The identity of the Jewish people is intrinsically linked to the experience and expression of gratitude. Even our name—Yehudim—has at its core the Hebrew root that means “to praise” and “to thank.” And yet, as with a complex work of art that takes a trained eye to see and appreciate fully, perceiving and demonstrating hakarat hatov properly calls for instruction and attunement. It requires developing the ability even when confronted with a challenge to recognize the good, appreciate it for what it is, and celebrate it. Cultivating this positive, life-affirming attitude within the minds and hearts of students is the aim of every good Jewish educator, and it is firmly embedded and cherished in the core value of hakol besimcha, or maintaining a “joyful mindset.”
Because behavioral education begins with modeling, we consistently endeavor to provide students with exemplary models, whether as teachers, administrators or school staff. Every interaction, from a simple bandaid from the nurse, to a class-wide project, to the annual school gala, is steeped in this core value. Students, families and faculty all learn how important it is to express hakarat hatov to the dedicated individuals who consistently give generously of themselves not על מנת לקבל פרס—not for the sake of recognition, but to make a meaningful difference in the life of our community,
Especially during this year of the pandemic, we have been mindful to savor moments of joy. With a mindset focused on innovation and creativity we have discovered new ways to celebrate and express hakarat hatov: for our parent body, which has rigorously upheld the protocols established by our health experts, enabling us to keep school open safely since September; for our educators, whose selfless dedication to our students’ academic and personal well-being has exceeded the call of duty; and for our students, who spontaneously and repeatedly share with us how happy and grateful they are to be in school. We recently asked our students to write their own messages of hope and gratitude, which were then folded into paper airplanes and flown outdoors. One seventh grader wrote a poem that sums it up beautifully:
HOPE FOR 2021 TO BE BETTER
This year has been marked with reflection and change,
Some days feel good and others feel strange.
We find ways to turn negatives into good,
And learn new skills that we never thought we could.
2020 hasn’t been like we expected,
But we’ve found new ways to stay connected.
And so we have stayed connected, and gratefully will remain so, in our commitment to raise a generation imbued with Jewish values. Having learned the true meaning of hakarat hatov, may our children ever be a source of goodness and blessing for the world.
A professional editor and published author, Andrea Raab is writer/editor-in-residence at Westchester Torah Academy, where she currently teaches English Language Arts to seventh and eighth grades. A graduate of Barnard College, she holds an MFA(Master of Fine Arts) in Creative Writing from The New School, and studied poetry at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Andrea formerly served as director of publications and public affairs at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, and has worked for Macmillan and Cambridge University Press.