The long, sweet days of summer are drawing to a close, and September is right around the corner. As a parent, an educator, and a Jew, September has always indicated two significant events; the start to a new school year, and the start to a new Jewish year, Rosh HaShanah.
For me, each of these new beginnings has always been met with a great deal of tradition and ritual.
I remember so clearly, as a child, going shopping for brand new school supplies, purchasing just the right folders, notebooks, pens, and pencils. I would carefully select a first-day outfit and barely sleep a wink the night before school began.
Similarly, Rosh HaShanah was filled with ritual – arranging colorful sliced apples next to a small bowl of honey, smelling the matzah ball soup simmering on the stove, and listening to the shofar at temple. Although these experiences are from my childhood, they have stuck with me through adulthood, and they remain part of my life today.
For young children, traditions and rituals are significant; they provide predictability, support, and familiarity, while bringing families together, creating unity, and a strong sense of belonging.
One tradition and ritual that is a critical part of Judaism is the Shehecheyanu prayer. It’s a prayer we recite to thank God for allowing us to reach this day, for enabling us to experience something new, and for sustaining us. On Erev Rosh HaShanah, along with many other times throughout the year, we recite this blessing as we thank God for bringing us to a new year and to this moment in time.
I believe this prayer also has significant value in our secular lives. I think about all of the big moments we each experience – the firsts, the new opportunities – and these, too, are Shehecheyanu moments.
When we stop, take a breath, and acknowledge these critical moments in time, we also have a great opportunity to reflect on time that’s gone by, and to look forward to the moments ahead. Many families have the tradition of taking a picture of their child on the first day of school. How lovely would it be to expand on this by looking back on the photos from years past – reflecting on each of those moments in time, being thankful for getting to this new school year, and dreaming about the wonderful opportunities that lie ahead?
In getting ready for the coming year, many parents help their children envision what the new school year might be like, including how the classroom may look. Will there be the same toys as last year’s classroom? What new books will be on the shelf to read? What kinds of engaging activities will he or she participate in?
Similarly, maybe this will be the Rosh HaShanah when your family creates a new tradition or ritual – writing cards to friends and family around the country, or even visiting your local farmers market to select fresh apples and homemade honey for your holiday table. Helping a child to make connections – to himself, to what he knows, and to the world around him – creates opportunities for clarity, meaning, and authenticity.
When we reach these incredible moments, and together create new rituals and traditions – these are the priceless and distinctive Shehecheyanu moments that are forever ingrained in us, and the lives of our families.
As you and your family welcome the start of a new school year and the start of a new Jewish year, I encourage you to think about and acknowledge the Shehecheyanu moments in both of these new beginnings. Each new moment we reach is precious and sacred, and this special time of year also invites us to reflect on the importance of time gone by and to be grateful for the gift of the time that is yet to come. I wish you a happy, healthy, and sweet new year. Shana tovah!