Sunday, March 1, 2015

Personal Reflections on a year since my friend passed away...

Rashi and I on Purim, circa 2001...Today on Rashi's Yortzeit, I felt compelled to put pen to paper...

It has been a whole year since my friend Rashi passed away.  It's a cliché to say it but there is no other way to put it - it feels like yesterday. How could it be a whole year? A whole year ago I got the dreaded news? On March 11th, I had slammed my phone down at about a few minutes to midnight- annoyed with myself that I was still on the cursed thing. It was now March 12th, about 5 minutes later that I got the first text alerting me to something very wrong. Instead of seeing the text, I got four and a half hours of peaceful sleep. A type of sleep I wouldn't feel again for quite some time. No stranger to bad news, there's a certain shuffle and gasp that I have come accustomed to hearing when my husband is looking at his phone trying to process what he is reading, at 4:30 am that is what I heard. At 4:30 am groggy and exhausted it’s almost impossible to process information. What we thought we were hearing, actually seeing, or reading in text after text, missed call after missed call, really made no sense at all. How does your friend just die? Someone you communicate with almost daily, someone your own age, someone you spoke to just two days ago- it's simply too outrageous to process, especially in a dark room, shivering, while half your brain is still sleeping on the pillow beside you. We went through the motions. Another cliché, but that is what you do.  As the kids wake up, you call each child into your room alone and tell them the news. You try to process how they might be handling this right now, while inside you know this short stilted conversation will affect them forever, and they will never, ever forget it.  You get dressed, you drive the 45 minutes of a drive that fills you with memories and now forever will fill you with dread. Memories of happy times, the time you first met, and the times you felt comfortable enough to tell her zany things, and laugh about it. How perfectly frank we always were with each other. The time you were adventurous together, and drove 3 hours to somewhere North of GA, with three babies in the back seat to see a Moshe Yess concert, just us two as the adults. The times we had Shabbos sleepovers, bbq's, swam and went to the park together. So many memories and now so much pain instead. More than the events or times together it's the conversations. I hear my friend Rashi in my ear constantly. She is like a running commentary, how do I almost know what she would have to say about almost everything? Because that is where our friendship was most profound, it was in our conversations. (I really have no idea what she would say right now, on any given day, how could I?) So now I talk to myself and to her, inside myself, and imagine how she might respond.
Immediately consumed with pain, fear, horror, and emotion for Rashi's family, I really did not see her passing as a loss I could call my own. Her funeral was agonizing; to watch the people who loved her in so much pain was really more than one can bear.  It was physically torturous to fathom how this could happen and what would be moving forward. I maintained that for me it was peripheral or a secondary blow, my loss was not like theirs.
The world it seemed was reeling, the shock and pain was too great. So much was said about Rashi, so many mitzvot taken on, Torah classes begun. I did my part, I spoke, I studied, I encouraged special women's mitzvot, and I taught Rashi's Torah and Tea class. But really, I did nothing concrete. I didn't join any bandwagons or make commitments.  I made many excuses for myself, saying as a friend Rashi would best want to be honored without my being frantic or consumed with guilt.  So I wasn’t; for the last year it feels like I just was, plain and simple. Missing Rashi daily, sometimes with low grade sadness, almost like a low-grade fever.  Reflecting back though, it seems I learned a great deal. I don’t know if it is anything profound or different from what another might learn from the passing of a dear friend, but it is things that are now a part of what makes me who I am.

