On Wednesday night I was on the phone with my 92 year-old grandmother and she was complimenting me on my last newsletter (I have been sending her my
Shabbat newsletters since my time at the JCC!). I interrupted her gushing and shared that I wasn’t quite sure what to write this week. She immediately
responded, “gratitude, it is all about gratitude.” My grandmother’s intense commitment to experiencing gratitude is in her every pore and also reflects her
deep understanding of this core value of Jewish life.
Each morning our students arrive at school and the first tefilla, the first prayer that they utter, is Modeh Anee, I am grateful. This
prayer is actually one that is supposed to be said before we even open our eyes and rise from our bed. What a powerful message for our first thoughts, our
first words, to be words of gratitude. This ritual, this practice is really about setting an intention for the day, to direct our attention in the way that
we want it. And the hope is that if we can have this gratitude, this outlook, at the front of our minds we will have more space in our hearts when we face
the dirty dishes that our children forgot to load into the dishwasher, more perspective when we are blocked from entering that first subway due to
overcrowding, more humor when a co-worker calls out sick, and more compassion when our partner emails to say he will need to work late.
At Shefa not only do we begin our day with this first blessing of Modeh Anee, I am grateful, but we also try to reflect at the end of our days and
at the end of our weeks. We ask questions like: What was the highlight of the day for you? What did you appreciate learning? Who did something kind for you
this week? As the Jewish month of Tishrei ended last Friday, what made this month special? And as we head into Shabbat, what do we want to bring
with us from our past week into this sacred time of rest and peace? Over and over we must create structures for saying Modeh Anee, I am grateful.
Before we got off the phone call my grandmother observed, “people go through life not realizing what they have. I feel sorry for them.” And she is right,
there are those people who may see life through a lens of deprivation rather than abundance. But I fear we are all sometimes “those people.” Jewish life is
filled with a clear manual for expressing our gratitude – it outlines rituals and blessings. In fact, the Talmud suggests that we should say 100 blessings
every day. And for traditional Jews, this may technically be easier, but I believe the message is deeper. It is not just about “saying” blessings, it is
about inhabiting a life of gratitude.
I have been lucky to learn this value from her. Noticing the abundance in my life is a daily personal practice. I try to walk through my life, and through
our school every day, with a heart filled with gratitude. When I see your children each morning I can’t help but feel that we couldn’t have found a better
group of kids for whom to open a school. When I meet with the faculty and see them doing their work I am grateful to have the privilege to surround myself
with such an incredibly high caliber of people – both as professionals and as human beings. And when I return to my home each evening, I feel blessed to
share my life with my 3 magnificent children and a very supportive and wonderful husband. So, there is so much to be grateful for – and yet, we need
reminders to notice.
This Shabbat, as we prepare to turn the clocks that will make the daylight hours feel even scarcer, as we face the inevitable bumps that come from family
life, I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to reflect as a family about what makes you grateful. When we share a few glimmers of what makes us feel
full in our hearts, we are modeling for our children. And when we provide our children an opportunity for them to share their reflections of gratitude, we
help to validate and value this process. For, as my wise grandmother reminded me, it’s all about gratitude.
Ilana received her B.A. from Harvard College and a Master's Degree in Education from Bank Street College. She was born and raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and now lives there with her husband and three children.
Latest posts by Ilana Ruskay-Kidd (see all)
- Gratitude - October 31, 2014
- The Tower Of Babel - October 24, 2014
- The World Was Created For My Sake… I Am But Dust And Ashes - October 3, 2014