Many people say that one becomes an adult when they graduate from college, move away from home or start to support themselves financially. Many say that one becomes an adult when they go through a traumatic experience that alters their once innocent view on life. Some say that the transition takes place when one marries and has children of their own. For me, the day that I transformed into an adult was on Monday, September 16, 2019, at around 5:30 p.m.
You see, I am a teacher at SAR Academy. Our world was rocked at that time when we found out that an associate principal in our school, someone we respected and trusted, was arrested for harming children in an unthinkable way.
In Rabbi Moshe Rosenberg’s article, “When the Walls Fell” (September 19, 2019) (a must-read if you haven’t seen it yet), he compared the crisis and tumult in our beloved school to 9/11. To quote his words, “On September 11, concrete and mortar fell to an enemy from without. At SAR this week, security and trust came crashing down, brought low by an enemy from within.” Every student, parent and faculty member in the SAR community is an entire world and is each affected in a unique way. This particular piece is about how I was affected.
Prior to 9/16/19, I had already graduated from college, moved away from home, and had a salary. However, I had always looked at the world through rose-colored glasses. I would wake up every morning and think the sky and trees and rain were beautiful, would approach everyone I met with positivity, and would think that Hashem’s world is absolutely flawless. I was that person who loved everyone and always saw the positive in people, even when others couldn’t. I wasn’t naive. But I had the utmost trust and faith in humanity. And teachers? To me, the word “superhero” had nothing on the word “teacher.”
There is a reason I majored in Jewish education in college and am currently pursuing a double master’s at Azrieli and Revel. There was something about teachers, people who devote their lives to the education and care of children and teenagers, that is extraordinary. Despite the low salary and the exhaustion that comes with working with youth, they choose to do this with their life. These are people who sacrifice their lunch breaks to sit with children and help them through whatever is bothering them that day, often sacrifice their well-earned money for class parties or resources, but more than anything, they give of themselves and pour everything they have into their students’ well-being. Judaic studies teachers in particular, people who give of themselves to teach Torah, were in my mind the holiest people I knew. Throughout my teenage years, specifically during my senior year of high school, I would look at my Tanach teachers and dream of giving to my future students the way they had to me. As I pursued my education, I felt an immense amount of pride in the path I was choosing.
That warmth and love for teachers that had so strongly influenced me to pursue my career was suddenly replaced by a sense of nausea and a complete lack of trust. I was shell shocked with the realization that someone whom I had admired as a Jewish educator had in reality been a criminal. How can I ever again trust anyone to be normal? How can you? How can anyone? My heart shattered into a million pieces when my elementary school student came to me in utter confusion and said “I don’t get it. He was a Rabbi. And isn’t the Torah supposed to teach you how to be a good person?” The profundity of this question cut to my soul in a way that only a child’s voice can.
With the nosedive of my respect and love for teachers came the annihilation of everything else I believed to be true. My sense of what was reality and what was not was jumbled, and I was left shaking, scared and in a perpetual sense of doubt. Is every sunset, hiking trail and body of water actually as beautiful as I thought it was? Are my students actually as insightful as I thought? Are my relationships with the people in my life as rock solid as I had believed they were, or are they flimsy, ready to collapse at any moment? Is the world actually a place full of good, or is it just somewhere where innocent teenagers get harmed?
The answer to my questions came as I watched my coworkers this week. A middle school teacher said in a meeting today, “I keep feeling like I’m going to break down and cry, but I’m holding myself together during my classes for the sake of my students.” Despite our own raw and real pain, especially amongst the middle school teachers, everyone’s number one priority is still their students. These amazing teachers are putting their own feelings second—because that is the nature of who teachers are. The resiliency seen in my school this week is unparalleled.
In a sense, teachers have been training for crises their entire lives. Teachers are pros at handling anything—from food fights to disputes on the football field to tears to social issues to behavioral problems to learning disabilities and absolutely anything in between. Our routines are just training grounds for us in how to deal with larger and more devastating situations. While our world was brought tumbling down by an educator, it will also be rebuilt by educators.
When a former student of mine, now in sixth grade, came to me and said, “Well I guess I’ll never be able to trust a teacher again,’’ the irony of whom he was confiding in did not escape me. I looked at him and said, “You know that you are telling this to a teacher.” A look of realization dawned on his face as he said “Well, I guess everyone isn’t so bad.” As Sirius Black so eloquently states in the fifth Harry Potter book, “The world is not split into good people and Death Eaters. We all have light and dark inside of us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”
The reality of these words comforts me after a trauma like this one. The world may not be all good, but it is most certainly not all bad. The same way our country first crumbled and then grew stronger after 9/11, the SAR community, and ultimately my trust in humanity, will strengthen as well. Who will be the one to rebuild it? The same people that have inspired and given to me since my first day in preschool so many years ago. To the people who are not only my colleagues, but my role models in patience, selflessness and resilience. To all my past teachers and to all my current coworkers—you are all heroes.
This one’s for you.
By Ahuva Blass