A few weeks after Rashi's passing a family friend told me that I should not be mistaken, losing her friend many years ago, was so stressful it almost made her lose her marriage, "don't make that mistake, Dena". That is when it hit me. That losing a friend is a tragedy and not just a happenstance, as in - well I was lucky to have her for the years I did- G-d gives and G-d takes. It's not so simple. I am thankful she gave me that early on reality check, it was most helpful. If that is where it almost took her, this is serious. I learned that yes, the emotional toll would drain me, would bring issues that were simmering, somewhere in the back of my wellbeing, right to the forefront. Losing a friend puts a lot into perspective. Ironically, now, like Rashi, I really won't deal with the pettiness of life. It's got to be real. And then we can deal. I learned that we have got to live in the here and now, really take each moment we have and be present, for the people we love. Don't push it off because like they say, tomorrow may not come. Not in a morbid way, but in a real way. Living Life. For Real. Not in an irresponsible frivolous way, but in a genuine authentic way. I learned that people are capable of so much more love and joy than you would imagine, watching the Minkowicz and Leiberman families from up close all year, has shown me this.  I witnessed first-hand people rising to the occasion, even to be the most patient and loving Mother and Father all in one person, Rabbi Hirshy taught me that.     I learned that as Shakespeare said "misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows," and "Misery loves company". But I now view these popular idioms in the most endearing of ways, because through this pain I have been opened to the most profound people.   I have learned to be emotionally responsive, I work harder than ever to be so to myself, those I love and those I come in contact with. Our emotions are profound, and deep and don't need to be explained away, they just are, so treat ourselves and others kindly as such. Most of all I learned this; upon seeing the global impact that Rashi’s life has made on the Chabad communities is that you just have to be yourself. You can fool others, so what? But fooling yourself is damaging. You need to live your most true life.   Rashi never set out to be a rock star or have her name on pages and pages of Torah literature, but there she is, with her name in lights.  She was always just doing her thing. And there was never one day that she was trying to be someone other than herself.  We heard it from our Dad, from inspirational posts, even learn about it in Chassidic thought, each of us has a mission here on this earth, and by fulfilling our mission we will be the most inspirational and leave behind the brightest legacy.  So figure it out, what is my mission here- and go about fulfilling it, in the way that makes you, the unique person that you are.  

Friday, February 20, 2015

Reflections from the annual Women's Kinus/Convention 5775- 2015

Dear Friends,

As many of you know Leah and I have just come back from an extended weekend convention called Kinus Hashluchos with over 1700  women from all corners of the globe who essentially do the same work as us.  We are Emissaries or Shluchos in Hebrew, of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe. We all  find ourselves in cities and countries far from home, all with the singular goal of connecting with/teaching every Jew that we meet with love and kindness.  Obviously this is a most simplified version of what we actually do on a day to day basis, but that is the gist.  As you can well imagine, being in NY surrounded by so many women, plus our host relatives and our away from home children, the energy is intense, even frenetic at times.  As many of our seasoned parents know, I am involved in an Early Childhood cohort with Chabad preschool directors from around the world. Israel, to China, to Australia and South Africa.  As such, I attended two events specific to this line of work. One was a Reggio Emilia exhibit which took place in Brooklyn at a non-Jewish secular school.  The other was a day of higher education, aimed at inspiring long time teachers and Directors.  I learned and shared at both of these workshops, walking away with an intense amount of gratitude for our teachers and our families at IJP.  It was affirming to notice how much of what we do is on the forefront of what is considered "Best practices" in education.  Not only early-childhood education, but in so many of the areas in which we are involved with teaching/camp; from the toddlers, elementary children, teens and adults.  The big ideas and philosophies all stem from the same basic premise; which is that we value our students.  We recognize that they come to us full of potential, it is only our job to help them bring it out in themselves.  As you can imagine, my involvement in all of this educational pedagogy has helped me immensely as a parent with my own children. Some of the things discussed that are worth sharing:

 *We believe in the children so we are not here to solve problems, but to be facilitators in helping the child/teen/adult work it out for themselves. 

*The teacher is a constant, totally involved with the child, the child knows this and doesn't forget this, in turn the child can feel comfortable enough to follow the rules. 

*Every behavior begets a deep question, the mindset is to be about the child, not the behavior. Don't get hung up on the behavior but what the child is going through.

*We see each child as competent. Reggio inspired means everything that happens in the school is consistent with our values, the values established by the school and the values that parents in the community bring.  

The theme of the Banquet that culminates the convention, was a 5 letter sentence the Rebbe had told to a nervous young shlucha (emissary) some 45 years ago: "Ich Fort Duh Mit Eich- I am really going with you". There are stories to regale you with about this insight from the Rebbe, but suffice to say, this is like you telling your child, as she leaves for college, "As your Mom and Dad, we are there with you, we are worrying, thinking about and still taking care of you, even while you are away" and in turn you hope this assurance leads your child down the proper path or give them strength when they indeed feel alone.  

