Last night, we lit the outdoor fire for the first time; that good chill in the air, so distinctively November’s. All four of sat outside with our cups of liquid—red wine and hot chocolate, respectively—while I lit candles and said the Shabbat blessings that are forever ingrained in both my memory and spiritual consciousness after teaching at a Jewish school for eleven years.
Jill and I began observing a modified Sabbath many years ago, even before Shiv was born; we stay home on Friday nights, put away our technology, make dinner, and rest. I wrote about this tradition on the now-retired food blog (bonus content: adorable pictures of Shiv from 4 years ago!), and after experiencing Shabbat in Israel, I came back more convinced than ever that it was a ritual worth holding onto, a sane way to end the work week, decompress, and connect.
This week it felt especially important to light the candles, say the blessings, and stumble over the Mourner’s Kaddish, which I don’t have fully memorized. Judaism is not my tradition, but it is a tradition, like Anglican Christianity, with which I have spent considerable time and inside which I feel at home. Many of the people I love, including my platonic life partner and almost every student I’ve ever taught, identify as Jewish, and my heart breaks for the current of fear that they’ve been reminded is their birthright.
The senselessness of such hate-filled events makes it correspondingly impossible to know how to respond to them; their seeming ubiquity makes the task feel even more exhausting. There is no one “right” way, of course; each of us has to determine how we think we can best take care of ourselves and the ones around us when the world reminds us of just what we are up against when it comes to creating a just, equitable society. Personally, I’ve found myself re-convicted in the sense of calling I feel when it comes to teaching my students those topics and histories we often label as “difficult” or “tricky” and therefore avoid.
I get the impulse to avoid—believe me, I do. The work is harder, more nerve-wracking, and can come with sticky consequences. But no consequences are more dire, in my mind, than the ones that will inevitably follow a generation of students who are ignorant about facts related to the Holocaust, for instance, or who can’t correctly identify the cause of the Civil War. Though I sometimes fret that my classroom is so often the container for disheartening conversations, I know that it will not serve my students to skirt around the truth.
In the end, what I’ve learned about teenagers is what I always return to; they can handle so much more than we give them credit for. They want to be trusted with real conversations, challenged by material that forces them to reconsider their opinions. They want to be armed, prepared for the world as it exists, not as we might wish it to be. After all, as James Baldwin so famously said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”