As the school bus approaches, parents share their dreams and fears
Project Coordinator: Rachel Bachrach
Rabbi Dov Brezak
To my dearest Moishie,
My love for you is so great that I cannot put it into words. I wish for your success even more than I wish for my own. Tomorrow you are going back to school, and I’d like to give you a short letter, with a tefillah that it help you see much success in this upcoming school year.
Moishie, this has not been a simple year. It’s been a coronavirus year. We’ve been together at home for so long, all of us. We’ve been afraid together, we’ve been upset together, we’ve been fighting, and we’ve gotten on each other’s nerves. We’ve also had fun together, we spent Pesach and Shavuos together, we davened together, and we even tried “going to school” together.
There were phone conferences and classes that we tried to get all of you to listen to, but it wasn’t easy, and it just wasn’t the same as being in school.
Now, b’chasdei Hashem, you’re returning to school for the new year. It’s not a regular new school year though — it’s a post-coronavirus year.
When we don’t have something, we begin to appreciate it more, we begin to understand its value even more. You didn’t have that much school this past half year. You were bored, you were restless, and you were fighting with your siblings a lot.
What were you missing? Moishie, you weren’t growing. That’s what you were missing.
Just like a child grows physically and gets taller and bigger, he grows spiritually, too. But the way he grows spiritually is by going to school. There he learns Chumash, mishnayos, Gemara, halachah… and there he receives the hashkafos that help him attain ahavas Hashem and good middos.
Even though school is hard work and maybe not so much fun, now that you haven’t had it for a while, you know just how much you’ve been missing. You’ve been missing the feeling that you are growing and becoming bigger in Torah. You’ve been missing the feeling that you are growing and becoming bigger in becoming a mensch and in learning skills that will help you throughout life.
But there’s more, and this is the message I want to give you.
Moishie, Chazal say that the Torah of young boys (tinokos shel beis rabban) holds up the world. Your Torah holds up the world! And this past year, when so much of your Torah and the Torah of other young children has been missing, the entire world has suffered so much.
Now you are going back to cheder, but this is not a regular year. You’re going back to hold up the world.
My precious Moishie, hold your head high, and think about what a special thing you are doing! The entire world is waiting for you and your Torah.
But Moishie, knowing this isn’t enough. You realize your learning is important, you know it’s holding up the world, you understand that we need you and we are all waiting for your Torah. But it’s an awesome responsibility, and maybe you aren’t comfortable carrying that responsibility, especially since you’re just a young boy, not even bar mitzvah yet.
So there’s something I think you need to focus on, which will help you to fulfill this special task successfully.
Moishie, not only is your Torah holding up the world — there’s more than that: Hashem chose you to hold up the world.
You should be dancing, singing, and laughing all day long.
“Hashem chose me! Hashem chose me! Me — little Moishie! Hashem chose me to hold up the world. How happy I am, and how wonderful it feels!”
Moishie, sing, dance, laugh, and smile the whole day long, because Hashem chose you to hold up the world!!
You are special in a way that words cannot express.
So when you struggle, or when school might not go so easily, because school can be that way, smile to yourself and say,
“Hashem chose me!”
—Your loving father, who is always so proud of you, and this year more than ever
Rabbi Dov Brezak is the author of Chinuch in Turbulent Times (ArtScroll Mesorah Publications) and founder of Chinuch LifeLines, an organization providing workshops and coaching to parents around the world. He lives in Jerusalem.
Slovie Jungreis Wolff
My most precious children,
When you were born, I thanked Hashem for the awesome gift of life. I counted fingers and toes, stroked your silken hair, and cradled you in my arms. As you grew, I wiped away your tears, chased fireflies under starry summer nights, and waved as you rode your bikes in the wind.
First days of school brought excitement and jitters. Years somehow flew. You didn’t see my eyes glisten when I realized this would be my last graduation in your school as a mother. As Abba and I walked you to your chuppah, our hearts were filled with prayers, hopes, and dreams. Now you are baruch Hashem starting to build your own homes. Now, it’s your turn.
You take your children for their school supplies; I remember the feeling. Notebooks with blank white pages. Clean backpacks, no messy papers or crushed snacks crumpled at the bottom. A new start. But nothing is really the same.
If I stand still, I can feel the world spinning. There is so much we don’t know. Will school stay open all year? How will our children grow up in a world of masks and face shields? If our children are confined to their classrooms, what will happen to carefree recess games, blooming friendships, and joking around with the kid next to you in the boisterous lunchroom? What is happening in our children’s hearts and minds?
