Gathering the Schechter Manhattan Community
Much of Jewish tradition is most powerfully experienced in community. Last week the Middle School had the special opportunity to fulfill a rare mitzvah, הקהל (hakhel, gathering the community), that highlights the centrality of community for Jewish living. In Devarim 31 Moshe tells the Israelites that every seven years they are to gather the entire people together to hear the public reading of the Torah. The reason given for the commandment is explicitly educational, so that the children who do not know the Torah can learn to revere God. In addition, the commandment requires all members of the community, men, women, children, and strangers to join, indicating shared responsibility for sustaining Jewish tradition.
The hakhel ritual was observed in ancient Israel and reinstituted in modern times when Jews returned to the land of Israel in the 20th century. This past year was a shmita year, when the land of Israel is left fallow, and as commanded in Devarim, hakhel is done on sukkot following theshmita year, which we just celebrated. In Jerusalem thousands of Jews gathered on the first day ofchol hamoed sukkot at the Kotel for the ceremony, which was performed by the chief Rabbis of Israel and Reuven Rivlin, the President of the State of Israel.
At Schechter Manhattan, the Middle School gathered for our annual simchat beit hashoeiva party on Thursday evening. We were thrilled that Dr. Steven Lorch, our founding Head of School and Senior Advisor to School Leadership, joined us. Dr. Lorch explained mitzvat hakhel to the students and led us through the ceremony. Students recited special blessings for peace in the world and Dr. Lorch chanted selections from the book of Devarim about the Jewish people’s special relationship with God that he read from the sefer Torah. As we participated together as a community, קהילה, we were connected powerfully to each other, and to the Jews throughout the world and the centuries who had experienced the same ritual.
Thankfully, we have regular opportunities to gather together as a Schechter Manhattan community. Grades 2-5 gathered last Friday for a communal sukkot tfilah service, during which the students all had leadership roles for hallel and reading the Torah. We gather all together, grades K-8, each rosh hodesh for our monthly shira btisbur, communal singing. Our Gesher program brings the Schechter Manhattan students and faculty together for community events throughout the school year. And it was wonderful to gather last Wednesday evening with the entire parent community for Curriculum Night.
Gathering together to nurture our shared sense of connection with each other is an important part of how we actualize the Schechter Manhattan mission for students to “engage, support, and challenge one another as members of a collaborative, caring community.”
THIS WEEK WE ARE FEATURING WORK BY SOME OF OUR STUDENTS IN KITAH ALEPH, KITAH GIMEL, AND KITAH HEH.
Kitah Aleph is discovering that there are endless topics about which we can write. In this assignment, the students wrote about subjects that interested them, from their activities over the holidays to their pets.
I wet to kosen haws and go en mi ksens suka. (I went to cousin’s house and go in my cousin’s sukkah)
We can write about nacr. (nature)
Blue eis mi fish. (Blue is my fish)
I like my file (family). My sedr (sister) like me. My mom like me. My dad like me.
The students in Kitah Gimel chose their own topic to write about and also chose their preferred style.
I Love Dogs
I like dogs because they are cute and sweet. I like to snuggle with dogs. I like playing with dogs. They are fun. It is fun to hug dogs. It is fun to watch dogs play. Dogs like treats. Dogs like walks. I like it when dogs lick me.
Men in Book
“Lord of the Rings?”
Frank and his older brother George were looking for the perfect book to read that night. Little did they know that the book wouldn’t be so perfect. “How about the Book of all Books?” Frank asked. “Sure,” George said. Frank brought out the red rimmed gold and white book. “Looks old” George said. “Well lets check it out.” So they walked to the checkout lady. “Book of all Books, eh? Enjoy.” she said, “it may be the last time you enjoy anything!”
How White Chocolate Kidnapped Mrs. Dark Chocolate
Once upon a time in chocolate land lived Mr. Dark Chocolate, Mrs. Dark Chocolate and White Chocolate. One day White Chocolate thought, it’s no fair, I am the only chocolate in chocolate land that is not black or brown. So he hatched a plan. Tomorrow he will kidnap Mrs. Dark Chocolate and then everyone will see who is really the boss. The next day White Chocolate went to Dark Chocolates house and knocked on the door. “Who is it”, asked Mrs. Dark Chocolate. “It’s me”, said White Chocolate. “Come in”, said Mr. Dark Chocolate. White Chocolate went in. “Hello, Hello”, said Mrs. White Chocolate, “It’s such a surprise to see you.” I’m going to kidnap you thought White Chocolate as he put his net over Mrs. Dark Chocolate and said, “Got YOU”.
In a city named New York City in America there was a bank. Robbers kept breaking into the bank. The boss of the bank got the police. The police got the robbers, but one got away. The robber kept breaking into the bank. After two months they got the robber. Two days later at night ghosts broke into the bank. The ghosts put the boss to sleep. The boss was sick. The ghosts robbed the bank and took over the bank. One day a worker named Nick trapped the ghosts and gave back the money they stole. Because of this he became the boss of the bank.
