Prayer for first day of work

prayer for first day of work

For many, today is the first day of school.

I planned on writing this piece with advice for parents and teachers for a successful new school year – think a little bit of Top Ten humor, Jewish wisdom and tough love. But I’m nixing that.

For me, there are all sorts of layers of feelings on this day. I feel so much pride, gratitude, hope and awe that a school we founded on a whim is entering our seventh year (somebody pinch me!). I feel so incredibly anxious, uncertain and curious in how to support our school’s expansion– and that weight seems even heavier this time of year. Our community of incredible teachers, families and students is growing, with so many new faces and new expectations and new dreams, and with that, even more responsibility– which is very scary. And of course, above all, I am a mother to four children, each starting a new leg in their journeys toward self-actualization… and even in writing these words, I start to tear.

Summer offers us a point of reflection.  A moment in time (some would argue too short, others, too long) that allows students, parents, teachers and school leaders to assess our collective successes and misgivings, to realign ourselves with our deepest intentions and plan for a better future. A long awaited Shabbos after months of grueling work.

And now, summer has ended. We follow lists and buy our children their supplies, little artifacts of our desires for them in the coming year. We spend hours and hours preparing our classrooms, last-minute nesting in our students’ (and our!) home-away-from-home. We are re-staffing and talent-searching and budget-balancing and fundraising and buying materials and more. We’re getting back to the holy work of unearthing diamonds. Back to the struggle of relinquishing control. Back to the space where so much is uncertain even as it is so glorious.  

And that space is fraught with so much emotion. So much.

How many of us can’t sleep the nights before school starts, wondering if our children will be allotted good teachers, if they’ll make good friends, if they’ll get good grades, if they’ll be good?

And how many of us wish we could wish for more than just good?

How many of us photograph our children standing in front of the school building on the first day, all spiffed up in clean clothes, wide smiles and big dreams, an alluring elixir of end-of-summer-relief and beginning-of-school-year-angst hanging in the air, all wrapped up into one? For how many was saying goodbye harder for us?

How many parents fear our child will get pegged as the class clown or bully or snob or slow-poke or smarty-pants or whichever-label instead of seen for the bright, multi-faceted, incredibly unique person he or she is?

How many of us swell with pride thinking how our children have developed, those creases in their beings filling with so much character and light? And how many of us wonder if this year will only strengthen that unearthing?

How many of us fight to hold our expectations in check, to create space for our children to become whoever they need to be? And how many of us create that space for teachers, too?

How many teachers will walk into the first day of school already second guessing themselves, already expecting mistakes instead of triumphs?

How many teachers are already collecting anecdotes of success, little stories tucked away like gold into deep pockets of dreams and aspirations?

How many of us already love our students the first time we read their names on our class lists? And how many only fall deeper into love as they walk into our classrooms, their faces lighting up with curiosity and wonder?

How many parents and teachers look forward to building a relationship of mutual trust, respect, patience and love of our children– and yet how many of us hold our thoughts and feelings in check, guarded and measured?

How many of us just want our children to be happy? And how many of us realize that life is not always happy – and that learning, growth and life is sometimes sad, sometimes painful, and even bittersweet?

How many of us, parents, teachers, school leaders, wish we knew just what to do to teach our children to be everything they could be and more….

I don’t have a neat list of pointers.  I don’t have any answers.

I only have prayers.

So, for the first of of school, I offer this:

Please, dear G-d, protect our children and they leave our cocoon and go back to this world called school.

Please, help them find friends that are warm, respectful, optimistic and appreciative them deeply– just as they are.

Please, make it be that they will feel safe, nurtured and cared for. That they will be surrounded by those who love them as much as I do.

Please, oh G-d, give their teachers strength, compassion, patience, and the vision to see all that my child is– and can be. Help them find the inspiration they need to stay enthralled with this holy work, even as it gets hard.

Please grant the prayers of their teachers. For oh G-d, how they must pray.

Please help us all find the partners we need to grow our schools, mentors our educators, increase their salaries and co-create the environments that befit the princes and princesses entrusted in our care.

Please help us, parents and teachers, become friends, teammates and family, working toward one goal, inspired by truth– not ego.

