By Joy Avitan, Parent and Teacher
On Friday, February 25, 2022, students in Kindergarten through fourth grade and their families gathered for their annual Shabbaton at Rabbi Arthur Schneier Park East Day School, the first in two years due to the pandemic. Organized by Head of School Temima Feldman and Principal Debbie Rochlin, it was a miraculous, emotional, and glorious night.
Families met in the lobby to light Shabbat candles and then filed into the Park East Synagogue main sanctuary to watch their children participate in the Kabbalat Shabbat led by our music teacher, Morah Esther. Seeing our children on the bima once again, singing the familiar Shabbat songs, I felt a renewed sense of being at home. As both a teacher and a parent of two children, Raquel in grade 8 and Daniel in grade 5, I am always emotional at school performances. Being there for Shabbat with my students, colleagues and my own children after so long was an especially poignant moment. We were a community again! We were a school that performs for its parents again!
The Synagogue was filled with gratitude to Hashem for our safe return. It was brimming with thanks and pride for another opportunity to showcase the strength and cohesive family that characterizes RASPEDS. After the children sang, we entered the ballroom to see dozens of beautifully set Shabbat tables, each adorned with oversized portraits of our children in shining lucite frames. The gourmet menu was served by our in-house chef, Zami, and every bite was a culinary treat. After the appetizer, we were led in prayer by Rabbi Menachem Solomon, who brought out the ruach at each table. After the meal was over, we gathered in a circle to sing the birkat hamazon, which the students sang with deep kavanah in their loudest voices. I was fondly brought back to my own time as a student participating in Shabbat activities with NCSY (National Conference of Synagogue Youth).
On Shabbat morning, our philosophy was in perfect harmony with our school-wide theme this month: Respect The Other. The children, organized in groups, joined the congregation to hear a powerful D’var Torah, Parsha Shekalim, delivered by Principal Debbie. Using the backdrop of the census taken of the Jewish people, in which each person, rich or poor, was called to contribute half a shekel, we are taught a powerful lesson on how each person counts and is equal in the eyes of Hashem.
Principal Debbie emphasized that “both the individual and the community … must compliment one another, co-exist, with each and every individual making his or her mark both as a very significant, independent, free-standing “half-shekel” and as a singular component of and contributor to the overarching significant Kehillah.” At RASPEDS, we practice this sense of equality for all as we work collaboratively every day to build and help our community, treating everyone with the same love and respect that we wish for ourselves. Principal Debbie’s speech was devoted to our students and faculty, many of whom were present to hear her impressive Torah interpretation. She highlighted the roles that we all play, faculty and staff, administration and Rabbinic leadership, parents and grandparents, Board of Directors, Benefactors, RASPEDS and Park East Synagogue, in contributing to our collective success. The crowd was overwhelmed with joy, clearly anticipating our next Shabbat gathering.
The children closed the service by singing Adon Olam on the bima. Afterwards, families enjoyed a delicious lunch in the ballroom. As the parents enjoyed socializing, the children headed upstairs to our seventh floor gym for activities with Coach Donny Wechsler for the afternoon. Parents and faculty described the Shabbaton as beautiful, warm and enjoyable. We are all so happy to be reunited.