Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Teshuvah: Spiritual Transformation

The challenge of being married to a fellow Jewish educator is that sometimes it is just too difficult to turn off our work when we are together!

As is often the case, I was speaking with my wife, Dr. Karen Reiss Medwed, about a workshop that she will be giving this Sunday in New Jersey. Her topic “Becoming the Jewish People of the Digital Book” is related to the integration of technology into our schools and into our lives, and what that could look like. A fascinating topic indeed, but what grabbed me more was the idea upon which her workshop is built, which I am sharing here and I look forward to hearing about it from her as she develops it more fully and delivers the workshop next week.

We were reflecting on the fact that it is right before Yom Kippur and in the midst of the holiday season, and that teshuvah, repentance, is a prevalent theme. The question is how does our understanding of teshuvah lead us to transformational thinking about the values that are at the core in our schools and in our lives?

Her answer is interesting one--she goes to a moment in Jewish history to a community that would not adapt or change—the Karaites. For those who aren’t up on their Jewish history, the Karaites were a group of people who determined that their values and their way of life were better than the changes they observed in the larger community. The Karaites therefore chose to hold fast to their values, refusing to embrace change and the innovative direction of the community, i.e. the Rabbinic period whereby Judaism evolved more into what we know today. This decision turned out to be a rather fateful one, as we now study about the Karaites as a community that didn’t survive because of their unwillingness to transform with the times and innovations.

We are living in a world that is very different than the world we knew only five years ago and the world that is coming down the pike will be very different than it is now. We are the people of the book—we have embraced our books throughout time. From the time when everything was written on scrolls, to the advent of the printing press and the creation of books, to the electronic readers on which we can read almost any book in any language, holy and secular.

As I reflect on this workshop idea that she is presenting, I have this spiritual reflection to add: During this time of the Aseret Y’mei Teshuvah, we perform what we call “teshuvah”. This act, the act of teshuvah, is not backwards looking, but rather is very forward looking—we ask forgiveness and then change or transform the behavior so that it doesn’t happen again.

The connection of the two fascinates me as a school leader—we as a Jewish community have survived all of these years because we figured out a way to adapt our ideals and values to the changing world in which we live. We don’t give up who we are, what we stand for, and what is important to us, but we do adapt each of these things so that we will continue to thrive as individuals and as a people.

As we move into Yom Kippur and reflect upon teshuvah being forward thinking, how will we look ahead and adapt our education to the new world in which we are living, where technology is a part of all that we do and so much of what we are, when we can talk to someone around the world as if they are sitting right across from us, where information is at our fingertips, and where our social community is a global one?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts- feel free to share them with me in person or online!

G’mar Hatima Tova,

Marc Medwed, Head of School

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