These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Permission to be Yourself

Posted on June 4, 2015 by Dorielle Parker

Tags: , , ,

The year is 1994. It’s a warm September morning in Lawrenceville, New Jersey and sounds of the DJ on the radio and a mother’s smooch on my forehead escort me into my first day of school. The kindergarten classroom is inviting, and my teachers seem nice enough. As I am brought to a wooden cubby with my name on it, I begin to wonder about this new environment. When do I get to use those colorful crayons over there? When do I get to explore the shiny floors of the hallways? Play with the tricycles? Use the restroom? What is this new place, and when do I get to be a part of it? I soon understand, both from instruction and consequence, that I am able to do any and all of these things by the permission of my teacher.

Permission was a strange, new concept for me. I didn’t always like the times that this permission was given, and I certainly didn’t love the times when it wasn’t. But above all the memories of raising my hand, being told to wait my turn, and finally being allowed to go play on the playground, there is one permission that I always remember receiving: permission to be myself. Mrs. Brenner and Mrs. Tiger always granted me the permission to share, permission to laugh, permission to cry and permission to explore who I was as a learner, along with all of my classmates. And soon we were all doing the same for each other. During these first steps together on our learning journey, each of us granted the others permission to be themselves.

Many years later, as I became a davener, I recognized this same model for community in our own liturgy. Every morning, in the blessings before the Sh’ma, we recite a visual painting of sorts — a description of the prayer routine of ministering angels on high — and we bask in awe and in curiosity at the angels’ ability to so beautifully praise G!d. And what makes them able to do so? It says in our siddurim, in our prayer books, that the ministering angels, all together:

“מְקַבְּלִים עֲלֵיהֶם על מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם זֶה מִזֶּה. וְנותְנִים בְּאַהֲבָה רְשׁוּת זֶה לָזֶה לְהַקְדִּישׁ לְיוצְרָם.”

Accept on themselves, one from another, the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven, granting permission to one another with love, to sanctify the One who formed them.

Imagine a world where we are doing this for each other all the time.

To me, this world is the classroom.

In my kindergarten class, we were always supporting each other. I can recall so many snippets of dialogue from my first year of school that were full of love and encouragement for one another: “That purple looks so cool in the sky! Don’t erase it!” or “Here, let me help you with the scissors” or even “I’m sorry you had an accident on the playground, you can wear my spare set of clothes.” We all know that pure loving kindness flows more freely from a child than any other vessel on earth. And yet, already in first grade, and then second, third, fourth and so on, we begin to lose this ability. We lose what both angels and children do so effortlessly: lovingly grant each other permission to express what’s inside of them. Grant each other permission to celebrate the One who created us in whatever way we see fit. Whatever way comes to us. We are only able to do such beautiful, holy work when we feel supported. When we’re given the loving nod of approval from our friends.

My number one aspiration as an educator, as the one who will grant and deny permission more than any other player in the classroom, is to make sure that we continue to grant each other this sacred permission, that students at any age feel like they have permission to paint the portrait of their relationship with G!d in any color they want. My job is to hand them the paint brush, that’s the notni’im reishut. Their job is to pick the color — l’hakdish le’yotzram.

This is a belief I have cultivated in my time at Pardes and in the Day School Educator’s program. In this special Beit Midrash, I have seen so many different and beautiful people “sanctify their Creator”, and no two ways were alike. There’s people learning halakha, people doodling in the corner, people singing shabbat zemirot on Tuesdays. Each and every one of my peers in the educator programs brought segments of our holy texts to life in their own authentic and unique ways. This special diversity was made possible because we were able to lovingly grant each other permission to express what’s inside of us. Permission to explore who we are fully and freely. When we are able to do this for each other, what happens? We all sanctify and connect. In different ways, yes, but the point is that we all sanctify and connect.

When I experienced this model for connection firsthand at Pardes, and when I re-lived my kindergarten classroom memories, I realized this is something that must be transferred into the Jewish classroom experience. Thanks to Pardes and the Day School Educator’s program, I feel empowered to lovingly grant each and every one of my students permission to sanctify and connect in the most authentic way that they know how.

It is my deepest hope that each and every one of you grant permission to one another to connect to our tradition and our Creator in authentic and heartfelt ways. And it is my deepest, deepest hope that the future of the Jewish people, the children in our Day Schools, grow up with this permission as well. So when we all read these verses in our morning tefilah, we not only see the ministering angels in this mental image, we see ourselves there, too.

You all have my permission. B’rshut chen?
Thank you!

Dvar Torah given over at the PEP graduation 2015