In Appreciation

An open letter to the St. Louis Jewish community

And Adam knew his wife…

Genesis 4:1

Why does the Torah employ an expression of “knowledge” as a euphemism for intimacy?  Because emotional and psychological intimacy is impossible with intellectual familiarity.  Similarly, the term for “gratitude,” hakoras hatov, translates literally as “recognition of the good.”  One cannot feel gratitude without first seeing the good; with that recognition, gratitude results naturally and inevitably in a morally healthy mind.

The Me’am Loez explains that the character trait of ingratitude underlies the Torah command to destroy the nation of Amoleik.  Having become free from the Egyptian sphere of influence in the wake of the Ten Plagues, the Amolekites used their newly acquired freedom to attack the nation responsible for the overthrow of their former overlords.  A nation so indifferent to how it has benefitted from another is similarly incapable of attaining even the most minimal level of human virtue.  Just the opposite, such a nation will rebel pathologically and unceasingly against any moral or legal structure imposed on it by the Ultimate Authority.  Consequently, its continued existence cannot be tolerated upon this earth.

With this in mind, I feel it incumbent upon me as a member of the St. Louis Jewish community in general, and as a teacher and parent of Block Yeshiva High School in particular, to express my most heartfelt and sincere gratitude to an individual who has gone above and beyond in support of our school.

Every private educational institution has been suffering through the current economy, and Block Yeshiva has been no exception.  As the financial crisis has steadily worsened over several years, a few persons of note have devoted themselves to the school’s survival.  They have had, and continue to have, our deepest appreciation.

Nevertheless, as the situation continued to deteriorate and the viability of the school became increasingly uncertain, one individual stepped forward to address the problems head-on, with passion and energy drawn from her increasing familiarity with Block Yeshiva and the school’s extraordinary contribution to the community.  As the twelfth hour drew near, one person made all the difference.  I therefore take great pleasure in publicly offering this small expression of gratitude and appreciation to Ms. Shu Simon.

Ms. Simon has not always possessed such enthusiasm for Block Yeshiva.  Over the last few years, however, she has learned how the school strikes a harmonious balance between Torah studies and secular knowledge, how Block students develop academic discipline, Jewish awareness and commitment, refinement of character, and international distinction, how Block serves the greater Jewish community, and how Block graduates are sought after by the most prestigious yeshivas, seminaries, and universities.  The more she learned about Block, the more intimately connected Ms. Simon felt to the school and the more prominent role she shouldered in support of our mission.

While many around her indulged in hand-wringing, finger-pointing, and strategic astigmatism, Shu Simon demonstrated the singular purpose and tenacity that are the signs of true leadership.  (I know nothing of the details of what she did – my job it is not to address the business operations of the school but to attend the academic and spiritual welfare of the students, per my training and experience.)  But amidst an atmosphere in which ideology and personal bias have frequently overshadowed Torah values and objective achievement, Ms. Simon has won a place in the hearts of all those who have sacrificed their time, energy, and tranquility on behalf of Block Yeshiva.

Any individual or institution that aspires to high standards and ideals will inevitably acquire detractors.  On the other hand, attempting to be everything to everybody results in becoming nothing to anybody.  Those who know the Block faculty and administration well have already recognized their invaluable contribution to the community.  Those who haven’t are not paying attention.

Tragically, we live in a culture where educators often feel unappreciated for their labors, and so we would be especially delinquent if we missed this opportunity to show our appreciation for Shu Simon.  May her efforts serve as a call to action for others, as well as a reminder that the crisis is far from over.  At best, we have gained a little time to rally our forces.

If you don’t know Block Yeshiva, it’s worth your time to find out who and what we are.  If you do, then you already know Block’s value.  Don’t remain silent, lest the voices of cynicism and ingratitude create an illusion of discontent and carry the day.

And again:  thank you Ms. Simon.

B’kovod rav,

Rabbi Yonason Goldson

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  1. #1 by Donna Jones on January 4, 2010 - 11:25 am

    I sincerely hope that Ms. Simon knows that this is a reflection of the gratitude of the entire BYHS family (administration, faculty and staff).

  2. #2 by Linda Markowitz on January 4, 2010 - 4:29 pm

    I couldn’t have said it better or agreed more. Block is an exceptional place, and Shu Simon is an exceptional woman. Our sincere gratitude and appreciation goes to both.

  3. #3 by Stuart Ozar on January 4, 2010 - 8:56 pm

    Thank you, Rabbi Goldson, for eloquently expressing what so many of us feel about Shu Simon and Block Yeshiva.

  4. #4 by Norm on January 6, 2010 - 11:30 am

    Rabbi-

    One think we can agree on-Ms. Simon is a brilliant lawyer and a pioneer among women lawyers Jew and gentile.

    What I don’t understand is the paradox of your praise for her while you teach your students that women and men have seperate gender defined roles in society.

  5. #5 by torahideals on January 7, 2010 - 1:41 pm

    The radiator and the transmission have separately defined roles, which does not make either of them more or less important than the other in the operation of my car.

    As always, I can count on Mr. Pressman to demonstrate the attitudes and values that we at Block Yeshiva teach our students to reject and to rise above: ignorance, superficiality, stereotyping, pettiness, and promoting strife within the Jewish community. How easy it is to misunderstand one another when we are pathologically invested in our preconceptions and prejudices.

  6. #6 by Norm on January 8, 2010 - 10:25 am

    I’m stereotyping?

    You teach your students that listening to women sing could lead to “impure thoughts”, that women, cannot touch a torah scroll and they should not enter a non-orthodox shul.

    But your statement about separately defined sex roles is an accurate description of what your school stands for-You teach “Separate But Equal.” Liek most Jews I believe that any person, black or white, gay or straight, man women or transgender can do anything he or she wants to do without regard to the bronze age sexual stereotypes laid out in the Torah. That’s why I don’t support your school.

    It’s also one of the reasons when I made my year end contribution to the Federation I reduced it by 90% and gave the 90% directly to Federation agencies that don’t teach Orthodox dogma.

  7. #7 by torahideals on January 14, 2010 - 10:49 pm

    Ah, the endless stream of unthinking rhetoric that attempts to disguise itself as rational and dispassionate thinking.

    Let’s apply “separate but equal” to the United States military and declare the divisions of army, navy, and marines unconstitutional. Let’s apply it to the emergency room and have doctors, nurses, and orderlies all do the same job at the same time. Let’s apply it to every commercial restaurant and have the chefs, waiters, and busboys evenly divide all responsibilities.

    But that’s not really the point. Let’s declare ourselves enlightened, phrase our attacks and slanders in the form of snide and bigoted questions, and then ignore the answers.

    Please, Mr. Pressman, stop embarrassing yourself. If you can’t remember how I’ve already responded to your uninformed and disingenuous deprecations, here’s a link to an earlier exchange to refresh your memory:
    http://torahideals.com/2009/04/21/making-sense-out-of-senselessness/#comments

    And for interested readers, here is an article about the Norm Pressmans of the world:
    http://www.jewishworldreview.com/1009/goldson_bubbleland.php3

    Incidentally, a recent poll indicates that most Americans don’t care if their children marry a different race, religion, or ideology. The one type of person most Americans say they would never want their child to marry: and atheist.

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