The Currency of a Vibrant Community
As a Rabbi, I was taught to lead with compassion. As a Judaic administrator of the Hebrew Academy Community Day School, I recognize the importance of compassion. This approach often propels me to step out of my comfort zone and assist in various situations. Of course, I am humbled and extremely grateful to be on the giving end. Most recently, through circumstances that placed me on the receiving end, I have had to redefine my perspective on compassion.
Last April, my family and I mourned the loss of my dad, A”H. We sat shiva as a family in Denver, where my parents lived and we were raised. Naturally, at times like these, much comes to mind. All priorities are reevaluated, and the value of life takes center stage.
We wonder how life will continue.
On the last day of shiva, I received a text from the Hebrew Academy’s Head of School, Rabbi Newman. He sent me a video clip of the entire school coming together to wish me the traditional mourner’s blessing of comfort, long life and strength in the days ahead.
They reminded me I was not alone.
Upon my return to school the following week, naturally, with a broken heart, I did my best to put on a smile attempting to return to the normalcy of life. What greeted me was a small set of arms reaching out for an embrace. There were no words, but the love and compassion emanating from an 8-year-old boy’s giant heart touched me deeply. As I walked into my office, a pile of hand-drawn cards from students enveloped me once again, empowering me to go on. The entire Hebrew Academy community was there for me, embracing me with their love and support that strengthened me from within, confirming that life can and will go on.
As the wheel of life turns through divine intervention, a few short months later, we celebrated our daughter’s wedding in New York. We were showered with compassion when family and friends flew in from around the world to celebrate with us. The giant hug of compassion enveloped me once again, making me whole.
While the literal meaning of compassion means to suffer together, I now see the true definition of compassion as a combination of com- (with) and passion (with strong feelings and enthusiasm).
To be compassionate is to be fully present in all circumstances. Compassion suspends judgment and takes each circumstance as a moment of life to be lived fully, forming a deep connection, a bond, a fusion of souls.
Having experienced genuine compassion at life’s lowest and highest points, I’ve realized why this quality is central to Jewish culture and must be the cornerstone of our children’s education.
Compassion at its core defies judgment; where age and differences don’t matter. It validates, nurtures, and makes our world a supportive space where we can grow. Reminding us how fortunate we are to be part of a remarkable and vibrant community—Am Yisrael Chai!
Hebrew Academy’s ever-growing community has welcomed families across the Jewish spectrum for over 50 years. Modeling compassion in how our teachers interact with students, how every child is honored and cherished, and how we encourage students to treat each other with kindness and respect—we have created a welcoming, loving community where hearts and minds thrive.
Rabbi Avremi Popack is the Judaic administrator of the Hebrew Academy Community Day School and a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.