How do we help children to grasp big terms like globalisation? How do we enable them to understand and internalise key values, rather than knowing but not caring? The answer, for me, to both questions is through the concept of ‘na’ase v’nishma’, doing and understanding.
The Hebrew word we use for giving to those in needs is tzedakah. The word comes from the word tzedek, or ‘justice’ and the association we aim to build with children is not that we pity others or have mercy on those less fortunate than ourselves, but rather that we have a responsibility to make the world a better and a fairer place through our actions. We have to seek opportunities to do justice.
In May, we held our own values election, on the same day that the UK was thinking about some big issues as well. The children of Alma Primary elected the Tzedakh Party and since then we have been working hard to enact their ‘manifesto’. We have been asking families to send each child into school with a coin on Fridays so that we can collect money and now we have send off all the money we have collected during the year.
So far this year, as a result of your support, we have made a donation of £150 to the Asylum Seekers centre, which is based at New North London Synagogue, a cause that parents had voted for last year and which we have now been able to support. Following an assembly in the spring term we have been able to give money to Red Nose Day which has gone to support children’s learning in Africa and the UK. From money collected at Tu Bishvat (New Year for trees) we have planted a grove of trees in Israel and 60 trees in India, one for each child at Alma. Finally, we are donating money to support victims of the earthquake in Nepal. It is impressive that from a small school in Finchley we have been able to touch the lives of people in four other countries.
Last week, in our Tuesday assembly, we shared with the children the results and the global reach of their efforts. We then asked them what they wanted to do next. They came up with a range of things we need to do in order help make the world a kinder place, from smiling and helping children in our school, to supporting those who can’t afford food or medicine: a great agenda for Alma to work on in the coming academic year!
Live Aid in 1985 was a significant moment when many in my generation realised that we could do something to improve the lives of others, even if they are far away. The effect of globalisation has made this far more common, but one of our challenges is to make that meaningful for children, so that they see the effects of their actions and learn, over time, that we help others not out of pity but because we know it is the right thing to do.
In Alma, when we sing the prayer for peace, ‘oseh shalom’, we add the words ‘al kol yoshvei tevel’, a modern addition to the prayer which is not used in all communities. The phrase comes from the Talmud and refers to ‘all those who dwell on earth’. It is, to my mind, a beautiful term and a worthy addition to the Oseh Shalom prayer as it helps us to consider our global responsibilities along with our local and day-to-day concerns. Our focus as a school is often to embody the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead, who wrote 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.’
As we end our academic year, I wish you a wonderful summer break and hope you enjoy spending time with you children, looking for ways to 'na'ase vnishma', to do and to learn so that you and your children can continue to create positive change in the world.