Shofar so good!

[Cross-posted to the Schechter website and our last Constant Contact.]

unnamedThe Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins tonight and is the most well-known of the Jewish “New Year’s” (we actually have four different ones, including Tu B’Shevat). Additionally, since most of us also follow the secular calendar, we have an extra one each year on the eve of December 31st.  And finally, if you are in the field of education, well, the start of school provides yet another “new year”.  Putting it all together, suffice it to say, we have ample opportunities each year to pause and reflect on the year that was and to hope and dream about the year that is yet to be.

This is the time of year that schools engage in all sorts of creative ways to perform tashlikh – a ceremony in which we cast off the sins of the past with an eye towards improving our behavior for the future.  A common activity for our youngest students has them draw a picture and/or write about a behavior they want to avoid doing again – mistreating a sibling, being disobedient to a parent, not being a good friend. etc.  After they make their project, they crumble it into a ball and throw it into the trash. Bye-bye bad behaviors!

Were it only that easy!

All schools count “character education” as part of their mission.  All educators consider it part of their already challenging jobs to help children grow and develop as human beings. Part of what I enjoy about working with Jewish day schools is that we get to make that part of our curriculum explicit.  We are in the business of making menschen and during the High Holiday season, business is good!

This season, hundreds upon thousands of Schechter students will make lunches for those who are hungry and bake honey cakes for the holiday and deliver them to the elderly. Programs like this – call it “service learning” or call it a “Mitzvah Program” – are opportunities for our students to get outside the walls of the building and put into practice what they learn inside.  It is not academic time lost, but rather life-changing experiences gained.  Through programs like this, our students are reminded that there needs to be a proper balance between “study” and “action”, and we can see the “Schechter Difference” in action.

So who will we become this year?  Beyond all our academic hopes and dreams, will this be the year we become who we were meant to be?  Will we live up to our own lofty expectations?  Will we be better children, better students, better teachers, better siblings, better partners, better spouses, better colleagues, better friends – will we be a better “us”?

As the eve of a new Jewish Year approaches, it is my most sincerest hope that this is the year we’ve been waiting for.  To all the teachers, staff, parents, students, donors, supporters, and friends in this special network of schools – thank you for your enthusiasm and your hard work.  5775 is shaping up to be a quite an amazing year!  From our family to yours, “Shanah tovah!”

Author: Jon Mitzmacher

Dr. Jon Mitzmacher is the Head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School. He was most recently the VP of Innovation for Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.  He is the former Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network.  He is also the former head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, a K-8 Solomon Schechter, located in Jacksonville, FL, and part of the Jacksonville Jewish Center.  He was the founding head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas.  Jon has worked in all aspects of Jewish Education from camping to congregations and everything in between.

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