Our presenter took these 5 words and broke them down to apply to our jobs as Educators;

Ich- I- This is the core sense of self of the child, they are competent, don't destroy that.  Build them don't break them.
Fort- Going- How is the Identity of your school actualized, how does it move you as an educator and your children, and families forward in the path of life?
Duch- Really-  Making the vision practical in all levels at our school. (How we talk to children, how we talk to parents, what materials do we use?, how do we celebrate the holidays? etc)
Mit-With- Teaching can be a lonely profession, we need to make this front and center, and bring the message that you are not alone. Reach out to parents, reach into yourself to be the most of you that you can be. The reason you went into this profession from the beginning.
Eich-You- Develop a school that has a culture of participation and all parties gain infinitely more in their experience with you as a learning environment.  

To be clear, that sentence the Rebbe told Mrs Lipskar was in yiddish, so if you did not recognize the verbiage- you are OK.  There is a lot more to share of course, and I don't know how much of it is already integrated into my soul, and how much more I can put from pen to paper, so I hope for now, this sharing will represent that I had you all in mind while engaging with my colleagues, all  for the goal of creating excellence right here in Atlanta, Georgia! Best Wishes for a Shabbat Shalom! Dena   

Now I know my ABC

In Kitah Bet we expose the children to many ideas and skills and depending on where each child is on the continuum of their ability, that is how much meaning they will make with materials provided.  Apparently some of our yeladim are ready to recognize and have fun with letters.  

Ari & Yoni identifying letters

all the B's

"it's an S"

Morah Leah

Coffee, Chocolate & Cupcake Shop in Kitah Bet

Small rocks, muffin trays, tweezers, plastic tubes, and spoons were out for exploration in the morning. A chocolate matching game was nearby.
This prompted some very involved dramatic play. The children were making coffee, cupcakes and chocolate for each other. I sat down nearby to observe.

Shaya made Noah coffee
Ruth Made cupcakes
Henia had a turn to make coffee too.
Levi made coffee for Leiba
They sat together sipping coffee, eating cupcakes and singing.
Noah: "Are you going to save some for Henia and Pearl"
Ruth made a cup of coffee and offered it to Morah She'alah
Leiba: " I want more coffee"

It is moments like these in Early Childhood that allows for us as educators to gain an insight into the collaborative play of our young children.  We are observing the social skills that they are navigating and nearby to facilitate further interactions.  This play that stemmed from morning work activity, is where imagination and profound development is taking place.  The teacher is there to provide new vocabulary, "sipping", "brewing" and help deconstruct the play to know where interests lie, and where skills can be encouraged. Our classroom is truly a glorious place to be.

Shabbat Shalom
Morah Leah

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"It's a Jungle In Here!"

When Mrs. Oliker agreed to come back to our class and give us more drawing lessons, we had no idea what a catalyst for exploration her visit would be. The last time Mrs. Oliker taught the children how to draw all kinds of aquatic life since our class' interest was the ocean. Last week the children requested to draw elephants and lions. It was so exciting that the children begged Mrs. Oliker to come again and teach us how to draw more jungle animals.

That same day the KDH ocean in our block area had to be taken down to be scanned into a poster for the Auction. Now we had wall space to put up new artwork. The children's elephant and lion drawings were so amazing, we just had to have them up in a rain forest.  We put up green and yellow streamers. and started to put up the drawings.
Over the next few days we did two different kinds of ice painting. The children experimented with mixing colors. Blue + Yellow makes Green. Blue + Yellow + Red makes brown. We used the children's paintings to give depth to the rainforest.

Collage giraffes and tigers, animals made from recycled toilet paper rolls moved into the forest too. Jungle animals were added to the block center. Animal masks for Purim are of a jungle theme too.

 Because of the cold weather, we could only go outside for short amounts of time. Elephants, snakes and frogs could be seen moving about the classroom.

Jungle Show and Tell gave us more to discuss, books to read, lots of animals to talk about, especially the many monkeys!

An I Spy type of game was added to the rainforest.

Purim animal masks are of a rain forest theme too!

So for now KDH has left the ocean and come onto exciting dry land, the rainforest!

Morah Ruth