רבי שמעון בן יהודה משום רבי שמעון בן יוחאי אומר, הנוי והכח והעשר והכבוד והחכמה והזקנה והשיבה והבנים, נאה לצדיקים ונאה לעולם, שנאמר (שם טז) עטרת תפארת שיבה בדרך צדקה תמצא.
Rabbi Shimon ben Yehuda, in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, says: beauty, strength, riches, honor, wisdom, maturity, hoary head, and children are fitting for the righteous and fitting for the world, as it is written: “The hoary head is a crown of glory, it will be found in the way of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31).
Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 6:8
Tradition and modernity sometimes find themselves in opposition, but it is an important part of the work of educators in a Jewish Day School to both balance them when they are in tension, and also to integrate them when possible. I have no doubt that the children currently enrolled at Gesher JDS are deeply engaged in this journey of making ancient Jewish wisdom and practice meaningful and relevant in their modern lives. Today’s Jewish educator (and parent) is faced with an environment and culture that is changing so rapidly that using our own childhoods as models is only occasionally appropriate. This forces us to open ourselves to constructive approaches in which we partner across generations to make meaning, and that is a very good thing.
The quote above begins with an attribution from one Rabbi citing words from an earlier generation of Rabbinic thought, and then linking the earlier words to an even older “proof-text.” Rabbinic Judaism, which has been the primary mode of Jewish philosophy and practice for the past two thousand year, spends a lot of time and energy documenting links in an unbroken chain, and derives divine authority from this method, among others. The idea is that rooting a modern practice in the ancient holy texts imbues it (and sometimes its author) with some divine authority of their own. Modernity, on the other hand, is often dismissive of whatever came before, seeking to disrupt with innovation. This can be powerfully good — many of society’s challenges can be disrupted in ways that improve the quality of life. The price, however, can be steep.
As a leader on the younger end of my own field, I’m also trying to strike a similar balance. We know that not everything that worked to create and build Jewish Day Schools will be the same going forward. Our schools also need to adapt to modernity, and this may happen in ways that are both exciting and scary. When I collaborate with folks who have extensive experience in the field, I have plenty to learn from them, but I also have new ideas and methods that feel challenging because they are not tried and true. What we share, however, is a vision for excellent schools serving Jewish children, and it is usually possible for us to learn from one another.
The study of Judaism transmits the value of respecting tradition and communal elders, but also celebrates the idea that vibrant practice must interact meaningfully with the modern world. May we each find ways of balancing and integrating. This Shabbat, rather than asking a child, ask a parent or member of the generation above your own what changes they have seen in their lifetime (perhaps ask with your child), and what they think about these changes.