I have watched the struggles these past few months. Maneuvering each child’s calls with their teachers, keeping up kids’ connections while social distancing, and frustration with juggling school that’s not really school. Waking up to a schedule that’s not really a schedule.
The uncertainty hovers. What will be?
What can I give you if not the message that sustained me as I raised you?
Whenever Bubbe (my mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis a”h) wrote me a card or letter, she would always sign it with the same three words: “V’nafsho keshurah b’nafsho — and his soul was bonded with his soul.” Bubbe would tell me how after going through the darkness of Bergen-Belsen as a little girl, she was then taken to a DP camp in Switzerland. There, she was separated from her parents again.
Bubbe slept in a room filled with orphans. Nighttime was the worst. As shadows filled the space, the cries and screams would begin. Somehow the dresser looked like a Nazi. Children called out for parents who were no more. There was terror in the air. Then Zeida, Bubbe’s father, would enter the room. He’d gather the children round and sing the Shema. Zeida calmed their fears and soothed their souls. Before leaving, Zeida would give Bubbe a kiss and whisper in her ear: “V’nafsho keshurah b’nafsho. Don’t be afraid, lichtige kind, I am always with you.”
Bubbe took Zeida’s words, carried them in her heart, and then gave them to us, her children.
Now it’s my turn to pass the message on to you.
Despite all the chaos and confusion, the fear and frustration, know this:
V’nafsho keshurah b’nafsho.
We are bonded forever. You are never alone.
You have bubbies and zeidies who have walked before you, made a path for you, davened for you, and watch over you from Shamayim.
I, too, am davening for you to have the courage, the wisdom, and the emunah to raise the next dor of Klal Yisrael with strength despite all that we are going through.
I love you forever,
Slovie Jungreis Wolff is a noted author, speaker, teacher, and relationships/parenting instructor. Her popular parenting book, Raising a Child with Soul (St. Martin’s Press), has guided parents worldwide. She lives in Lawrence, New York.
Dear Simcha and Yisrael Meir,
Yesterday you asked me if I was more excited for school to start this year than usual, since it’s been so many months of us stuck at home together. Somehow, I managed to choke out a strangled “I always miss you when you’re in school,” even though clearly, with your penetrating, mythical child-wisdom, you somehow know that mommies across the universe are holding their breath, eyes uplifted, waiting, hoping, praying for school to just start already (on time and outside of our homes, may it be speedily in our days, amen).
School supplies shopping earlier today was not how you remember it. The store was full of masked half-faces, some of our stops were just curbside pickups, there were no tzedakah pennies available at the bank or pharmacy or grocery or anywhere, apparently due to pandemic-induced coin shortages (virtual tzedakah this year, we shrugged).
Lots of other things are different. Orientation was one-on-one, without parents and younger siblings in tow; you were shown a classroom with desks carefully positioned six feet apart. Along with uniform shirts, we ordered masks for school — that was a first. We wondered if there would be playdates and extracurricular activities and if you’d ever get to pass each other in the hallway at school because of the new staggered, capsuled recess system. We had to label every last crayon (literally) because there would be no supplies sharing this year.
So much is different. Different can be uncomfortable. You tell me you’re not worried about school, but you keep asking me to review the new health and safety protocol with you (“And what happens if I get a runny nose, Mommy?”). The truth is, we’re all trying to learn a new system. Different can seem daunting.
But different can also be exciting, rewarding and energizing. You know what I’ve noticed? That different feels much better when it’s wrapped in familiarity. So let’s focus on sameness for a bit. Your friends, who you miss seeing every day, will be back in your classroom just the way you remember them (if maybe six inches taller, or at least that’s what they look like to me). Your after-school schedule (yes, homework, no snacks too close to dinner, “how close is too close” still highly contested), your bossy little si — uh, I mean, family life, a lot of that will be the same.
Most importantly, our goals for this school year are the same as ever: Give learning your all. Be kind to your classmates. Be respectful toward your teachers no matter what subject they teach. Look out for the new kids, and include them. Be creative. And this year, maybe even more than ever before: be grateful.
The masks, the endless detailed protocol, the smell of hand sanitizer… let those fade into scenery. There are things that deserve to be front and center in your mind no matter how strange the circumstances. And let me tell you, as you get older, they’re only going to get stranger… Because adulthood.
Kindness, intellectual integrity, positivity. That sameness, your own consistent focus on what does Hashem wants from me right now, will help you stay rooted no matter what the wind blows in.
I lean over to kiss your angelic sleeping faces, stack your packages of school supplies at the door, and try not to think smugly that we’re one day closer to school starting (yay!).
Sleep well, my big boys.
