Principals Perspective (June) - Rabbi Matthew Bellas
Rabbi Matthew Bellas

Address to the Class of 2027 at the Aba and Sara Marcus 5th Grade Siddur Ceremony and Siyyum

Boker tov everyone!


While I am not the type of STAR WARS fan who dresses up in costume to go to each film in the theater (though I did always try to go in the first week for the last several movies) or be a major trivia buff, I really enjoy the STAR WARS collection.  And if you were to ask me who my favorite character is, and this was true even before the Class of 2027 chose its quote, I would have to say YODA.  I love how Yoda is so small, yet so powerful.  I love the way the script writers crafted Yoda’s sentences with flipped phrases.  As I got older, I came to appreciate Yoda as a teacher, knowing that I would be going into education someday.  Yoda had wisdom and clarity, characteristics that were worth pursuing in the real world, not just by characters on screen.  He was deeply connected to the FORCE, with a great understanding of how it worked and respect for its power.  He knew that staying on the side of the light would help the galaxy to achieve a peace in which different worlds and peoples would coexist in harmony and respect.  Yoda was a good leader and hero.

Throughout the STAR WARS epic, characters on the light side of the Force are in a constant struggle with those on the Dark Side.  The Light siders - the Jedi and the rebels - sought freedom, democracy and peace through expressions of empathy, respect, selflessness, self-awareness, healing, mercy, and loving-kindness. The Dark siders, the Sith - embodied by Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader - were driven by hatred, fear, anger, aggression, oppression, and jealousy to attempt to achieve power over the galaxy.  While STAR WARS is a series of science fiction movies, its classic good vs. evil storyline embodies the concept of art capturing life.  As we reflect on human history and look out at current events in our community, country, and the larger world today, we see the ongoing battle between the light and the dark: justice and freedom vs. inequality and oppression.  And each one of us is being asked: which side will you be on and what will you do about it?  Members of the Class of 2027, it is our hope that your answers to these questions will be guided by what you have learned with us through your time at the Lower School.

At the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, it is our mission to offer an exemplary and inspiring general and Jewish education to ensure a vibrant Jewish future by raising - in partnership with families - children and young adults who are confident and compassionate individuals who engage with the world through Jewish values.  Now, I don’t know if the way STAR WARS describes the Force is true.  Is there an energy flowing through the universe that comes from and connects all living things, giving those particularly connected to it special powers?  Perhaps...But, my dear students, I do believe in the existence of a different kind of Force...a foundation of knowledge and a spirit that our School has worked hard to develop in you so that you will become the type of global citizens who will be an influence for light and for good in our world.  Did any of the words I used to describe the light side of the STAR WARS Force - empathy, respect, selflessness, self-awareness, healing, mercy, and loving-kindness sound familiar to you?  I hope and am sure that at least some of them did because they so very closely mirror the middot, the values, that are at the spiritual core of your education and the heart of our school.  This is a Force - our Force - in which I whole-heartedly believe, a force that has the power to make all potential good come true through - as our School’s mission states - our ability to make decisions and engage with the world guided by our values - guided by this powerful force.   

In STAR WARS Episode 6: Return of the Jedi, Yoda tells Luke Skywalker that the Force is strong in his family.  And as Anna Polon and Jonah Soffler mentioned in their speeches, WE are a family - but not just here at CESJDS, and not even just as the Jewish people, but as the family of all human beings.  Now, the force of the values which we hold so dear and work so hard to share and ingrain in you runs stronger in some groups of our human family than others.  For us as the Jewish family, this force runs STRONG.  So, as the Torah teaches, it is our job to be the messengers of the light of these values to the world, to stand up against injustice, prejudice, racism, oppression and to fight for freedom, equality, respect, and understanding.  

As rising 6th graders, this may sound like a task that is too big for you to undertake.  It is not.  There are things you can do yourselves and with your families to make a difference.  Make a point to learn about other cultures, ethnicities, and races by meeting and getting to know people who are different than you and studying their histories. Don’t be a bystander to the mistreatment of ANY others; take a stand and let your voice be heard.  Write a letter to elected officials of your town, state, and country who represent you to let them know the kind of society in which you want to be raised and eventually raise a family of your own. Engage in conversation about these issues with your parents, teachers, and other adults who love you and care about your future.  You DO have the power to create change with your words and actions.  Let them be guided by the light side of the Force and make them count.  As Yoda taught us - there is no try.  We MUST do. And as our Rabbis taught us in Pirkei Avot...if not now, WHEN?  

Mazal tov members of the Class of 2027 and b’hatzlahah in Middle School!