D'var Torah: Parashat Tazria-Metzora

Rabbi Dean Kertesz, Co- Dean of Students
Parashat Tazria-Metzora 2017 -- Community: Who is in and who is out?
Skin diseases, infections of pots, pans, and the walls of one’s house, ritual impurity; what do any of these topics have to do with high school? One answer is that teens love talking about gross things and what could be a more compelling and yucky topic than these? But I think the real connection has to do with when someone is included in a community and when they are excluded. This issue too, is central to this week’s Torah portion. For it was the priest’s role to decide when someone infected with a skin rash had to leave the community and when they could return. Tazria/Metzora is about communities and inclusion.

High school is about academic learning and intellectual growth but it is also about social learning. Few things are more important to a teen than acceptance: being part of a social group and a larger community. JCHS students explore who they are. They try on different identities: intellectual, social kid, leader, follower, athlete, outsider, social critic and so on. Students form deep friendships, break those friendships, and reconnect again, often with great drama and anguish. Our students can be highly empathetic one moment and highly critical in the blink of an eye. This is all part of their social and emotional development.

At JCHS we have a clear message: everyone here is part of our community. There are no insiders and outsiders. Rather than being gatekeepers, like the kohanim in this week’s Torah portion, the adults at JCHS work to help every student feel they are part of this community. We do it through the weekly Hakhel assembly, community block, the annual Shabbaton, our class journeys, and the day-to-day interactions with students in the classroom, the commons and the hallways. In every case we work to cultivate empathy and kindness and willingness to be open to each other.

Rabbi Israel Salanter, the founder of the Mussar movement in 19th Century Poland, taught “A pious Jew is not one who worries about his fellow man's soul and his own stomach; a pious Jew worries about his own soul and his fellow man's stomach.” In that spirit we strive to teach our students to care about one another and their needs and in this way to build community here and wherever they will go in the future.
Jewish Community High School of the Bay
1835 Ellis Street, San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: 415.345.9777
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The Jewish Community High School of the Bay (JCHS) is a unique college preparatory high school committed to integrating deep learning, universal wisdom, and Jewish values. We empower each student to embrace her or his Jewish identity, generate empathy and compassion, delight in lifelong education, and improve the world.