by Rabbi Sari Laufer
(JTA) – This article originally appeared in Kveller.
Scrolling through all the open Safari windows on my phone is like a virtual tour through the months of this pandemic. It starts in the early spring with online gardening tips, funny memes about the shift to virtual schooling, and recipes for banana bread, cookies, and Marzipan bakery’s legendary rugelach (though I still haven’t tackled that one). Then there are long-form reads about grief and loss, data-driven pieces about decision making, and funny memes about doomscrolling.
And now, as we face the beginning of a school year that none of us ever wanted to imagine, my more recent windows include a series of think pieces on social inequality and schooling, links to (sold-out) desks suitable for small spaces, and funny memes about virtual schooling.
Like every parent across the land, I never envisioned or wanted the beginning of the school year looking like this. As a rabbi, I love the beginning of school — seeing the faces I have missed over the summer, returning to the rhythms of the academic year, and opening with excitement and words of blessing. As a parent, I have discovered that I love learning new information alongside my kids, and even more, I love learning new facets of who they are as they grow as learners. And, as a working mom, I also love knowing that my kids are safe, loved, and thriving in a place that is not my home, allowing me to work when I am working and parent when I am parenting and not attempt to do it all at the same time, all day, every day…
Kol hatchalot kashot — ”all beginnings are difficult,” our rabbis teach. Starting anew is always a challenge; as humans, we crave familiarity and routine. But this year, these words ring ever more true as we — parents, teachers, administrators, staff, and students — face a school year filled with unknowns.
These myriad unknowns also vary from family to family and situation to situation. Some of us are going back to school in person, wearing masks and anxiously taking our temperature daily. Some of us are wholly virtual, trying to carve space and time out of an already cluttered life and home to give our kids the materials and attention they need to thrive — or, at least, survive. Some of us are planning on some sort of hybrid, and still others are waiting to hear how and when they might be going back to school. No matter the method, one thing is for sure: This beginning is going to be difficult. Even as someone with advantage and privilege — a safe home, space for my kid to learn, the necessary technology, and so on — I expect bumps and hiccups, both technological and emotional.
So, when a Twitter follower asked if there was a blessing for internet connections as his children began their virtual schooling, I sat down and asked myself what blessings we need as this particular school year begins. What blessings do we need, and what should we offer one another? What losses are we grieving, and what opportunities might lie ahead? And how might we find and create connection, meaning, and blessing in a year that is, we pray, unlike any other?
In our liturgy, each new month is introduced with a blessing. The prayer for Rosh Chodesh is a prayer of supplication, expressing our hopes that the month reawaken within us joy and blessing, praying for a life of success and sustenance, a life in which our worthy aspirations will be fulfilled. In that spirit, I offer a blessing for this new school year:
Prayer for the Start of a Pandemic School Year
Mishebeirach doroteinu, may the one who blessed the generations before, bless us — students, parents, teachers, administrators, and staff — as we begin this strange school year.
May we be blessed with fast Internet connections and access to functional technology.
May we be blessed with fast friendships and well-earned learning.
May we be blessed with muscle memory for curiosity and collaboration.
May we be blessed with muscle memory for compassion and cooperation.
May we be blessed with excitement over seeing familiar faces and reconnecting with friends.
May we be blessed with the excitement over meeting new friends and teachers.
May we be blessed with patience, for slow internet speeds, and frozen Zoom screens.
May we be blessed with patience, for teachers, friends, and parents learning new technologies and new concepts.
Above all, may we be blessed with the ability to make connections and community, growing as teachers and learners — no matter our role or title.