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. This is year is no different, and as students began learning the liturgy and choreography for sukkot this week I was 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 Sukkot, I have been thinking about the place of emotions in Jewish living and learning. I believe that the promise of happiness as a result of observing Sukkot represents a larger promise- the promise of a meaningful life lived in the Jewish tradition. I believe that participation in Jewish living and learning can and should be a source of deep and ongoing satisfaction.

At Schechter Manhattan there are many ways in which our participation in Jewish life feels joyous. Sukkot, for example, is celebrated with energetic singing of hallel each morning, including the very fun shaking of the lulav and etrog. And our Middle School students will gather next Thursday evening for the annual simchat beit hashoeiva; they will eat dinner together in the sukkah and celebrate with fun activities. Of course, we rejoice together for the most prominent of happy Jewish times of year, Purim. That celebration begins each rosh hodesh adar, with yom mishe mishe. Led each year by our 8th grade, the entire school sings the song משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה (when the month of Adar comes we increase in joy) while conga dancing around the school and out into the street.

Joyous Jewish living is not limited to yearly holiday celebrations. Each rosh hodesh we gather for shira btsibur, the entire school singing Hebrew songs together. And rosh hodesh is made even happier when we enjoy pizza day lunch. A highlight of my years at Schechter Manhattan has been traveling many times to Israel with the 8th grade. There is no more joyous moment than dancing together in the streets as we celebrate yom haatzmaut with Jews from around the world and the people of the State of Israel.

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.

שבת שלום וחג שמח

Benjamin Mann