Please, Hashem, give me the faith that everything happens for a deep purpose, and that even if it doesn’t look good now, it can get better.

Please, oh please, help each one of my children break through their challenges, once and for all. Help them to believe in themselves and not fall trap to negative expectations or judgments. Help them see the light.

Please grant my child the wisdom and understanding that life is not always what we expect it to be and that hard work always pays off– even if it’s not immediate or in ways we imagined.

Please, Hashem, whisper in my child’s ear: always take the high road.

And please, dear G-d, be there with me.

Because I can’t do this alone.

And because my children, and their teachers, and all those who are working day in and day out to nurture them

Are your children, too.

Today is May Day, which workers all over the world celebrate as International Workers’ Day (or Labour Day with a u to distinguish it from the American Labor Day).  The Second International, an alliance of socialist and communist political parties from all over the world, declared the holiday in 1889 to commemorate the anniversary of the Haymarket Affair.

The Haymarket Affair took place a few miles away from where I work in downtown Chicago.  A couple thousand workers gathered in the rain to protest in demand of an eight-hour workday, opposite a legion of police officers.  At some point, the police officers ordered the peaceful demonstration to disperse at gunpoint.  One of the demonstrators threw a homemade bomb at the police, and the police responded by opening fire, killing at least four unarmed “workingmen.”

In the ensuing trial, seven anarchists were sentenced to death.  Four were hanged and the other three given harsh prison sentences in a trial that many described as a miscarriage of justice.  Illinois governor John Altgeld would later characterize the trial as laced with“hysteria, packed juries, and a biased judge” when he pardoned the three living defendants.  Not a single one of the defendants was actually linked to the bomb thrown at police officers.

The reverberations of the Haymarket Affair are still felt today, with labor and capital locked in a war that, at times, feels like it will never end.  But if Christ teaches anything, it is that the victory of greed, wealth, and evil is never final, and that the poor, the immiserated, and the downtrodden are raised from the dead, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.


Dear lord,

On the first day of spring we celebrate working people

Of all colors, all genders, all sexual preferences,

And all levels of ability

(For work is not defined by physical labor, but by the creation of wealth).

We keep in our hearts Your promise that we shall inherit the earth,

And we remember with joy and trembling hope that come Your kingdom,

The first shall be last, and the last first.

We keep in our minds the example set by the first believers,

Who lived together in one heart and one mind,

And held all things in common.

We keep in our souls the words of your brother James,

Who cried out for the wages kept from us by deceit and treachery,

And warned the rich of the miseries that are surely still coming to them.

From the days of the prophets, when the rich made the ephah small and the shekel great,

Through the days of our lord, when they turned Your house into a den of robbers,

And to the world of today, where children are poisoned with lead for lack of profit,

The wealthy and the powerful have subjugated the lowly and the meek.

But no more.

With your guidance, Lord, let all working people of the world unite.

Open our hearts, Lord, and help us first confront the hatred within ourselves

For our black and brown comrades, for our gay and lesbian and transgender comrades, for our differently-abled and neuroatypical comrades,

Help us to liberate ourselves and each other from prejudice and infighting

Help us to unite.

With your guidance, Lord, let all working people of the world unite.

Open our minds, Lord, and help us to put aside the petty squabbles of theory

To cooperate, to learn and grow together, and to build a new world together in our own image,

For our image is Your image.

With your guidance, Lord, let all working people of the world unite.

Open our souls, Lord, and give us the strength to continue this struggle to the end.

Give weight to our hammers, and edge to our sickles,

And strength to our hands and our hearts.

Help us to struggle so that all may live this rich, overflowing life You have provided us.

Lord God,

In return we promise to be faithful to each other

And to fulfill the covenant between Yourself and Your people.

We will plead the case of the orphan and bring justice to the widow,

We will welcome all strangers into our lands,

We will visit those held in the “Universities of crime” maintained by the State,

And give all that we have to the poor.

We will keep your command to love each other,

We will rend the patriarchal family apart with Your sword,

And we will surely render unto Caesar all that which is his.

We will carry Your cross to the better world that you have dreamed for us.

While the chief priests and the elders pray in vain for your Kingdom to come,

We workers will build Your kingdom from the ground up, just as we have built this world.

This is the covenant we create with you.


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