One of the strengths of the Jewish Early Childhood community of Greater Washington is the collaborative way in which we work and the intentional way we strive for quality. Our accomplishment is that we are truly committed to the growth and development of all schools in our community and that we exemplify an interactive learning community. These values are illustrated by the planning of and learning offered at our annual Early Childhood Educators Conference. We come together to plan learning experiences around a core concept that helps us to move forward in our professional development.
At this year’s Early Childhood Education Conference, sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, we wanted to provide our early childhood educators with the opportunity to explore the value of Achrayut, our sacred responsibility as individuals and as a profession to offer our children valuable and values-based learning experiences.
Our workshops focused on our responsibility to pedagogy and moral development as well as to our responsibility to our relationships with parents, with colleagues and with our environments. How do we define this awesome responsibility? How do we pass along the Jewish sensitivity towards accepting responsibility—to care, to act, to step up? How will we transmit this work ethic, this feeling of noble mission, to our young citizens so that it becomes a significant part of their innate sense of self and their vision of the other? To begin, we delved into the depth of the meaning of Achrayut/Responsibility:
Achrayut – The Value of Responsibility
The sacred covenant, brit, between humans and the Creator, requires us to always strive to do the “right thing.” It drives our ethics. As members of a larger community we are required to live a life mindful of the needs of others. Acher, the other, is the root of the term Achrayut and gives voice to the value that obliges us to create learning environments which encourage mutual responsibility.
Achrayut—The Concept of Responsibility
The Hebrew word hints at the comprehensive scope of human responsibility. Beginning with Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and ending with Tov, the final letter, Achrayut not only holds us accountable for our own actions but also calls upon us to be accountable for our families and the wider community. The Talmud teaches us that "The world was created for me." Rather than a statement of entitlement, this instills in us a sense of responsibility for the world and informs us of our moral responsibility as caretakers for one another, our community, our world and ourselves.
Achrayut—The Behavior of Responsibility
We are obligated to lead by example. As educators in Jewish early childhood programs, we must find ways to transmit the importance of responsible behavior to our children, provoking independence, creativity and resilience. Judaism requires that we anticipate needs and proactively seek ways to contribute. The discipline of practicing the mitzvot of tzedakah (righteous giving) and gemilut hasadim (deeds of loving kindness), leads us to a sense of responsibility as a way of life. Constructing learning environments in which responsible behavior is the model, helps children learn to be responsible citizens.
It is what we do for others that transforms us into a righteous community. Rabbi Tarfun teaches us in Pirke Avot 2:21: "It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, neither are you free to desist from it.”
Our community regularly attends seminars in Reggio Emilia entitled, “Exploring Reggio Through a Jewish Perspective.” Our seminar this year began with remarks from Carla Giudici, President of Reggio Children. She stressed to us that education is a universal right of all children and that it is the responsibility, Achrayut, of the entire community. She also spoke to us about how investment in early childhood education is an investment in the present and in the future. This Achrayut/Responsibility is a precise choice and a dedication to quality that is our shared value.
We planned our conference to inspire our Jewish early childhood educators to become change-makers; to become mindful of our higher sense of responsibility to ourselves and others as educators and nurturers of young children. The energizing atmosphere of this conference, a gathering with more than 700 Jewish early childhood educators, shows the remarkable dedication of our community and our community’s professionals to our youngest learners. It has been gratifying to see how many of our schools have implemented ideas brought forth at our ECE Conference and continue to work toward accepting and elevating our Achrayut/Responsibility to our children and in our schools. It reminds me that we are always striving for quality—in our classrooms, in our schools and in our community.
This is a photo of the "Exploring Reggio Through a Jewish Perspective" seminar that took place in Italy in October of 2017. Participants came from Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Israel and Boston. To read more about the seminar, read Rachel Raz's article, "Another Kind of Birthright"