17 Nov The Impact of Schechter Manhattan: Catching up with an alumnus
I had not seen Tom since he graduated from Schechter Manhattan in 2010, when he was a thoughtful and very artistic 14-year-old. So, I was so excited when he stopped by the school last week. It was amazing to see Tom as a grown up 21-year-old. Tom and his family spent five years in New York City, and when he finished eighth grade they moved back to Tel Aviv. Tom graduated from high school there and then served in the Israel Defense Forces as a medic. He finished his service a few weeks ago and is on a stop in NYC before continuing his travels in India. While he was here he came by to catch up with me and the other Schechter Manhattan faculty members who worked with him.
We had a nice visit, and I was pleased to hear from Tom about his transition to life in Israel and his experiences in the army. Tom had not seen the current Schechter Manhattan facility- when he was a student, our school was housed in other locations- and he marveled at the space and how much had changed. As Tom was preparing to leave, he paused and turned to me and some other Schechter Manhattan faculty and thanked us. He said that his moves back and forth from Israel to the US in his childhood had been hard. In America, he always felt a bit on the outside, and when he returned to Israel, he was perceived as the new American kid, also not quite at home. He said that at Schechter Manhattan, he felt part of a community and that those years had a profound and positive impact on him.
Tom continued to explain how he attributes core values that he carries in his adult life to experiences he had and things he learned at Schechter Manhattan. He told us a story from his middle school years, when, as he remembers it, he got into some trouble with me- I was at the time serving as the Middle School Division Head. He recalls having been involved in picking on some other student and that I took him aside to talk with him about it. Whatever was said, he got the message that this was not how to treat people in our community and that this was not the way he wanted to act in the world. He thanked me for teaching him in that moment.
I don’t remember the incident Tom described, but I was deeply moved as I heard him tell the story. We aspire for Schechter Manhattan graduates to espouse and hold on to core values, and treating others with caring and respect is high among those values. Hearing a Schechter Manhattan alumnus articulate that the things he takes with him from Schechter Manhattan in his adult life are a desire to build welcoming communities and to treat others with care made me swell with pride. And in that moment I was inspired to continue our efforts to actualize our mission for Schechter Manhattan students to engage, support, and challenge one another as members of a collaborative, caring community.
Each week we will feature the written work of our students. We hope that you will stop back next week and see what they are writing and thinking about.
Students are using writing prompts such as “I wonder” to inspire their writing.
“[I wonder] Y Y Hv nS” (why we have names)
“[I wonder] y vcL Hv ngNs” (why vehicles have engines)
“[I wonder] Haw dogs nuhoToboc” (how dogs know how to bark)
In the current writing unit, students have been learning how to write a set of instructions or “how-to’s.” They have been focusing on being clear and concise and providing the reader with enough detail, in order to perform the instruction. Students were allowed to choose any kind of activity, from brushing teeth to getting dress and write step-by-step instructions.
In Torah class, we have been focusing on the beginning of the book of Shemot (Exodus) which describes the hard work of the Israelite slaves in Egypt. Several 5th graders decided to demonstrate their understanding of the text through journal entries from the perspective of a slave.
It’s a Hard Life
Today was a rough day. I just started being a slave and it’s hard. All I do is עבודה קשה. I’m always tired and I never get to see my family. I feel so empty inside. I barely eat anything good; all I eat is potato peels and bread. It’s better than nothing I guess. My job is in the fields but there are more types of jobs. It’s so hot outside and I sweat like a gallon of water a day. The שרי מסים treat us terribly and all they do is yell at us and they have whips to make us move faster. I actually have a mark because of it. There is a guy named Pharaoh and he’s their leader. He ענתו because he dreads us. We are called the Israelites by the way. All I want to do is yell right at Pharaoh’s face. It makes me feel bitter. They think of us as their שנאינו. I just hate it. I hope someday someone will try to save us.
Today was a horrid day. Like always. Though today was extra horrendous. When they began giving us עבודה קשה, like working fields and storing food it was bad, but we could manage. A few days ago they started openly whipping us. At first some were reluctant. Then they said why not? We felt the pain. I know that most grown up men that are Egyptians are abusive. They והמתן us everyday, they בסבלתם on us. וימררו emotions stir in our eyes. The Egyptians are horrible to us and no one knows why. Some people say it is because we have different beliefs, but I don’t accept that. I think those people are wrong, but it doesn’t matter what I think. Anyway today I had to help build a statue, work on the fields, carry something and worst of all watch an old man who can barely stand get whipped, because he couldn’t carry the food all the way to the storage units. He was so close, but his legs were shaking terribly and honestly I was afraid he might die on the spot. One question though, is this life better than death? Really, when I say this I mean would you rather live a despairing, and painful life or die or… No I can’t even consider it, but what if, I mean what if someone came and, well saved us? I really don’t know what would happen or if it will happen. I can only hope and dream of a new reality. Egypt is huge, but ותמלא with Israelites. It’s a little secret only us know about. In other words we Israelites are יפרץ. We live all around Egypt. I don’t think the Egyptians know, because they don’t care where we live and they don’t think it matters. I think it does, but once again, it doesn’t matter what I think. I wouldn’t help them anyway. Not even if they, well did anything. I feel like my hate is too strong to be broken by simply an extra month of food rations. Maybe if they promised to free us all, but if they did I wouldn’t believe them. Also then my information wouldn’t matter at all if they promised that. Anyway another reason it was a horrible day is because all the Egyptians do it so בפרך and it makes me sick. The way they do it, as if without a second thought, makes me sick. They do it as if they don’t know there is another person under the whip. It’s like we are all wearing masks that hide them from knowing what we truly are. Just like them. Except maybe just a little bit kinder. The other Israelites I know would never do what they do, doing it like they don’t care that we are living things too. That we also feel emotions. Then again they were all raised thinking that they were better than us and control us, but they are wrong.I dream one day we will חכמים them. One day it will show.
The Dark Days Of Egypt
I have been trapped here for two years, I think. The Egyptians have trapped us Israelites here, and have been forcing us to work for them and be their slaves. I am one of the smart ones in the group which I use to make me feel proud while I am building statues, but then again I look at my back and see all the whip marks from me working too slow. I think that the Egyptians are trying to make us Israelites smaller, but unfortunately for them we are just getting bigger “ויעצמו”. After all we are “בני ישראל” I have hope that we will one day be free. Not only do I think that the Israelites will be free but I think that we will “נתחמה” the Egyptians, even though now I am building statues, and eating potato peels, I truly think that one day the Israelites will be free, and the Egyptians will suffer for what they did!
My perspective as a slave
I am an Israelite slave and today is my tenth day working for Egyptians, and let me tell you something, it’s hard. They make us work super hard. The Egyptians assigned me to build the mortar for the pyramids. I think they gave me this job because it’s the hardest and they really want to torture me. My children were forced to play with the Egyptian kids. I can’t believe they are forcing us לעבוד קשה and God isn’t doing anything. I thought god would help in this situation. ויצו us to work very hard and I would do anything to leave. Egypt is very depressing. Why don’t the Egyptians do their own work? All I really want is the best for my nation and family. I feel even more horrible when they make us work בפרך. Why does Egypt have to do this to our nation and not to anyone else’s nation? This is not fair. I want freedom. I want peace and I want our שנאינו to leave us alone. I just hope we survive.
– Ella C.
Sixth graders made posters about their favorite numbers.