Rosh ha-Shanah. Stop and Smell the Honey

Idie Benjamin and Dale Sides Cooperman

School is starting or has only just begun.

Everything is new.

We don’t know the children.

We don’t know the parents.

We don’t have a sense of the group yet.


Wait! Stop and smell the honey!

Remember what we know about learners, young and older alike.

  • •Our priorities in the beginning are to help our students to become comfortable in the classroom and to begin building a classroom community.
  • •A curriculum has to be meaningful and developmentally and chronologically appropriate.
  • •Confusing children is never a good idea. What is learned when stories, songs, activities, projects, etc are all jumbled on top of one another?
  • •If a child won’t “learn” what we are teaching, why are we teaching it?
  • •The world will not end if a child does not make a New Year’s card this year.

Rabbi Tarfon taught: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but you are not free to desist from it either” (Pirkei Avot 2:16).

Rather than a crisis, this is an opportunity to examine our teaching. What is our vision? What are our goals? Are we a closet teacher? A closet teacher has a box in the closet for each holiday and a predetermined plan that is the same year after year. Thinking outside the box literally can be refreshing and restorative.

The question for us as educators has always centered on what we want the children to know about Rosh ha-Shanah (and the holidays that follow). What is important for students of any age to know this year? What is possible given the limited number of classroom days in September? What is reasonable? And most importantly, what is the focus?

So, first, it is important to embrace the fact that this will not be the last time our students learn about Rosh ha-Shanah. Instead of anxiously listing everything you could do, consider the essential elements of what we want our students to “remember” about RH, as they continue to build their own knowledge and connections this year. Consider not doing! Remember, less is more.

What to do then? Choose a narrower focus. Reflect on one theme. And then, do less, do it well, and do it with deeper meaning.

The New Year, what does “new” mean? Everything is new to our younger learners right now, isn’t it? They are wondering about what will happen this year. How can we provide the most meaningful introduction as they begin this journey with us?

  • • Sweet. Why are we eating honey and hallah with raisins and honey cake? How is the concept of “sweet” relevant to the sensory experience of a learner?
  • •  The birthday of world. Why does the world have a birthday? How old is the world? What present does it want? What are Jewish “gifts” we should offer the world?
  • •  New things (shofar, round hallah, Torahs dressed in white). Who is the shofar calling? Why is the hallah round? What is the symbolism of Torahs and clergy dressed in white?
  • •  Celebration. Something important is happening in our family and in our community. How are we all a part of it? Why do we come together to celebrate?

Necessity is the mother of invention. The calendar this year is not a cause for panic but an opportunity to take the lessons of the New Year to heart. We are called to self-examination, a heshbon nefesh. Being a Jewish educator is a part of who we are. Our students deserve the same consideration and self-reflection that we give to the rest of ourselves at this time.

Shanah Tovah.