I went to the K-3rd grade Rosh Hashanah service today because I saw that two of my former students were helping lead the service. I was intrigued because I never would have pegged these two boys as wanting to be involved in anything like that, so I decided to see it for myself. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I definitely wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of emotion that came over me.
Let’s put this in perspective. I never thought I’d be a teacher and I’m now in my sixth year. My first few years were rocky as I experimented with lessons and learned how to manage a rowdy class. Teaching is something I’ve grown to love, even when it seems challenging, even when I’m overwhelmed and want to quit. I think I’ve gotten into a pretty good teaching rhythm these past couple of years and it’s definitely something I can see myself doing for a long time. Still, there are times when I find myself questioning my decision to teach fourth graders that, honestly, don’t seem to really care at times. Sometimes I wonder if they retain anything or if I’ve influenced even the tiniest piece of their Jewish identity.
As I watched one of the boys playing guitar in the bimah, he looked like he was having a great time. When the other boy helped lead one of the prayers, I was filled with such pride. I don’t know that I’ve influenced them in any way, but seeing how far they’ve come in their Jewish journey was touching. At one point, one boy happened to turn around and when he saw me, he nudged the other and they both excitedly waved at me. It was when I smiled and waved back that the emotion hit (and is still hitting, even as I type this.)
I’m not a hugger, but I have never wanted to embrace anyone so much and tell them how proud I was of them. They’re not my kids and I only had them in class for a year, but I feel like I must have done something right for them to even acknowledge me. To watch them participate in services was beautiful and melted even my black frozen heart (I’m kidding about my black frozen heart…sort of.)
As uneven as my feelings about the community are, I realized today that I put a lot of hope in my students, not knowing if they will ever understand why I do that. My hope for them is that they see the beauty in Judaism and find what is meaningful for them. My hope is that they never question if they belong in this community. My hope is that they grow into strong, courageous Jewish adults who put their faith into action.
If I got this emotional watching eight graders lead services, can you imagine what a mess I’m going to be when my very first class is confirmed in 2021?