As a Rabbi and Jewish educator, I offer these prayers for our children and their education. I gave my social media community the opportunity to share their prayers on this crucial subject and will incorporate their prayers as part of this invocation.
“The world only exists on account of the breath of children at the school-house.”
This statement was made by Resh Lakish in the name of Rabbi Yehuda the Magistrate around 2000 years ago recorded in the Talmud on page 119b of Shabbat.
The issue of education perennially remains the central way to shape our society, to make the ultimate investment in our future. The breath of our children engaged in learning ensures that our civilization will persist. That order will prevail over chaos. That future generations will preserve, build, and create.
On that same page in Talmud Rabbi Hamnuna suggests that the inverse is true too: that Jerusalem was destroyed because children stopped attending the school-house.
We know this violent reality in our society all too intimately. I share with you a prayer by Dan Alexander, the Chief Administrative Officer at Great Lakes Academy Charter School in Chicago.
He offers this prayer in the wake of a drive-by shooting late at night last week outside the school where a young man and woman were badly injured: “I pray for God to help us construct schools, economy, law, and religion to cause our young people to have the inner strength to reject gangs and the violence they bring.”
How do we teach our children this basic tenet of choosing life?
One of my main mentors, my mother-in-law, addresses this fundamental question with the prayer she shares:
“A Prayer on Learning for a Child I Love”
By Sally Weber
What do I want you to learn?
To speak, to read, to write of course.
And to excel.
But to excel in learning from all around you.
The people who love you, the people who don’t;
The people you agree with, the people you don’t;
Those who speak loudly, those who speak softly.
I want you to learn that you have a moral base.
I want you to excel in discerning how to share that with the world.
I want you to learn to say ‘yes’ and also how to say ‘no’
And to understand why you’re making those choices.
I want you to learn from the love that’s offered that you have love to give.
I want you to learn that you will always be loved.
Her prayer challenges us to ensure that the basic skills we prioritize in our schools don’t replace basic human values that we must teach our children so that they understand that they matter in an absolute way.
The family is the primary place where we teach our children these lessons of being loved. Yet transformative teaching in the classroom at every age emanates from relationships between teacher and student, and student and student.
One of my former students who lives in Jerusalem, Dafna Guttman shares her prayer that recognizes how this profound encounter must be the basis of how we educate our children.
May we be guided and successful in (educating) providing a space for our children to express their needs and desires to us freely and without shame. For them to know that they are seen, cared for, and supported. After which, they will go on to do wonderful things in this world.
I add my own humble prayer to these prayers:
May we educate our children to appreciate the beauty of nature and mystery of existence; to simply learn how to be kind; to have hope.
I am grateful for how these public forums -- City Council and Social Media – can be used as a powerful and positive force for change in our society. May God establish the work of the hands of educators, public-policy makers, Religious leaders, parents and the hands of our children as we shape our world.
Here is the official video of me reciting your prayers. It’s the first two minutes, enjoy!