From Ripples to Waves

Sometimes when I am faced with a situation that feels overwhelming or out of my control I have to remind myself that even small, personal interactions can have ripples of impact that are completely unpredictable.  My own personal response to the horrific attack in Pittsburgh feels tiny when compared to the size of the problem that is Antisemitism.  I have to remind myself that responding is still worthwhile, that it still matters how I respond, and that when each of us creating ripples coordinate our efforts, we can together create waves of impact.  Ultimately, this is the message that so many have sent the Jewish community this week — that one act of hate will never be able to tip the scale away from loving support.   This truth exists only if we act, if we show up, and if we each are brave enough to bring our true selves to the table.

I’m pleased that I was able to share that powerful message with my son by bringing him with me to the Vigil at Adas Israel this past Monday evening.  But I am also worried.  I’m worried that he will feel afraid to be proud of his identity as a Jewish-American, or that he will start to wonder about his own safety at school or synagogue.  What kind of parent would I be if those worries weren’t there, even as I rationally tell myself and my community all the ways in which we keep ourselves safe?  Below is the message we sent to our parent community on Saturday evening, which was followed up by further communication on Monday:

Dear Kehilat Gesher (Gesher community),

In the transition from Shabbat to Chol (weekday) this evening, we learned of the tragic events that took place earlier today at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. We are so sad for the victims and their families. We stand in support of our Jewish brothers and sisters and are angry that anyone in our country be denied the right to pray without fear of violence.

We are absolutely committed to the safety of our students, faculty, staff and families and we remain vigilant in our approach to security and our preparedness for an emergency. We continue to have a collaborative relationship with the Fairfax Police, and have been in close touch with them. They remain responsive to our requests and needs.  Please be advised that you may see police cars at school in the near term as they are increasing their patrols, despite the fact that Federal, state and local law enforcement officials are reporting that there are no credible threats in our area.

As always, we ask everyone to keep an extra eye out for each other and for our children and to report suspicious activity to school personnel immediately.  Please understand that safety protocols require that many of our plan’s details remain confidential, though you are always welcome to reach out by phone or in person with questions.  While we continue to hope that we will never experience any such event, we regularly practice drills and review our safety protocols to ensure that our children, faculty and staff are prepared.

Tomorrow, Gesher faculty and staff will connect with each other and we will make sure we are ready to welcome our students on Monday morning, are prepared to comfort them, answer their questions, and offer any reassurance they need. We will also make sure that their daily life, their learning, and their pride in being Jewish and American remain intact and serve as guides for how to act, today and always.  We pledge to remain steadfast in our daily effort to build a better future in which acts like these no longer proliferate.

In light of the media coverage, we thought it would be helpful to share some resources with you regarding how to talk about these very difficult topics with children. The links below provide some resources that you may find helpful.  

These tragic events remind us how precious life is.  Let us hold our loved ones a little tighter and let them know that we are doing everything we can to keep them safe.  As our tradition teaches, “Who acts from love is greater than who acts from fear” -Talmud (Sota 31a). May we work together towards a day where all people use their hands only to join together in peace.

In solidarity,

Dan Finkel                                            Vicki Fishman

Head of School                                    Board President

This week Gesher also engaged in our ten-year accreditation site visit with a team from the Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS).  We passed our review with flying colors!  With eighteen months of preparation leading up to this event, it was an added challenge for our professionals to manage their own emotional processing of the attack on top of hosting VIP’s engaged in evaluating the school.  I am proud to say that our team responded admirably both in their ability to be present for students as well as in their additional responsibility welcoming guests.  The team’s feedback to me included high praise for our outstanding faculty and administrative staff, but the most important compliments (from my perspective) were in two other areas:

First, about our students:  It is one thing for us to brag about how poised and academically prepared our students are, but when outside experts tell us how impressed they are with our kids, we should all be particularly excited.  From the tours of the school led by our 8th graders to the informal lunch-room conversations held with our 1st graders, our accreditation team tells us that our students truly stood out in terms of their confidence, intelligence, ability to connect, and their visible enjoyment of their school.

Second, we heard about a pervasive culture described by our team Chair as a “profoundly joyful sense of comfort and community,” which she said was evident from the lay and professional leadership as well as the parents, faculty, and children.  Again, we know this, but hearing it confirmed by an entire team of objective observers is incredibly meaningful, particularly since it would be understandable if this week wasn’t so joyful, despite our best efforts to keep our routine and culture as normal as possible for our students.  That means that our supportive, nurturing culture is so strong and our community so resilient that even in the face of violence and hate we exude authentic caring, health, and joy from our very cores.

This Shabbat has been designated as a special opportunity for each of us to show up at a local synagogue, even if we are not regulars, and even if we don’t express our identity as Jews often in that way.  It is a moment during which our individual small ripples can be powerfully aligned, and I am eager to see what powerful kinds of waves emerge if we each decide that our presence matters, even if we are just one person standing against massive problems.  If we do it together we might just begin to see an impact.  This Shabbat, I hope that you will find a way to respond that is meaningful for you and your family, and maybe I will see you at synagogue!

In solidarity, and wishing you a Shabbat Shalom – a peaceful Shabbat,