Holiday Greetings for 2016

Re-reading my prior messages at the Holidays, it seems my tradition is denouncing ignorance and pleading for understanding.  It would be nice to imagine a world where this was not needed, but we’re not there. Yet.
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Today’s paper has a profile of Golden State Warrior’s coach Steve Kerr. Many of you know ICS Principal Ellen Borenstein’s deep love for all things San Francisco, and their sports teams in particular.

I had no idea, however, of Kerr’s family history and connection to education. His father, Malcolm, was raised in Lebanon by parents who moved there from Istanbul to run orphanages. A political scientist, Malcom Kerr wrote:

The truly civilized man is marked by empathy. By his recognition that the thought and understanding of men of other cultures may differ sharply from his own, that what seems natural to him may appear grotesque to others.

Steve Kerr told the Times, Life is so much easier if it could be black and white, good and evil. But he said you have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and look at it from a bigger perspective. We live in this complex world of gray areas.

Iranian-funded terrorists assassinated Steve’s dad in January 1984. Shortly after he had been appointed President of the American University in Beirut. A sad and painful irony for a man whose career was dedicated to study and understanding.

The Kerrs’ endorsement of tolerance, even when others might find it curious is ever more critical. It is a message Ellen, the staff, and I teach every day. Holding ourselves to this standard, at a time when ill-considered tweets are launched from all sides at all hours, is not easy. But it is an example we must all try to set.

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Soul singer Sharon Jones, who grew up in Bed Stuy, passed away from cancer Nov 18th. Driving to my in-law’s, her autobiographical Christmas song came on the radio. She recalls:

When I was a child I used to wonder
How Santa put my toys under the tree
I said, momma can you tell me how this can be?
When there ain’t no chimneys in the projects

Later in the song she sings Now I’m all grown and I see/It wasn’t Santa who got that magic done/But momma now I know, you were the one

We are rightly proud of our school’s racial and ethnic diversity. Because of the ways in which we hide the stigma of poverty, our economic diversity is harder to see. But it is there.

And so I want to honor the many ICS mothers who get the magic done. On Dec 25th, and every day.

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Tonight is the first night of Chanukah. Many non-Jews are struck by the coincidence this year of the holiday falling on the eve of Christmas. But is it that, just a coincidence.

Like many of our faith traditions, the Chanukah story is complex. Chanukah was so difficult in fact that the Rabbis excluded The Book of Maccabees when they codified the Bible.

The story unfolds amidst a Civil War between the Israelites about assimilating with their Greek rulers. (Foreshadowing anyone?) King Antiochus desecrates the Temple in Jerusalem, leading to a rebellion that overthrows the Greeks and restores Jewish rule. (The Rabbis added the miracle of the oil, latkes, and jelly doughnuts many years afterwards).

As one wise sage said in summarizing so many Jewish holidays, “They wanted to kill us; we survived, so let’s eat!”

Given the Jewish fear of assimilation, there is a more than a touch of irony to the way in which this minor holiday has been linked to a major Christian festival. But as Steve Kerr says, we live in this complex world of grey areas

So to keep the metaphors appropriately mixed and tolerant, I’ll close by repeating the wishes of Linus, at the end of the Charlie Brown Christmas: “on Earth, peace and goodwill to all men.

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