On Sunday I had a baseball game. It got delayed, sorry to say. Now back to the game, we were losing 3-2 and people were on base and I hit a grand slam to win! A grand slam is when you hit a home run and it brings in all the runners from first, second, and third base. I had a lot of fun and my team was excited.
The students in Kitah Heh wrote expanded paragraphs about their favorite holiday, favorite place, or favorite activity.
My Favorite Holiday
I have many favorite holidays. One of them is Thanksgiving. There are three main reasons why I like Thanksgiving. One of them, is Sushi Night. Since before I was born, the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, my dad’s extended family has all gone out to a local Japanese restaurant for dinner. I love Japanese food. Another reason that I like Thanksgiving is I get to see my dad’s side of my family. I only get to see my cousins three times a year! In October, Thanksgiving, and in May. I also like hors d’oeuvres and we have hors d’oeuvres for lunch before Thanksgiving dinner every year. It is my second favorite meal of the year (just behind the seder). We have chips, salsa, cheese, crackers, kosher salami (I save this until dinner because I go dairy for hors d’oeuvres). I also like playing a game I made up called “double trouble.” My cousins, my dad’s cousins, my aunt and uncle, my parents and my sisters go out into the street and take, a soccer ball and a football. We pass the two balls among each other. If one person gets both at once, everyone yells “DOUBLE TROUBLE!!!” and tries to get the balls. It is a lot of fun. These are the reasons I enjoy Thanksgiving.
The Life of Soccer
My favorite activity to do is soccer and there are a lot of reasons why. One reason is that it’s a team sport which means that you need to have or develop chemistry with the other players so that you can work together as a team. On a team you continue to thrive by making new friends as they come and go. Working on a team means putting a hundred percent into a game or practice because every single person needs to be focused so that they can improve as a player, teammate, person, and leader. Secondly you get to travel to different tournaments. Traveling seems the best when you’re with your friends in a hotel, but really you can’t goof off because you usually have a game in the morning at around 7:00 A.M. so you can’t waste your energy. Lastly soccer is great fitness because there is a lot of running and you develop strong leg muscles, and goalies also have tough arm muscles. Finally, you learn a lot of strategies about the game like when and where to kick the ball. Soccer is a great sport so go try it out and you never know you could love it!
My favorite place is Israel. I like taking road trips in Israel. For example me and my family drove to Eilat and it took us four and a half hours. I also went to the western wall in Jerusalem. The weather in Israel is hot and humid so I can go swimming in the pool and I spend time outdoors like going the Luna Park. Finally, I get to spend time with my family and friends having a BBQ at my cousin’s house in Raanana. I went to the Kineret with my family and friends. Israel is a beautiful country.
Saul Kaiserman, Director of Lifelong Learning, Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York
בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָֽרֶץ
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
The very first word of the Torah contains within it a mystery. Although the traditional English translation is “in the beginning,” it more accurately should be translated as “in a beginning” – in one beginning, among other beginnings. This is a significant difference. If it is “a” beginning, that implies that God created other worlds besides our own!
One of the earliest Biblical commentaries, explains that this world was not, in fact, the first one that God created. Rather, God created one world after another, but each one was disappointing. The Midrash explains:
“God split and rent and tore them apart with his two arms, and ruined whole worlds in one moment. One after another, God created a thousand worlds, which preceded this one. And all of them were swept away in the wink of an eye. God went on creating worlds and destroying worlds until God created this one and declared, ‘This one pleases me, those did not’” (Midrash Rabbah 9:2).
Yet, I also wonder if with this first word of the Torah, “in a beginning,” the Bible might be hinting to us that there are multiple ways of imagining how the world came into being. Could this be an acknowledgement that what we read in the first chapter of Genesis is only one story, among others, of the creation of the world?
Perhaps no single way of telling a story can ever do justice to anything truly significant. After all, when we tell stories about how our lives came to be what they are – say, why our family lives in New York City or how our parents met — we never tell it exactly the same way twice. Sometimes, different storytellers describe entirely different versions of the same events, with grandma recalling it one way while grandpa shouts from the other room, “that’s not how it happened at all!” But in each of those stories, we hear about their aspirations for themselves, their hopes for the future, and their ideas about what truly matters in life.
As Jews, we are known as “am ha-sefer,” the “People of the Book.” In Hebrew, the word for “book,” “sefer” is intrinsically connected to the word for “story,” “sippur.” Abraham Joshua Heschel called us “textpeople,” but I would say we are also intrinsically story-tellers. When we read the Torah, we recall our ancestors’ encounters with the sacred and their attempts to understand God’s intentions for us. As we begin this new year of reading the Torah, may we find in its words the guidance our ancestors hoped we would find, and be inspired to see in our own lives stories worth retelling to the next generation.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:
1. What is the difference, from your point of view, between reading the first verse of the Torah as “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” and reading it “In a beginning…?”
2. What are some of the other stories that you know about how the world came into being? How are they different? Which ones do you prefer?
3. What are some stories that your family tells about itself?