Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Circle of Friends - a note to my 8th graders

Hello my brave 8th graders,

         During homeroom today, we did a difficult activity to help realize that your "circle of friends" is not static... that is, relationships change. This is especially true as next year your circle will drastically change as you will attend a new school. Even if you go to the same high school with a good friend, the relationship most likely will change because the environment is changing. That's a scary thought. 
        As Mrs. Cohen, the founding Head of School, would say, "Put yourself in the other person's shoes." Think about what it will be like to be the new kid, who has to build his/her circle again. Several of you in the room today experienced that very act as you joined your class at KSA in a later grade (4th, 6th, 7th, and 8th). If you were a new kid, how would you want to be treated and build your circle?

     The activity we did was hard for many reasons. It was beautiful to see you struggle with it... because it shows you have more friends than you realize. It was heartwarming to hear you say that the task was difficult because you had tremendous empathy for everyone.

       But most importantly, were the results of doing the challenging activity... you looked at one another and realized, "I want to enlarge my circle NOW. I want to bring more people into my inner circles TODAY." And that is a special thing.  As this is your 8th grade year, you want own it and make it the best possible year yet. A big part of that is growing your relationships with one another. 

       Now you have the time to enlarge your circles of friends here at KSA. There is nothing stopping you. So, take the risk, and reach out to someone. You may just find another close friend! And that, is one of the best gifts you can give to each other this year and will make your 8th grade year that much more sweet!

See you in the morning!


Mr. M. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

A lesson before Yom Kippur

Each year before Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), I share with my homeroom students the following story. Here is the letter I wrote to them (and their parents):

Today, I shared a personal story with you that I share with my homeroom each Erev Yom Kippur. And I am SO thankful that I was able to share it with you today. 

Below is the story. Why am I sharing it again? For two reasons: as your parents are bcc'd and this way, they are part of the sharing and so that if you wish, you may keep it to help remind you of the request I asked of you. It is long and I apologize for the length. 

Growing up, I had a close friend, named Aaron Hoffman. He and I attended the Newton Schechter since Kindergarten. He was one of the "cool popular" kids as he played sports, did well in school, and was friends with everyone. He had red hair which he styled with a soup-bowl haircut and freckles like me. It was always a treat to play with him; be it Star Wars reenactments, playing catch, or playing Pong (ask your parents what this is), telling jokes or pulling pranks on the other, time stood still. And, I always felt that the school year was extra special if we were placed in the same section.

Our third grade year was super as our classroom was in a modular classroom trailer outside. We controlled our own heat and A/C, had our own water cooler, and could go out for Hafsekah to play. One time, as we were running back to the classroom, I decided to play a trick on him. He was right on my tail and I slammed the door closed before he could enter and I heard a "thud" reminiscent of the one heard when Wiley Coyote makes when he runs into a wall. I then opened the door causing him to fall back. We kept this up (both of us laughing) until the laughing was interrupted by Aaron's yelp. I opened the door and saw him on the ground, crying as he held his ankle; when I pushed the door open,  I sliced his ankle and the cartilage was showing. 

I felt horrible the rest of the day and at night. I was scared... scared that I would be in so much trouble (and fearful that his dad, who was 6'4" built man, and a lawyer, would not only take me out but also could easily take my dad). I didn't say anything to my parents because I was afraid.  I remember not sleeping well that night and tried my best not to go to school the next day. 

The next day, Aaron came back to class with crutches and stitches. It was awkward at first but then we just got back into our routines and pranks as though nothing had happened. We continued to be friends through 8th grade graduation. 

That summer, he developed cancer in the same leg. 

I visited him the hospital and thinking "Did I cause this?" I never asked or brought it up; neither did he.  Throughout our high-school years we got together several times and even attended Brandeis our first semester of our freshman year... but the cancer overtook his body and he died in January. 

At his funeral a classmate of ours read an excerpt from his journal. He recounted his first chemo treatment and how weird it was to be in a hospital for the only other time he was in a hospital was back in 3rd grade when he needed stitches for his ankle from a sporting accident. Sitting in the shul, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I KNEW exactly why he was in the hospital in 3rd grade and yet even in his journal he didn't mention what happened. I couldn't figure it out. And it made the pain of losing him even more because I didn't have the courage to speak to him about it. 

At the shiva house, I confessed to his parents what had happened that day in 3rd grade, how I was too scared to speak up, and how sorry I was for not only hurting him but also for not admitting to it. They were very forgiving and said that Aaron must have not wanted me to worry about it and didn't want me to give it a second thought which is why he never brought it up, even in his journal. 

A bit of time passed, and I had my first dream about Aaron. There he was, with his soup-bowl haircut, and we were just talking or playing tag. He looked so healthy. Before the dream ended, Aaron turned to me and said, "I need to go," and I woke up crying. I would dream about him 1-2 times a year always with the dream ending the same way, with his stating he needs to leave. Two years ago, the dream was different. After he said, "I need to go," I told him I was sorry for hurting him in 3rd grade. He answered, "It's ok. It's not your fault. You didn't cause the cancer." We then hugged and I woke up. 

I contacted Aaron's parents and told them my dream. They were glad that I was connecting with Aaron's spirit and they affirmed what he had said - the cancer was not caused by the injury. 

In many ways, I feel connected to Aaron and look forward to my next dream when I can hug him again. I told Aaron's parents that I share this story each year with my students so that Aaron's memory lives on along with the lesson he taught me. 

I share this story with you, my homeroom students, as I share it with my homeroom students each year, for this one reason: don't lose the opportunity to say sorry. Especially this time of year, when we reflect on our actions (and inactions), it is important to take that deep breath, and step on the right path to ask for forgiveness. I share this with you so that you take that step to say sorry to a family member, friend, or classmate... and to do it now so as not to have the weight I carry with me and will do so until this very day. This is the lesson, my homeroom students, I wish to convey to you. 

May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

G'Mar Tov,

Mr. M.