With permission we are sharing Noah Mencow Hichenberg’s letter to his staff today, November 9, 2016, at the Saul and Carole Zabar Nursery School, JCC Manhattan, NYC. He then extended it to a close network of colleagues, modeling great leadership and collegialship in our community.
Hi friends – sent this to our staff this morning – thought of each of you while writing it and wanted to share. Wishing you and your schools strength and hope.
As we wake up in a post-election world I wanted to check in with our team.
Deep in my heart, I so firmly believe that teachers of young children create the pathway to the future. As I wrote about in my “Note” last week, I have always seen the primary responsibility and motivation of teachers as being advocacy for tikkun olam, for repairing the world. This is why we come together on the second floor every day – to model for our children how to behave and how to treat each other, how to engage in good deeds and tzedakah projects, how to express love, empathy, and understanding.
We do this not so that individual children will grow up to be kind and strong, but rather so that the society they build together will be kind and strong. Everything else that we do is tangential. With the transition that our country will experience after yesterday’s election, this work becomes not frivolous but ever more important.
Our Jewish values offer us a guide for framing this work. Pirkei Avot, a chapter in the Talmud that focuses on ethics, reminds us in a haunting passage that,
“The day is short, the task is great” – we have a lot of work to do in repairing the world, and will always feel that our time is too limited to approach such an overwhelming task. Yet,
“You are not obligated to complete the work (of repairing the world/tikkun olam), but neither are you free to abandon it.”
We know that there are problems with our city, our country, and our world. We know that much of the “repair” that we strive for will not be accomplished in our lifetimes, and for that matter, in our students’ lifetimes. But Pirkei Avot reminds us that we are obligated, ethically, to operate with hope and optimism. We are obligated, as teachers and advocates for a more peaceful and loving future, to pour our heart and soul into showing our children just how good the world can be. It is only through hope that this vision of a repaired world will be actualized, as our children take the reigns of society from us and make the world their own.
I applaud the work you do daily, serving as role models for your children, the youngest citizens in our community. I am so proud of the warm, loving relationships you are building with them. And I know that those relationships are the pathway to the repairing of the world.
The day is short, and the task is great. I can think of no better partners in our task of tikkun olam than each of you.
Noah Mencow Hichenberg
Director, Saul and Carole Zabar Nursery School
The Samuel Priest Rose Building
334 Amsterdam Avenue at 76th street
New York, NY 10023