Rays of Light: Jewish Life is Just One Big Celebration… NOT!

by Lali Ray

Summer is the time for contemplation. There are no holidays to celebrate—well, there’s Tisha B’Av but you only have to do that if you’re in camp, right? (Joke!) Maybe it’s time to think about the inordinate amount of time that we spend the rest of the year “teaching” holidays.

Year after year the bulk of many curricula is in the festivals of the Jewish year. The message we seem to be conveying is that as long as you know the appropriate blessings and eat the appropriate foods, you have fulfilled your Jewish obligations. Being Jewish for the in-between times is a sort of blur. I know that the kids always say, “We had that already,” and that they don’t remember some of the details. But after a while SOME things sink in. I wonder if one year—say about fifth grade—you couldn’t just say, “Hey, guys—it’s Purim. You remember the story of Queen Esther. Here’s your hamantaschen,” and let that be it.

We are trapped by our calendar into over-teaching some holidays and under-teaching others. It’s a mad dash for Rosh Ha-shanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. We have tons of time for Tu B’Shvat and Purim which are, relatively speaking, minor holidays. So what have we done? We’ve elaborated and elaborated on the themes because we have so much time, and then we give Pesah, perhaps the most important holiday of all, short shrift. Why not spend those winter months teaching about Rosh Ha-shanah or Pesah. Why can you teach about a holiday only when it’s happening?

One of the things I have always loved about Joel’s work—even before there was a Torah Aura—is that he has focused on making meaning and devising ways to teach people how to be the best Jews that they can be. The Torah Aura holiday materials all do that. The Instant Lessons on holidays—Steve Bayar’s “Etrog, Palm, Myrtle, Willow,” for example—can be used in place of a lot of time spent re-teaching kids who have been there and done that. If we cycle the teaching of the festivals, concentrating on a different few each year and doing Instant Lessons or their equivalent on the “off” year, we would have time for all of the other things that we need to show our students about living a Jewish life.

Of course, we could also encourage students to OBSERVE the holidays in the synagogue. One good participation is worth a hundred lessons. THAT’s something to contemplate in these dog days of summer. Happy Tisha B’Av! (Oops! that doesn’t read quite right, does it?)