It’s cold and flu season. Add in COVID, and there are a HUGE number of educators away sick each day right now. There just doesn’t seem to be enough occasional teachers to pick up all of the jobs. In my position as a Reading Specialist, sometimes I’m called upon to cover a class. The admin team at our school tries to do this as infrequently as possible, but this past week, there was definitely this need. A teacher had to go home sick, and she was away the next day. With no supply, I went into her class to cover.
As one of the lessons in this Grade 2 class, I needed to review some learning around Hanukkah. I was so impressed with the knowledge that these students already had about the holiday. When I sang them, The Dreidel Song (just the first part of this song), they shared with me a Latke Song that I’ve never heard of before.
After our discussion about Hanukkah, one child asked me, “How do you know so much about this holiday?” I paused. I know how I would have answered this question in the past, but given our world realities right now, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. I decided to be honest, as I’ve attempted to always be honest with students. I said, “That’s because I’m Jewish. I celebrate Hanukkah.” The children were amazed, and many had questions for me about how my family celebrations align with what they’ve been discussing in class.
For those that have read my professional blog, I’ve mentioned my background a few times in the past, but these posts are buried among many other educational ones. I’ve been tempted to keep them buried, and be a little quieter about my choice of celebrations knowing our current circumstances, but an innocent question from a child, changed that for me. I realized this even more the next day, when I went in to support some students with reading. Just as I was leaving, the classroom teacher mentioned that they were playing, The Dreidel Game. She invited me to stay if I could. I told her that I had to go to my next class, but I appreciated the invite. This is when she told me, “*Antonio [name changed for privacy reasons] asked me today, ‘Do you know that Miss Dunsiger is Jewish? She told us that she celebrates Hanukkah when we talked about it yesterday.'” The teacher explained how excited he was to find out that there is someone at the school who celebrates one of the many different celebrations that they’re learning about in the classroom.
This is when I shared a little bit of my story with the classroom teacher. I told her that it’s probably been over 20 years since I’ve lit the menorah every night for the eight nights of Hanukkah, but this year I did. My parents even lit it and sent me a photograph of it when I was at my course on Wednesday night.
On the first night of Hanukkah, I ran by the grocery store on my way home. It wasn’t quite dark yet outside. Just as I got out of the car, I noticed a man who parked not far from me. He was wearing a yarmulke on his head. It wasn’t that cold outside, but I saw him look in his backseat for a winter hat and put it on top of the yarmulke. He wore that hat all the way through the grocery store. Now maybe he was cold, but I think that he was wearing the hat for another reason. He was scared. Imagine the stress associated when we’re too scared to be who we are. I am not suggesting that this is just for people who are Jewish. I think that the same comment could be made for people who come from many different religious and cultural backgrounds. But on that night, watching this man, I decided that I was proudly going to light that menorah and embrace an important part of me.
Yes, I was anxious when I had my blinds open and the menorah sitting on the table near the front window. I was equally anxious when I shared an extra little bit about me with these Grade 2 students, knowing the different sides of the conflict right now and how being Jewish weighs into that. I keep thinking about some of my learning from the Foundations 1 course, and the benefits of good stress. These were some of those times when I needed to make hard choices, but saw value in doing so. Knowing that a Grade 2 student remembered my sharing the next day, and chose to tell the teacher about it, also speaks about the value of relationships and being honest about ourselves with others. Today, I chose to share this important part of me with you. No matter how we might feel about the state of current unrest, we might all benefit from some light in our lives. These Hanukkah candles gave me this light, and writing this blog post, provided some additional and needed Self-Reg. What are some of your moments of light? The holidays can bring additional stress for many, and may stories of light reduce at least a little bit of this stress.