Kayla Soroka works in Jewish outreach and education at the Cincinnati Community Kollel and is a teacher at Atara Girls High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Rabbi Shmuel Tenenbaum
Wow! You’ve reached eighth grade already! I am so excited for you. B’ezras Hashem, you’ll have a great school year.
You’ve meticulously packed your backpack with all your school supplies, your hand sanitizer and face masks lying alongside pencils, paper, and folders. Mommy and I have put in some things as well: a doodle book, a diary, and an abundance of love and encouragement.
School will be very different than what you’re used to. You and your teachers will be wearing masks most of the time, your temperature will be taken when you walk into the school building, the hallways will be marked with directional arrows so that traffic flows in one direction, and the teacher’s desk will have a plexiglass partition in front of it. These are just a few of the changes you can expect to see; all are safety measure being implemented to keep you, your friends, and your teachers safe.
There’s so much you may be wondering about: How will recess work if you have to be socially distanced from your friends, what will happen if someone catches the virus, what will happen if school has to close down? The only thing we can tell you for sure is that we send you to a school that we trust. We trust that the school administration is doing everything in their power to keep you physically and emotionally safe. You have a great support system of adults that will always love you and will always look out for your wellbeing.
The doodle book that we packed for you is for times when you feel a bit anxious or uncomfortable. Use doodling to express your feelings. Try to draw your feelings, and share your art with either Mommy and me, your teacher, or maybe even your principal.
The diary will be the place where you can share your story. You’re living in an era that’s making history! Every time you’re faced with a challenge, write it down. Write how you dealt with it and how you managed to stay positive. Your story can leave a record of hope, strength, and courage for your future family.
The abundance of love and encouragement is for life! Use it anytime you feel that you need to be cheered up. Remember, Mommy and I, along with your teachers, always care for you and are rooting for your success. We are your biggest fan club. You pulled through five months of lockdown! It wasn’t easy, yet you persevered. You are a real trooper!
I will daven for your success and for your school’s success, and I hope that you will be able to continue using all the other school supplies in your backpack in school for the rest of the year.
Rabbi Shmuel Tenenbaum, MSMFT, and his wife and nine children live in Chicago. He is the mashgiach/ Dean of Students at Yeshiva Tiferes Tzvi and a psychotherapist specializing in adolescent development. Rabbi Tenenbaum is the founder of Bigtalks.org, whose mission is to empower and enable parents to have sensitive conversations with their adolescent children.
Rabbi Ari Schonfeld
As you go to sleep tonight, I’m sure you’re nervous and anxious. Tomorrow is your first day of sixth grade, and your first day back in yeshivah after over five months at home. You’re wondering if Mommy and I expect you to just slip back into routine. Sitting in class for a whole day? With a mask? Davening, Gemara, tests, homework… it all seems so overwhelming. You’re probably thinking to yourself, Can’t we just have two-hour phone conferences again so I can play ball and have fun the rest of the day? I’m not ready for this. It’s been so long of a break that I don’t know if I can do it.
My dear son, I want you to know a few things. Over the past few months, we’ve spent lots of time together. You’ve shown us so many incredible moments of growth. We couldn’t be prouder of you. And as exciting as it is that yeshivah is starting again, we’re sad that we won’t be able to hang out as much. (Fine, maybe you were a drop annoying once in a while, but overall, you rocked!)
Another thing: The feeling you have right now is normal. Everyone is nervous. The smartest boy in the class, the coolest kid in the class, and even your rebbi (trust me on that one).
It’s hard for everyone. Change is hard. I remember driving straight from camp to a new yeshivah after being color war general. It was one of the hardest things I ever did. One second, we’re dancing and singing the alma mater, and the next thing I know, I’m in a dorm room with boys I never met before trying to figure out which perek in Bava Kamma we would learn. I remember that feeling of I can’t… get me out of here! The contrast was so harsh.
I called my rebbi, Rav Shalom Spitz, practically in tears. He listened, smiled, and reassured me that I would be fine. “Give it a couple of days and you’ll be comfortable with your new surroundings. It takes time. But it’s worth the struggle.”
He was so right. Don’t expect to love everything, or maybe even anything, by tomorrow. It may take time, but it’s so worth the struggle.
And one more thing: Mommy and I love you and will always be here for you. Don’t be afraid to share with us how you feel, whether it’s the happy moments or the difficult ones. All we want to do is help you be successful and happy. We don’t want you to be the best at this or the best at that. We just want you to be the best at being you.
Rabbi Ari Schonfeld is the eighth-grade rebbi at Yeshivas Beis Hillel of Passaic, the director of Camp Eeshay, and the founder of Night Seder America. He lives in Clifton, New Jersey.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 826)
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