A welcome back to school message from Rabbi Smukler

Dear Moriah Family,
Welcome to school for 2020, and what a beginning to the year it has been!
Our Year 12 student leaders created such a vibe and welcoming spirit for our new Year 7’s and our Primary school students. Our ELC children, many of whom returned a couple of weeks ago, are truly settling into routine cradled by the love and strong Jewish spirit in each Centre. Our Year 5 students took their responsibility of looking after their new Year K buddies so seriously, It was truly a pleasure watching them interact with each other. I cannot say I didn’t notice more than a few tears as all of our students returned to school, luckily the tears were only tears of joy from our parents (it’s hard to believe our precious children grow up so quickly)!
This week we asked the Primary and High School students to identify the essence of Moriah in a word or a phrase. The Year K-2’s called it ‘the heart of Moriah’. The children came up with solutions that involved concepts like: learning, skills and knowledge, friendships, Judaism, community, preparation for life, thinking, heritage and pride etc. 
The essence of Moriah as stated in our mission & vision statement is ‘Belonging’
Belonging is created when we have a relationship and connection with another person. At Moriah we belong to many groups and concentric circles, from our fellow inhabitants of this planet to the Jewish people worldwide, to our country and city, Sydney Australia, to the Sydney Jewish community, to our Moriah College family, to our Year level, our class or Mentor group, to our immediate and our extended families. We also belong to our sporting, music or co-curricular groups, we belong to our friendship circles etc. 
The essence of Moriah is ‘Belonging’. 
A classic form of extreme punishment is solitary confinement. It is exceedingly challenging for a human to be confined and shut away from others for any period of time, as it goes against the very nature of human neurobiology.  “We are hardwired for connection…..we are a social species. In the absence of authentic connection, we suffer.” *
From the very start of Creation we have striven for belonging. The only creature created solitary and alone, was ‘the Human’. All other creatures were created with partners. As the creatures came before ‘the Human’ Adam, who was the purpose and pinnacle of Creation, they came in pairs, and he recognised the essence of each one, and gave them their Biblical Hebrew names. As he named each creature, the deep realisation of his aloneness dawned upon him, and ‘the Human’ yearned not to be alone.
Hashem observed “(Gen: 2:18) lo tov h’yot Ha’Adam l’vado” – “it is not good for the Human to be alone”, and he split the Human being into two, a female and male. Adam and Eve (Chava). Now the Human wasn’t alone. Now Humans connected with each other, and the first and enduring relationship formed. Humans could now fulfil their deepest need, the need to belong. Belonging is authentically and deeply connecting with others. 
The ultimate power of Moriah is our connections, our relationships and our sense of ‘Belonging’.
Twelve years ago I was invited to attend a Moriah reunion for past students and staff who now live in Israel. It was amazing to see a hall in a suburb of Tel Aviv filled with over 250 people who were still deeply connected and felt a tangible sense of ‘Belonging’ to Moriah. Over the summer I spoke with one of many of our alumni who has a successful business, who now employs other alumni in his legal team and other areas of his endeavour. 
Everywhere you go across the Sydney Jewish community and beyond, you can feel and witness the deep sense of belonging and connections created that never break throughout the Moriah family experience far beyond the confines of the school walls. Whether the connection is student to student, student to teacher, to music tutor, to sports coach, to specialist, all our Moriah connections create a deep sense of belonging. In this vein, at Moriah we have worked hard to enhance our ‘Culture of Care and Connection’ across all campuses of the school, to engender a deeper sense of ‘Belonging’. 
In our High School we have listened to parent, staff and student feedback and we have now changed our Wellbeing system from a vertical House-based system, to a horizontal Year level system. This means that all children now belong to a Mentor group together with peers of their own age and Year level, and their Mentors are now their ‘go to’ for anything they need at school. They now belong to a Year level, led by a Head of Year, who leads the Year Level Mentor team.
In the last week of December I merited to witness the true power of Moriah ‘Belonging’ as I was privileged to attend the final week of Year 10 IST.  I witnessed how connected every student became with each other, with their teachers and madrichaim. That is ‘Belonging’ at its best. 
We have challenged our Primary School and High School students to get to know each and every member of their class or Mentor group. To get to know all about them, their family, their interests, likes and dislikes, co-curricular activities and the important elements in their life.  We have also challenged every child to be able to connect with every child in their Year level during their first term. These connections foster ‘Belonging’.
Connected students ‘Belong’, in turn they feel good about themselves, they thrive and they learn, they have confidence and have fun. Happy and joyful children can overcome almost any obstacles. 
As we welcomed the children to school, we encouraged them to go through life, smiling at the world and then the world will smile back at you. If you come across someone who is mean or criticises you, or says something nasty or speaks behind your back, then ‘kill them with kindness and a smile’, they won’t know what hit them! In the end you will be the bigger person for it, and may even gain a friend, or at the very least demolish the animosity. We reinforced our culture of showing appreciation for everyone around us and generously sharing genuine compliments. Thus ensuring everyone in the Moriah family feels connected, and we can achieve our essence, a deep sense of ‘Belonging’. 
Wishing you a year of success, nachat and joy.  A year of Belonging – the heart and essence of our school.
Looking forward to witnessing your children thrive and grow throughout 2020.
* ‘Dare to Lead’, Brene Brown, 2018 (page 25)

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