Kavod Habriyot Commitment

Romi Chaovat ’24

What does it mean to be a member of a community? Does it mean donating money, attending meetings, or simply being friendly with the other members? The answer differs from one person to the next. Some people are not very active members of their community, so they donate money as a form of contribution. On the other hand, some people choose to be active members of their community by participating in meetings and activities. No matter how one participates, every member contributes in their own way, and in return, the members gain a second home. They have people who will support them in times of need and people to laugh with. A community can span from a small friend group to a whole nation. The New York Jewish community is a people who have something in common and support each other in one way or another. 

Every community has its own standards and behavioral requirements that each member must keep to be accepted. Look at ‘Girl Code’ for a perfect example. Even though it is not an official or written rule, every girl knows it and follows it out of respect for other girls. “Do not judge other girls you do not know” and “ do not go behind your friend’s back for a guy.” These messages connect any person in the female community. These rules lay a backbone for consequences when someone does something wrong. These commitments are necessary for the welcoming and safe environments that many businesses, companies, and even schools are trying to create for their members.

Ramaz is not unlike these other establishments; it is not only a school but a community. A place where students and faculty can engage in any conversation or bond with peers and teachers in shared spaces like lounges or the offices. Even years after students and teachers depart from school, the alumni connections and network remain strong. There will always be a resemblance of familiarity when Ramaz is the topic of discussion. But in order to be a part of this community, the members, students, and faculty, must follow standards that fit into the school’s religious and social expectations. Posted in every classroom, in vibrant colors, is the Ramaz mission statement. The school strives to educate its students towards “a commitment to menschlichkeit, reflecting fineness of character, respect for others, integrity, and the centrality of chesed in all its manifestations.” The members of Ramaz must exemplify this part of the mission statement, along with the other four to make Ramaz a place of scholarship, Torah, and menschlichkeit. 

Although the Ramaz Mission Statement is simply an expectation that each student and faculty member takes upon themselves when joining the school, there are other commitments students specifically have to agree to. The first and arguably the most crucial contract every student must sign at the beginning of the school year is the anti-plagiarism contract. Students must vow to the school that they will only submit their original work and not copy or take credit for another’s efforts. While many students would not plagiarize, even if the contract was non-existent, this contract sets a written acknowledgment and supports the academic integrity of the school. The goal of many commitments is not only to get students to vow to do something, but to get students to think about the given topic. These contracts teach students to be extra conscious about citing sources and the immorality of plagiarism.

For this very reason, there was a new commitment drafted for the students to sign this year, the Kavod HaBriyot Commitment. As Ms. Krupka stated, “It’s less about change and more about awareness and commitment – it’s not about one major decision or any large scale factor but about every student thinking about who they are and how we want to build a community.” The commitment encapsulated what it means to be a Ramaz Upper School student. It presents basic norms that not only students, but every person should follow. Many could attest to the Ramaz community being one of respectfulness, connections, and friendliness. However, many teachers, including the grade deans, Rabbi Bodner, Rabbi Schiowitz, and Ms. Krupka agreed that there are other areas that could use work. Associate Principal, Ms. Krupka said, “having our community commit to this in a formal way would be great.”

The commitment itself, mentions keywords such as respect, cleanliness, and vulgar language. The first line states, “I commit to accord proper respect to all teachers, staff, and fellow students.” It then mentions language and speech: “I commit to speaking in a dignified manner. I understand that verbal or written speech that mocks any person, including their race, sexual orientation, gender, ethnic identity or their appearance or disability, is unacceptable.” Finally, it concludes with a commitment to Jewish values: “I will conduct myself in a manner that will exemplify the religious philosophy and guidelines of Ramaz.” All of these policies lay out basic respect for peers as well as Ramaz-specific expectations.

When asked about the backstory of this new contract, Ms. Krupka clarified the school’s goal; to emphasize the pride students have in being a part of a school that exemplifies a love of Judaism, scholarship, the school itself, and most importantly, in themselves. Ms. Krupka stated, “The intense pride that to be a student at Ramaz is not just to excel in who ‘I’ personally am, and not even to give back to the community, but it is all those things AND the development of my character as a human being – to be aware of small details, everyday situations and conversations – respect in the small minutiae of my day.”

Ultimately, the school administration made the Kavod Habriyot commitment to create awareness about how students should act and who they want to be as peers and friends. It lays out many moral standards that describe a mindful person. However, this does not mean every student needs this commitment to be self-aware and respectful. This commitment comes at a time of major societal change about how people should act and treat others. It is important to have all students, whether they need it or not, be aware of how they interact with others and think before they act. When Mussie Zalmanov ‘24, was asked about what she thought of this commitment, she stated, “When signing the kavod habriot commitment, my initial thought was that it is a good idea to have something in writing so that if anything happens, students can’t proclaim that they didn’t know what the consequences would be, but upon further consideration, I started to believe that a written contract was not the best idea because at the end of the day many students don’t read it and additionally the consequences listed are extremely vague.” She expressed valid concerns about the commitment as there is no way to know how many students actually read it, but it seems she does not completely dismiss the positive move it made towards the school’s goal. As this is a brand new commitment, there is no way to know the effectiveness of the terms at the moment. Although the Kavod Habriyot Commitment might not be the perfect way to get students to rethink their character, it is still a monumental step for the school to grow its community and members to be an even more positive place.