by Mary Connerty
The best conversations I have with my son seem to happen in the car. A few weeks ago, while driving home from our synagogue after teaching in our religious school program, my son asked why we call Sunday school “Gesher” and not Sunday School or Hebrew School.
Hmmm . . . I tried to rack my brain to remember what I had learned about this moniker, but could only think to tell him that Gesher meant “bridge” in Hebrew and, in true practiced educator fashion, turned the question around and asked him why he thought that might be appropriate.
After a “harrumph” and a “Mom, why can’t you just ever answer my question?” I got him to suggest that the bridge referred to bridging childhood to adulthood, to leading to a knowledge of Judaism, to paving the way for living in the world. Pretty good for a 15-minute drive, I thought, but something felt missing. So I began to research:
Gesher (Hebrew: גֶּשֶׁר, lit. Bridge), according to Wikipedia, may refer to:
• Gesher, a former political party from Israel
• Gesher, a kibbutz in Israel
• Camp Gesher, a summer camp in Ontario
• Gesher, the former codename of a microarchitecture computer chip
Not very helpful.
A deeper search led me to a quote from Rabbi Nachman: “The whole world is a very narrow bridge; the important thing is not to be afraid.”
Rabbi Nachman was an amazing 18th century Hasidic Jew who combined Kabbalah and Torah study to teach that one should face life with simplicity, faith and joy. In fact, for Rabbi Nachman, experiencing joy was a mitzvah, a commandment. When he teaches that the world is a very narrow bridge which we must not be afraid to cross, he transcends any peculiarities of his 18th century Hasidic Jewish world and gives us a timeless roadmap for life. After all, fear is not particular to any one group of people, and living fearlessly can be a real and daily struggle for many of us.
For me, the Nachman quote explains perfectly why Gesher is the perfect name for Sunday School lessons of any faith, but also can serve as an anchor for all of us, particularly women, to live beyond our comfort zones. Mustn’t we try to teach our children and to remind ourselves that life is precious, that care must be taken, but to live in fear is not to live–it is to stay stuck on one side of the bridge?
Each day, we all face bullies, spiders, pressures from school or work, family illness, cyber hackers, potential terrorists, and who knows what else. So, as strange as it may seem for 21st century women (who may or may not be Jewish) to learn from an 18th century Hasidic rabbi, we learn from Rabbi Nachman that if we have faith, we don’t need to be afraid, or, at least, we can move forward in spite of our fear. This is a lesson for us all, and a reason to keep walking across the bridge.
Mary Connerty is a mom, wife, Linguistics Ph.D., runner, gardener, and writer. She is tentatively, yet daily, stepping out onto the bridge.