Joyous Jewish Living and Learning at Schechter Manhattan

Joyous Jewish Living and Learning at Schechter Manhattan

Kids like to shake the lulav. Over my years at Schechter Manhattan I have found this to be invariably true.  Give students a lulav and etrog and smiles emerge, faces light up.  Shaking a lulav is fun.  It makes us happy.  As we look forward to sukkot this week I am reminded of the words from a traditional sukkot song…

ושמחת בחגך, והיית אך שמח

You will rejoice on the holiday and you will only be happy

The words come from the verses in Deuteronomy (16:14-15) in which Sukkot is described and its observance commanded.  Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki from 11th century France, notes that the words והיית אך שמח are not in the form of a command, like most of the rest of the chapter about the holidays. Rather, this is a promise.  When the Israelites participate in the obligations of this holiday, God promises they will be happy.

As we approach this Sukkot, living through a pandemic that has caused so much suffering, the promise of happiness as a result of observing Sukkot calls us to experience that joy.  In a time of so much pain, celebrating Sukkot reminds us that participation in Jewish living and learning can and should be a source of deep and ongoing satisfaction.

At Schechter Manhattan we are planning to celebrate Sukkot in joyous ways, even within the boundaries of keeping us all healthy and safe.  We will build our sukkah on our terrace, and students in all grades will be scheduled to spend time there, eating or studying- 6 feet apart as always.  We conferred with the Schechter Manhattan Public Health Response Team to plan how we can use classroom sets of lulav and etrog safely, and developed a protocol for students to use gloves when handling the set and to keep distance when passing it to another student.  Thank you very much to those who donated to support the purchase of the lulav and etrog sets for our classes through the PA.

Looking ahead, we are committed to experiencing the joy of Jewish practice and, as we did when we were in distance learning last spring, we will utilize all of our creativity and digital tools to bring us together in celebration.   While we pray for a time soon when we can safely be together in the same physical space, as our Pesach model seder and Yom Haatzmaut celebrations proved, we will not let our physical distance get in the way of joyful Jewish practices.

All of these happy communal experiences teach our students the important and powerful lesson that participation in Jewish life is meant to move us emotionally.  And as such, it enriches our lives with moments of deep feeling.  At Schechter Manhattan we aspire for our students to both understand Jewish tradition and to feel their Jewishness.  As we look towards the upcoming Sukkot holiday, I hope that we all are moved emotionally by our participation in Jewish living and learning.  And that the satisfaction we find makes us very happy.  As a first step, try shaking a lulav and etrog! It will put a smile on your face.