Showing posts with label language. Show all posts
Showing posts with label language. Show all posts

Monday, April 22, 2019

Words Matter. Actions Matter More.

This is Jacob, one of our Hadrakhahnikim
helping students and parents!
Language is a funny thing. Since we also teach (and pray in) Hebrew in our school, it can be twice as challenging for us. For twenty three years, we have put two teenagers in most of our Sunday classrooms that serve younger students. Originally just Gan – Kitah Gimel (K – 3), since 2010 we have also done so through Kitah Vav (6th grade). Our goal for them was threefold: 1) they served as role models to younger students, both in terms of classroom behaviors and as something to which they might aspire; 2) the teens provided a teacher with additional eyes, ears, hands and legs. As the teenager develops skills, the possibilities for creative learning expands exponentially for the class; and 3) the teens develop into pretty well trained teachers themselves. I have helped them find jobs near their colleges and two of them have returned to teach for us here!

For all of that time, we called them madrikhim. It literally means “those who show the way,” deriving from the route derekh, which means road or path. Madrikhim describes a group of them, with at least one member of the group being male. A single male would be a madrikh, a single female a madrikhah, and an all-female group would be madrikhot. A nice word, very descriptive. But language is a funny thing. Hebrew is a gendered language. And we have two veterans of that group who each prefer to be called they/them instead of he/him or she/her. Hebrew gives us no help.

Our Jewish values can give us a clue. Genesis says that the first human was created in God’s image (B’tzelem Elohim). It does not tell us that the image in question is about physical attributes, even though many through history have thought so. The Gevurot prayer, which we chant at every service praises God for all of the things God is described as doing in the Torah – redeeming the captives, freeing the slaves, visiting the sick (to name three). It suggests that this B’tzelem Elohim business is about how we have been created with the ability to do the stuff God does.

If Torah has taught me anything, it (and my parents) has taught me to make my home – and our synagogue – a place where ALL will feel welcome. That includes people whose understanding of themselves is different from what others might choose to think. So the Religious School Vision Team and the faculty have agreed that we should no longer use the various forms of the word madrikh to describe our teen educational leaders. Instead we will refer to the program in which they participate as Team Hadrakhah. Same root, but the translation is “Leadership” which is perfectly descriptive. While the word may be in the feminine form, we are not using it to label the gender of those in it. We will refer to them as Hadrakhahniks (like Kibbutznik!) if we need a descriptor like that.

The hadrakhahniks, parents and teachers now understand all of this. The younger kids likely won’t notice. They tend to be more interested in knowing the teen in their classroom by name and relating to them, rather than what name we adults use. And hopefully, if one of our pre-teens is struggling with issues of personal gender identity, they will hear the message and know this is always a safe space for them. And that here we have people with whom they can talk. Language is powerful.