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Rosh Hashanah: Our Values and Big Ideas

September 28, 2016 | Posted in SJCS

by Shoshi Bilavsky

On the evening of October 2nd, we will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah falls on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, the first month of the lunar calendar. It is the beginning of the 10-day Jewish New Year festival, which concludes with Yom Kippur.

Rosh Hashanah literally means the head of the year. The Hebrew word for year, shanah שנה, comes from a root with two meanings: one is “to change” and the other is “to repeat.” How do we reconcile this apparent contradiction? Consider the paradox of time. On the one hand, there are certain cycles of change – the seasons, day and night – that repeat continuously. On the other hand, there is change that propels us forward to places from which we cannot (or wouldn’t want to!) return – think of computers and cellphones. The same paradigm happens in education – we build skills and knowledge by repetition and by continually reintroducing new concepts in our learning process.

Dealing with ongoing changes in our lives — the uncertain and the unpredictable – requires inner strength and fortitude. Rosh Hashanah and the days until Yom Kippur focuses on three ideas to help us (children and adults) grow: Teshuvah תשובה (penitence), Tefilah תפילה (prayer) and Tzedakah צדקה (charity and justice):

Teshuvah – penitence/repentance: This internal compass allows us to make mistakes and asks us to acknowledge them, to apologize, to set ourselves to do better next time, vow not to repeat the same mistakes, and move on.

Tefillah – prayer: Prayer gives us the time and the space to reflect with our community — at the synagogue or individually – and to acknowledge that we are not alone. We have each other and God. We recognize that we are human and as such, if and when we act, we will inevitably make mistakes (see Teshuvah).

Tzedakah – charity and justice: As we work through change, we remain committed to help those who suffer as a result of change.

These values are part of our thousands of years of practice and we repeat our commitment to our values each year. We grow and change as humans, but our fundamental values do not change. This is how we address the paradox within the word shanah and this is how we teach our students to face the future and its uncertainties without fear.

With Rosh Hashanah at our doorstep, I convey my warmest personal wishes to you, your families and your communities for a year of peace, well-being and prosperity. Thank you for entrusting us with your childrens’ growth. Shanah Tovah.

PS: There are many resources for learning more about Rosh Hashanah. Ask your students, pick up a handout in the office, or search online for traditions, recipes and more.