13 April 2010

Omer 14: Possible Utopias

Omer Day Fourteen

My daughter is tutoring in a charter school--it's part of her volunteer effort as she prepares to become bat mitzvah in the Fall. I went there yesterday to drop her off and while I waited in the office, I had the opportunity to observe the environment--the students, the teachers, the administrators and the parents and care-givers who came to pick up the kids when the tutoring sessions came to an end. I spoke with the security team as well.

To say that I was at the Burning Bush of the re-making of education in New York City is an understatement. It felt like Sinai. Time stood still when the focus of the teachers and administrators adhered in a seemless expression of the education mission at hand--teach the children to read and to reason; to compute and comport themselves as the future of the city. There was a radical discipline to everything: to their hospitality extended to me as a parent bringing a kid to the school; to each student who entered the office with whatever stated need they arrived with; to tardy parents, being found on the cell phones and respectfully confronted about the fact that they were first fifteen and then thirty minutes late in picking up their child from school. And the mutual respect that the teachers showed one another solving a curricular, operational or technological challenge.

Their work was mission driven and I was blown away.

I wondered what certain segments of Bnai Yisrael must have appeared like, wandering in the desert so soon after the Exodus from Egypt--some scarred irreparably from their servitude, numbed by their miraculous freedom while others simply led, clear-eyed, filled with vision, able to not only imagine but actually *see* the promised land though it would reside in an as-yet-realized distance, even a generation away.

I wanted to bring them with me; invite them, like that small, saving remnant of the 600,000 who stood at Sinai, to re-build our synagogue--A Charter Shul!--with their optimism, their vision, and yes, their youth.

Youth as a mind-set of possibility. Youth as a mind-set of mission. Youth as a mind-set of holding to dreams and believing that it's possible to see them through.

I don't believe we have language for this in the Jewish community. Language for what happens when the vision and mission of youth culture collides with...what? "The.Way.Things.Have.Always.Been?"

I understood in that moment the generation of Sinai. And I understood in that moment the dreamers of the Hebrew Enlightenment and the dreamers of Zionism and the dreamers of the labor movement. For a brief moment, on a sunny April day, as my 12 year-old navigated the parting waters of relating to the world through the language of commandment and obligation, I knew that utopias were necessary, even possible.

As we left the school to head back home in the car, we walked past a storefront where a couple of impoverished men, held down by too much trouble and too much alcohol, stared into nowhere as time passed them by. The radio played a song through speakers, resting on the storefront window, and then the wind blew, knocking the speakers off the ledge, severing the wire from their source, and sending them crashing to the ground.

"Oh, shit!" one of them said. And it seemed like an eternity before he moved to simply reconnect the wires.


If not possible then at least necessary. But God I hope they're possible.


Old First said...

I like this bro

Anonymous said...

I am a 2nd grade teacher at this school. We read your post at our staff meeting yesterday. Needless to say, there were several teary eyes in the room by the end of it. Thank you for sharing your experience, and for believing in what we're doing.