, with social and religious norms, leadership infrastructure, and ritual practices for sanctifying time and space. This transitional, liminal time is marked by many different phases, but it is absolutely a journey of being in-between, other, and set apart.

This week, I witnessed a beautiful moment inside our school. One of our precious students, with thoughtful guidance from his family and from our own Student Support Team, shared some deeply personal information with his classmates about how he sometimes feel liminal. He is on the Autism Spectrum, and there are some things about him that set him apart. Through a masterfully facilitated educational process, his classmates learned about Autism, and then they learned about him. He bravely stood in front of his peers to talk about his hopes, fears, and needs, and to request their friendship and support—and he was heard and held. I was so moved by the creation of loving, safe space, and by the positive, supportive interactions among the faculty and the students. This meeting will certainly remain among the most powerful Gesher moments in my mind.

This student was moving from a time and space of liminality that had been part of his educational experience for years into a comfortable, secure role among his peers – he was coming home in a very similar way to the way in which B’nai Yisrael did at the end of their own journey. What a blessing it is to be part of a community that treats children so respectfully, and values each of them for who they are.

This week, try asking your children if they ever feel like they have been left out or sidelined. Share with them times that you have felt that way, and what you did to connect back with others.

Shabbat Shalom,