When Holidays Collide

Today at OJCS is both our annual “Sukkah Hop” and “Terry Fox Run”.  Next week brings us Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, National Truth & Reconciliation Week (we are expanding the “Day” to a “Week” in order to more easily accommodate our schedule), and Orange Shirt Day.  What do all those different holidays and events have in common?

If I was in a more rabbinic mindset, I am sure there are spiritual and meaningful connections to make.  With a school administrator’s mindset, I am way too busy making sure the logistics and the timing for each of our school’s activities comes off to dig much deeper.  However, with a Jewish educator’s mindset, I love the random juxtapositions these moments on the calendar provide our students and our families because they inadvertently reveal important things about what our school – what many Jewish day schools – believe to be true about living informed, active, engaged and holistic Jewish lives in secular society.

When I meet with prospective parents who are curious about how the Jewish and secular curricula work together, I oftentimes tell them that what I love about our school are the questions it provokes – not the answers.  I love that a student will come out of a Science class having learned contemporary theories of the origins of the universe and head into a Jewish Studies class to learn traditional understandings of “Creation”.  My highest hope for that student is that the juxtaposition of science and faith inspires that student to ask questions about how multiple perspectives can be true.  The answers, to me, are less important.  What matters, is that we are the kind of school where those questions are encouraged and that in the process of making meaning, a student begins to answer those questions for him or herself, setting the stage for holistic Jewish engagement into high school and beyond.  We don’t want our students to think of themselves as bi-(or tri-)furcated selves that put aside their Jewishness during different parts of the day or curriculum.  We want our students to gain experience navigating the full program and the mystery of life as whole Jewish selves.

Being “Jewish” and being “Canadian” (or “American” or wherever you may live) is not the same thing.  However proud we legitimately ought to be of our dual or multiple identities, we are not being intellectually honest if we claim they are all identical and never in conflict.  [Please keep in mind that the choice not to choose between is itself a choice.]  This is why OJCS adopts neither rejectionist nor assimilationist attitudes towards the secular society of which we are a part.  Nor do we feel so threatened by general society that we have to make everything Jewish.  No, we strive to be interactionist—our philosophy which can be seen in everything from our curricula to our website to our field trips—seeking to allow the Jewish and the secular to interact naturally as it does in the real world.

So.

Next week our students will commemorate National Truth & Reconciliation Week, celebrate Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, and participate in Orange Shirt Day.  It is both an extraordinary and ordinary week in the life of our Jewish day school.  Not every week brings major festivals and federal holidays, to be sure.  But every week – each day – brings opportunity for our students to interact as developing young Jewish people with a complex world and to slowly, if not linearly, learn how to hold multiple perspectives and – at times – oppositional ideas as they grow into literate and committed young Jewish adults.

I don’t know what questions next week’s constellation of events will raise, but I am excited to find out!

Author: Jon Mitzmacher

Dr. Jon Mitzmacher is the Head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School. Jon has recently begun his rabbinical school journey at the Academy for Jewish Religion and is thrilled to have joined the faculty of the Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI) as a mentor for Cohort 12. 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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