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The Courage of Heroes

Dear Bialik Community Members,

Each year, when our students learn about Chanukah, we focus on the themes of bravery, courage and heroism. Particularly during the pandemic, these themes have great resonance in our modern lives. 

It is interesting that students can understand the themes differently as they progress through the grades and grow in maturity. With our youngest students, we talk about Judah and the Maccabi heroes who fought the bad Antiochus. As the children get older, Matityahu becomes the focus, bravely declaring “Mi L’Adonai Elai — those who are with God, come with me” — as he formed his militia to fight the powerful Assyrian rulers. 

A next step in the educational progression is a discussion of assimilation — the Maccabis’ heroic struggle to maintain their Jewish identity despite the dominant Hellenist culture — and how we face some of the same pressures in today’s western world. We often think about heroes as public figures, fighting for a cause for all to see. But we know that bravery is also shown by everyday heroes — like those who defied the Assyrian rules and continued to adhere to their Jewish lives and traditions. Students learn that we can all be heroes if we stand up for what is right and who we are. 

With our oldest students, we might observe that sometimes heroes do the only thing they can, like lighting the Menorah even though there really isn’t enough oil to keep it burning for too long. While we can’t always see how things will turn out, sometimes simply doing the right thing can lead to unexpectedly positive outcomes. 

Once we understand that courage can be a mindset, and it doesn’t always manifest on a grand scale, we begin to see examples of heroism all around us. We’ve truly started to appreciate those with public-facing jobs, such as our first responders, who continue to work and meet the pressures of the pandemic despite the many risks they face. But, we also see heroic efforts in our own Bialik community. 

In our families, parents have been heroes. Perhaps they haven’t had to face down spear-wielding Assyrians on elephants,  but conducting business meetings on Zoom while simultaneously caring for young children needing a snack or struggling with remote learning has demanded a different kind of courage. 

And then, there are our Bialik teachers who are our heroes. Just like other parents handling remote learning, our teachers with young children had to engage with their students online while caring for their families. As if keeping a class of students on Zoom engaged in learning wasn’t challenging enough, teachers often had to do so while changing a diaper, balancing a toddler on a knee, or answering their own children’s online learning questions. Teachers also valiantly took on what we have since learned is a near-impossible task — engaging all students in a hybrid, in-class and at-home, learning environment.

Now, back in school, teachers are coping with the exhausting strain of projecting their voices all day through masks as well as caring for and understanding their students through their masks. Kol Hakavod to our heroic teachers for their dedication and bravery!

Just as the Maccabis bravely lit that ancient Menorah, not knowing what they would do when the oil ran out, so too has our community confronted the challenges faced by the pandemic without always knowing what the next turn of events might be. At each stage, we have taken whatever steps seemed appropriate at the time, always doing our best to find the right balance of multiple priorities, including the health of the Bialik community, our students’ education, and our responsibility to the wider Jewish community. 

It takes courage to navigate an environment with so much uncertainty and I believe the Bialik community has done so admirably. Maybe, as in the Chanukah story, there will be a miraculous end to our COVID experience. But I believe that it is enough that we have found the courage to confront its challenges, deal with its uncertainties, and persevere in our mission of Jewish education for our students and families. 

Wishing you all a Chag Urim Same’ach!

Benjy Cohen

Head of School