As we start the new academic year, many people are thinking about the true meaning of welcoming students back into the classroom. As we engage in this process, we need not look any further than our own Jewish tradition for ways of welcoming others. Abraham was the host par excellence. When his guests approached his quarters, he offered them water, a place to sit under a tree, and food (Genesis 18:1-5). He did not ask any questions; he waited for his guests to tell him their stories. The guests implicitly agreed to be taken care of by a host who focused on their well-being. This delicate balance is captured beautifully in the Hebrew language as the words for guest–אורח–oreach and host–מארח–mea’reach both derive from the Aramaic root א. ר. ח. (way, path). Judaism points to an Orach Chayim (a way of life) of hospitality and welcoming strangers. Our long history of exile and wandering has sharpened our skills as guests and hosts, at times being looked after by others, at times caring for others. If Abraham behaved like the perfect host for strangers, we certainly could try to emulate him and be the best hosts for our students. Below is a short compilation of best practices to welcome students:
- Hurry to greet students and strive to be an empathic host.
Think of your classroom as an open tent where all students feel welcomed and accepted.
- Organize smaller groups of students to build new friendships.
- Let students warm up and share their stories.
- Encourage students to share their values
and create a sense of belonging.
- Strive to know your students well so you can
provide for their needs.
- Reach out to parents to get additional
- insights about the students.
- Try to maintain a calm and warm demeanor to make learning relevant and meaningful.
In time, not only will our students feel welcome in the classroom, but they will also learn to become gracious hosts and fulfill the Jewish way of life.
Dr. Alicia Gejman