Musings with Moshe
I am so proud of our community. During an unimaginably difficult time, we have all worked to protect the health and safety of our families while giving our students the opportunity to benefit from being together at school. We are living through a unique and frightening period, and have responded to this situation with selflessness, love, and vigilance. As part of the planning for reopening, our school drafted an Ethical Covenant, subsequently signed by each and every family, the entire senior administration and most of the faculty. What’s so important about this document is that it makes demands on our behavior outside of the school building. By asking all of us to adhere to these protocols, we are aiming to create a‘bubble’ of safety for our students and families. In addition to stringent technical health and safety measures, this communal covenant is what allows us to continue to learn in person. Over the past 90 days, there have been times when we have received reports regarding violations of the Ethical Covenant. This was something we expected. We know that we are asking families to make real sacrifices in their personal lives, even as we look to everyone to do so for the good of our whole community. It has been a process learning how best to investigate and respond to these reports. We need to be vigilant for the sake of the community while at the same time we also need to honor the privacy of our families. We must continue to have a spirit of generosity and trust, a nurturing spirit and in the words of Pirkei Avot from our sages Yehoshua ben Prachya & Nittai ha-Arbeli to judge each person favorably and give everyone the benefit of the doubt (תוכזףכלןד). It also reminds me of the corollary teaching from Hillel in Avot chapter 2 where he teaches “do not judge your fellow until you have been in his place.” Initially, we assigned several administrators to look into the circumstances around reports of violations. Ultimately, we concluded that we would be more successful in protecting both our community and our families if this process fell to me. I then tasked our outstanding school nurses Donna Friedman and Monica Stewart with follow up related to contact tracing for potential exposure or cases of Covid 19.This situation reminds me of the verse from Parshat Shoftim: “בֵֵ֔יט הָ֣תְַּשָׁרדְ וָתְּעָ֑מָשְׁ וָ֖ךְַד־לגֻּֽהְו. And you were informed and listened to it and you then investigated thoroughly” (Deut. 17:4). The Torah is teaching us that whenever there is a report of wrongdoing, we are obligated to undertake a full investigation. This is one of the ways we maintain a just society.
Commentaries on this verse offer additional insights, for example, the Alshich (Rabbi Moshe Alshich, 16th c. Tzfat) notes that the word תְּעָ֑מָשְׁו, and “you shall listen” indicates that even if the evidence you hear against a person is extremely convincing, you must listen to the entire case and all the facts before rendering a decision. Other commentaries pick up on the final wordהיטב, meaning “very well” or “thorough,” emphasizing that we must inquiry deeply into the reporting witnesses to ensure that they understand the gravity of their role and that they are offering accurate testimony as defined by the Talmud in Sanhedrin (see Midrash Lekach Tov17:4:1). These passages from our tradition provided helpful guidance during the past three months. As it turns out, some of the “sleepovers” were virtual events where kids spent hours on Facetime together but did not sleep in the same home. Many “parties” were held outdoors, where proper masking and social distancing were maintained. Regrettably, some reports were factual and resulted in students quarantining at home. Thankfully, some families have proactively contacted the school to report family member’s exposure and the resulting quarantining of students.I know I speak for the community as a whole in expressing gratitude to everyone who has upheld the values of KSDS and prioritized our health and safety. Thank God, an effective vaccine appears to be on the horizon. Yet, until our community is vaccinated, our protective measures will remain in place.
Many thanks to my colleague, Schechter alum and Middle School Judaics teacher Rabbi Marci Jacobs for being my havruta (study partner) in reviewing and discussing the relevant texts and offering feedback in preparation for this edition of “Musings with Moshe.”Dedicated in loving memory of Rabbi Stanley Urbas, Rabbi Emeritus of the Yorktown Jewish Center in Westchester County, NY and my second cousin, once removed, who died last week after contracting Covid-19.