Most of you have made a choice to educate your children about Judaism. This was not necessarily an easy choice and I would imagine that in some cases your decision was reached after lengthy and difficult discussions within your family. But the decision was made and I assume that you have determined that there is something about Judaism that you wish your children to learn, but you may not be precisely certain what it is or why it is important.
So what perhaps are you trying to accomplish by teaching your children about Judaism?
I believe that what you (and we) are trying to do is twofold. Together, our goal is to endeavor to help your children understand who they are. To do so, we must give your children awareness of their origins. We must help to provide them with a context for who they are and why they are who they are.
The importance of knowing oneself is reflected in most psychotherapies and is the goal of many philosophical systems. We all know that Socrates believed that self-knowledge was the key to reaching one's potential - and that Freud's primary dictum was the importance of uncovering hidden motives and meanings behind our actions and thoughts.
Most of us believe that self-knowledge is indeed one of the necessary components for living the "good life" because it promotes self-understanding, which leads to self-acceptance and self- empowerment. Hopefully, this in turn will lead to an ability to engage in effective and fulfilled lives. Knowledge of our origins is the beginning of self-knowledge. We are neither fixed nor abstract beings. Who we are, is where we have come from.
Regardless if your children have much or little Judaism in their background, it is still a component in their self-makeup. So is any other culture or religion that is part of your family. Our biology, our parents' dreams and neuroses, our grandparents' beliefs, our holiday celebrations, WWII and WWI, and the founding of America are all part of our stories and help to explain who we are. The more complete the story, the more complete the self-understanding.
Self-knowledge is one of the central goals at the Sunday School. We will educate your children in relation to the Jewish part of their selfhood. By doing so we trust that we will contribute something constructive to their futures. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to do so.
This year Tubishvat (the fifteenth day of the month Shevat), the New Year for the trees, falls on Jan. 25th. This is a relatively unknown holiday but an important and meaningful day in the Jewish holiday cycle. What happens on the fifteenth of Shevat to make it a "new year"? The most common explanation is that this is the time of year when the fruit of the trees begin to form. In Israel, by the fifteenth of Shevat, the majority of the winter rains have fallen and the sap in the trees has risen. Tubishvat was seen as the harbinger of spring - a new year for the growth of trees. It is the yearly time to remember how important it is to take care of our earth and leave it in good shape for our children and our children's children.
The Talmud tells the story of the teacher Honi, who was walking along the road where he saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked " how long before it will bear fruit?" The man answered. "Seventy years." Honi asked, "Are you sure that you will be alive in seventy years to eat from its fruit?" The man answered, "I found this world filled with carob trees. Just as my ancestor planted for me, so shall I plant for my children." (Ta'anit 23a)
This tale reflects the image of trees as a symbol of eternity, because trees live beyond the lifetime of a single human generation. At the same time, the tale shows that for humans, children are our trees, our means of achieving eternity. Thus the story above closes the circle, as parents give the gift of trees to their children.
This year perhaps you might want to do something to support our earth and our environment for the sake of all of our children. Maybe you can join an environmental agency, create an ecological project in your own neighborhood, examine the trees in your own backyard for any necessary care, or plant a tree or a garden.
Most of our teachers collect money for the Jewish National Fund, which is the organization, which plants trees in Israel. Our fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Smith, collects these funds for Tubishvat and sends them to the JNF. Every year for the last 10 years, the Sunday School has planted trees in Israel. If you would like to contribute to our ongoing effort of planting trees in Israel, please send money with your children, but ask them first if their class contributes money to the "little blue box".
Jewish tradition tells us that we do not own this earth. We are merely the caretakers who are here and then are gone. It is our children and our children's children who will be left with what we do to our planet. This Tubishvat, as we commemorate a New Year for trees, please consider doing something to make this world a better place for your children.
Message from Dori Stern,
There is a concept in Judaism called ma'alin b'kedushah, which means ascending (going up) in holiness. We see this idea reflected in how we are supposed to light the Chanukah candles. We light one candle on the first night, two on the second, and so forth, until we are aglow in the light of nine candles.
Lighting candles in this way is meant to remind us of the meaning of the miracle of Chanukah. It reminds us that the one-day supply of oil continued to burn for eight days. In a wider sense, increasing the candles, one day at a time, is meant to also remind us of the Jewish concept of spirituality -- of ma'alin b'kedushah. We are taught that we should always strive to achieve greater and greater appreciation of the miracles of life, and while doing so we reach for higher and higher levels of spirituality.
The Chanukah candles serve as a reminder for us to not rest at an introductory level of spirituality but to continue with one's spiritual search for one's entire life.
Judaism is deeply rooted in the concept of thankfulness; the idea of gratitude is one of Judaism's central themes.
In fact, the word Jews in Hebrew is "Yehudim," a name derived from the name Yehudah (Judah) that comes from the root word for thankfulness.
Every morning observant Jews say the following prayer: "Modeh ani lfanecha melech chai vkayam sh chechezarta bee nishmati.... I give thanks to you enduring king (spirit) for returning my soul to me..." it is a lovely prayer that has been set to music and is sung in Jewish schools throughout the world.
Judaism has a prayer or blessing for the simple act and the sacred act. There are special prayers for wine, bread, fruit, non-fruit items, washing hands, lighting candles, after meals and many, many more.
The Shechiyanu prayer, with which many of us are familiar, gives thanks for being alive and reaching the present moment. It too has been set to music and we sing it with feelings of gratitude on many special occasions.
The Torah and Haftarah (stories from the prophets) blessings are words of appreciation. They are expressions of gratitude for receiving the words of the Torah and Haftarah.
Thankfulness is an approach of staying in the moment, appreciating what one has. When we are thankful we do not fret about what happened in the past, nor do we worry about the future. We relish what we have, here and now.
Hopefully we all will attempt to cultivate an ongoing sense of gratitude, not only during the holiday of Thanksgiving, but as repeatedly as possible. Thankfulness is a basic tenet of Judaism and a coping mechanism for the challenges of life. ~Dori