The Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins tomorrow evening and is the most well-known of the Jewish “New Year’s” (we actually have four different ones, including Tu B’Shevat – if you follow this link you’ll get an explanation on why we have four and what they are.). Since most of us also follow the secular calendar, we’ll have an extra one each year on the eve of December 31st. And 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.
I went into a Kindergarten class this afternoon to conduct an activity centered around the tradition of tashlikh – a ceremony in which we cast off the sins of the past with an eye towards improving our behavior for the future. For this activity, I had the children 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 made their project, they crumbled it into a ball and threw 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 impossible jobs to help children grow and develop as human beings. Part of what I enjoy about being in a Jewish Day School 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 our Middle Schoolers, under the direction of our Vice Principal, Edith Horovitz, who has masterminded this wonderful program for many years, have already made lunches for those who are hungry and baked honey cakes for the holiday and delivered them to the elderly. Programs like this – call it “service learning” or call it a “Mitzvah Program” – are opportunities for us to get outside the walls of the building and put into practice what we preach. 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”.
(By the way, if you are interested in the Talmudic source for this dialectic, check this out and discuss amongst yourselves:)
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. Personally, as I prepare to spend my first High Holiday season in my new community, let me express my gratitude on behalf of myself and my family on how welcome y’all (did that sound Southern enough?) have made us feel in such a short time. To the teachers, staff, parents, and students in this special school – thank you for your enthusiasm and your hard work. 5771 is shaping up to be a quite an amazing year…from my new school family to yours, “Shanah tovah!”