Enduring Values During Demanding Times

By Danny Karpf, Head of School, P’23, ’26

Danny Karpf, Head of School
Danny Karpf, Head of School

In lively exchanges during the series of breakfasts I’ve been hosting with RSS parents this fall, two themes have dominated the conversations: the extraordinary strength of our community, and the deeply-held Jewish values that connect us. As I complete my first semester at RSS in the context of the current state of affairs in our country, I keep returning to these enduring values.

While the School should never take a position in an election, the lead up to and the aftermath of the recent presidential election calls us to embrace our core values even more rigorously. Some members of our community are personally afraid of the implications of the election for them and their friends and family, based on aspects of their identity that are underrepresented and underprivileged in our country, and considering some statements and promises the President-Elect made during the campaign as well as the reported rise in harassment and intimidation incidents since the election.

Of the values we stand for, a few have stood out to me most notably in recent days:

  1. Each of us is created in the image of God: Whether or not belief in God fits within your family’s spiritual framework, this idea challenges us to look for the humanity in everyone – no matter how strongly we disagree or see the world from opposing viewpoints. We teach our children to have empathy – from understanding the differing views of classmates to critically considering perspectives of people with different social identities and backgrounds.
  2. Inclusiveness and respect: When children see public figures using language and behavior that directly contradicts our values of respect, inclusivity, and caring for others, they need our guidance about how to understand and respond to what they are seeing and hearing discussed.
  3. Repairing the world: If ever our country and our world needed us to forge young citizens who have tikkun olam as a core value – in their hearts and minds – it is now. Our students will be agents of change toward greater equality and justice in the world.
  4. Perhaps most notably, what we stand for is prominently in our name: Rodeph Sholom. In our synagogue community and in our school, we don’t just hope for peace, we actively pursue peace, no matter what obstacles are in our way.

Peace is not only the absence of conflict but is a feeling of wholeness, of integrity, of groundedness. Finding peace is no small task in the face of the deep divides and passions seen throughout our country today. As educators and as parents, we are called now to reach deeper into our best selves—our thinking and caring selves—to provide our children a model of “walking the talk” of our values.

Since we teach and expect our students to become thoughtful, confident, independent, critical thinkers, it is no surprise to me that the faculty and parents I have been meeting are thoughtful, intelligent, passionate people. We share high aspirations for our children as students and as human beings; we wish to see them become people who will not only be happy and successful but who will impact the world and make us and our people proud. The academic skills we build in our students on a daily basis—to read critically, to analyze data, to check sources for bias, to write precisely, to collaborate with peers, to confidently articulate a point of view using well-researched arguments—will develop their ability to lead effectively and have impact now and in their future educational and work settings.

Our shared values as a Reform Jewish day school are at the center of what has built the community that so many of you have described to me as the most cherished aspect of RSS. We cannot afford to be complacent now in appreciating this sense of community, but, rather, must continuously strive to strengthen it, to work to make sure that every child and every adult feels a deep sense of belonging. Emanating from the security and confidence of this community embrace, our students learn to stand up for what they believe in, and we strongly encourage them to do so. As we approach 2017, set goals, and make resolutions, we must look forward with a steadfast insistence on maintaining our values to center ourselves and guide our children. As parents and as educators, we must reaffirm and embrace this work each and every day.

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