Marching With Fruits & Vegetables

I love Sukkot!  Talk about “A Floor, But No Ceiling”!

This is absolutely my favorite holiday of the entire year.  There is nothing else like it on the Jewish Calendar – sitting outside in a sukkah

you built yourself (or in my case built by handier Jews than I…which is just about anyone), with handmade decorations from your children, enjoying good food with friends and family in the night air, the citrusy smell of etrog lingering and mixing with verdant lulav – this is experiential Judaism at its finest.

But here is a sad truth: Even though our school will be closed on Thursday and Friday for Sukkot, it is reasonable to assume that the majority of our students will not be found in synagogue enjoying what is known as zmn_wmctnv.gif or “The Season of our Rejoicing”.  But many or most were certainly in synagogue last weekend for Yom Kippur.  So when it comes to “atoning” we have a full house, but for “rejoicing” we have empty seats?

If our children – if we – only experience the Judaism of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and not the Judaism of Sukkot, we are not exposing them to the full range of beauty and joy our tradition has to offer.  So why, in fact, is this what typically happens?

I’m not entirely sure, but I think it has to do with the exotic nature of the holiday.  As someone who did not grow up celebrating this holiday, upon coming to synagogue as an adult and watching a congregation march in circles waving fruits and vegetables – well this was not the Judaism I knew!  Truth be told, there are surely pagan accretions to the way that we honor the harvest roots of this holiday which may seem alien to the typical prayerbook service.  But for me, that is precisely what makes it so unique, special and not-to-be-missed!

No one likes to feel uncomfortable and adults especially are wary of feeling uneducated or unprepared.  I know how I felt encountering Jewish ritual for the first time as an adult – it was scary.  I, however, was lucky.  I was pursuing a degree in Jewish Education and, therefore, had all the support and resources I needed to learn and grow.  I realize that most adults coming at Jewish practice for the first time are not so lucky.  The amount of “stuff” Judaism asks of us to do – building the sukkah with precise specifications, shaking the lulav and etrog in the proscribed way, chanting less-familiar prayers, coming to synagogue on unfamiliar days – can be overwhelming.  (And why I am offering “Parent University” beginning next month…plug, plug!)  But don’t lose the forest through the trees…I’d simply ask you to consider this: When building your child’s library of Jewish memories, which memory feels more compelling and likely to resonate over time – sitting in starched clothes in sanctuary seats or relaxing with friends and family in an outdoor sukkah built with love and care?

You don’t have to choose just one, of course, that is the beauty of living a life of sacred time – there is a rhythm to the Jewish calendar, evocative and varied.  Come to synagogue for the High Holidays, to be sure.  But don’t miss out on Sukkot (or Simchat Torah or Shavuot or “Add Jewish Holiday Here”).  Let this Sukkot truly be the season of our great rejoicing.  I hope to see many students in synagogue this Sukkot.  I hope to see many parents push themselves out of their comfort zones and join the parade.  Pick up your fruit and vegetables and march with us in a circle.  Chag sameach.

“Teaching by Being”

Dear God,

teach me to embody those ideals

I would want my children

to learn from me.

Let me communicate

with my children – wisely

in ways

that will draw their hearts

to kindness, to deceny

and to true wisdom.

Dear God,

let me pass on to my children

only the good;

let them find in me

the values

and the behavior

I hope to see in them.

Those are words of prayer written by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov from his Likutey Moharan (2:7).

They feel particularly appropriate to me writing, as I am, the morning of what will soon be Kol Nidre and the beginning of Yom Kippur.  ‘Tis the season for the most personal of reflections and the most profound hopes for the future.  Mine are encapsulated in the words of Rebbe Nachman above.

I read those words of two minds – as a parent of two and a principal of many.  It serves as the reminder for why in each of my teacher’s Preplanning Week binders they found this quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (for more, please see my prior blogpost “A Place in Time“) saying that “We need to have more than textbooks, we need text-people”.  We can have the best books, most well though-out curriculum, and the most sophisticated technology – and hopefully we either do or will soon – but without the right people what does it really amount to?

Another of our traditions during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur includes the act of teshuvah – the complicated act of acknowledging past wrongs, correcting past mistakes, promises of changed behavior, etc.  For my part, here in the most public of forums, please allow me apologize to all those I have wronged or hurt, intentionally or unknown over the past year.  It has been a remarkable year in the life for me and my family as we have transitioned our jobs and locations; moved far from family and friends; and have tried to keep from our children all the stresses felt.  It has not always been easy on those around us.  I look forward to working on myself to be the best “me” I can in the upcoming year.  For me, my wife, my children, my family, my friends, my colleagues, my teachers, my students and their families – I hope this year to live up to the words of Rebbe Nachman and Rabbi Heschel.

Easy fasts for all who do so…meaningful reflections for all who feel the need.  I welcome your sharing the thoughts, prayers, and quotes that speak to you during this time.  I welcome you joining the brave few who do comment on these blogposts…I wager I learn as much or more from you than you do from me.  Join us.