August 24, 2019

Mini-Musings- Kehilah: A Community Based on Shared Values and Traditions

Kehilah: A Community Based on Shared Values and Traditions
by Liz Paige

Welcome to a new year at The McGillis School. Whether this is your first year or your ninth year at The McGillis School, we want you to know that you are a full-fledged magpie and a welcomed and valued member of our Kehilah/Community.

What makes our learning community so unique is that we are not only about asking questions, solving problems, exploring, and creating but that we do all of this with the shared commitment of Tikkun Olam/repairing the world by asking questions, solving problems, exploring, and creating together.

What is Kehilah at McGillis?
At McGillis, we cultivate a Kehilah/Community that is diverse, dynamic, and multifaceted. It includes students and faculty, our families and partners, and all who we impact. Our community is tended, cultivated, and constructed. We will always remain rooted in Jewish values and traditions, and yet, we are continually open to change that builds on our solid academic and ethical foundation. We believe that a diverse and inclusive community is essential to a rich educational experience that prepares our students to interact in an increasingly interconnected world.

Both words, “Kehilah” and “Community”, include the letter “i". It is our goal that every student, and the adults in their lives, will feel known by peers, administrators, faculty, and staff. As a member of this community, we ask that you reach out and introduce yourself to all, so that everyone feels and knows they are welcome.

One way in which we gather as a Kehilah/Community is at Shabbat (Shah – BAHT).

What is Shabbat at McGillis?
At McGillis, one of our core traditions as a whole school, or as a K-2, 3-5, or 6-8 community, is to celebrate the weekly tradition of Shabbat. It is a time in which we celebrate the end of the week by beginning a time of rest, a time of focusing on gratitude, and a time of welcoming Shalom (peace and wholeness) in our lives.

Marking Shabbat by lighting candles denotes a time to rest from creating and to reflect in gratitude and awe in all that is created in the natural world and by ourselves and others around us. Elevating the juice and challah bread with special cups, braids and verses of gratitude and intention, we recognize the special qualities of what nourishes us physically and the importance of taking time to reflect and be grateful.

In addition, our Shabbat celebrations often include singing songs that reinforce our School’s values, sharing teaching stories, watching skits about upcoming celebrations from around the world, and listening to speakers who share their cultures or inform us about current events.

As a diverse and inclusive community, it is important to us that the traditions that we value are understood and accessible to everyone in our Kehilah. Below is a short primer to understanding Shabbat at McGillis:

Keva, Kavanah. In Jewish culture, there are the ideas of keva and kavanah, which co-exist in traditions. Keva is what is fixed and required; in other words, what is routine. For example, the verse that is said over the candles during Shabbat has specific words and these have been said for generations. Kavanah is what one intends or means from one’s heart; or intention. As it is important for our students to understand authentic Jewish culture, we use the traditional verses with the goal that students, teachers, and parents who attend will take that time and space to create their own kavanah/intention.
• Candles. We light candles as our last act of work and then recite a traditional Hebrew verse (keva/routine). The practice of lighting candles is to mark the time that work ends and rest begins. Students are encouraged to exhale the week behind them (without blowing out the candles!) and to inhale peacefulness. We want students to reflect on what in nature, or in their own creativity, they are grateful for (kavanah/intention).
• Juice. At McGillis, Kiddush refers to a community gathering with food to celebrate a joyous event. The kavanah we want students to consider through this keva is to consider what is sweet (like the juice) in their lives for which they are grateful.
• Challah. In traditional culture, a meal is considered a meal only if bread is present, and therefore, having bread at Shabbat is a must! The custom of the bread being braided is an example of hiddur mitzvah, or making something which we are required to do more beautiful. The Hebrew verse we say before eating the bread expresses our gratitude for “the bread from the earth” (keva), as well as our kavanah of being grateful for all who make possible that which nourishes us (food, learning, creating, playing, etc.).

Please join us.
Everyone is welcome to join our first Shabbat, an all-school Shabbat, at 11 AM on Friday, August 30 in the MAC. There we will welcome our community together, sing and learn about this year’s focus on the value of Derech Eretz/Having Respect for All, and celebrate our Kehilah/Community.

We look forward to the year ahead and invite you to participate in our Community’s traditions and events as you are able.