On Wednesday evening, September 20, 2017 at sundown, the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah begins. For those of us in the Jewish community, this special and unique festival ushers in what many people refer to as the “High Holidays.” This ten-day period begins with Rosh Hashanah and concludes with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
For many independent schools, the High Holidays often fall within the first month of a new academic year. When the High Holidays fall during the week, numerous independent schools close for the holiday. Though Rosh Hashanah is a Jewish holiday, its purpose is tailor-made for the educational world and new school year.
This time of year, students, educators and parents alike focus on making a fresh start to a new school year. Weeks before the academic year begins, preparation for the new school year starts. As early August blends into September, study halls and grounds come to life with teachers getting classrooms and academic materials ready for incoming students. School supplies empty off store shelves. For the past 25 years as an on-campus faculty spouse at a Baltimore-area, all-girls’ independent day and boarding school, I’ve witnessed the wonderful transformation from a relaxing summer environment to a flurry of activity as students return to campus.
In a very similar way, synagogues and congregations across the country begin their own preparations for the High Holidays. Sermons are crafted, buildings are cleaned, rugs are shampooed, special prayer books are unpacked, extra chairs are made ready, special youth services are organized, etc.
As the son of a Rabbi in Tucson, Arizona, I can attest to the flurry of activity as Rosh Hashanah draws closer. My father (now retired), used to say this was his “busy season.”
Whether you’ve recently returned to your classroom or you will be attending services later this week, we have several things in common this September.
- Reflections on the past year. Educators are constantly evaluating students, taking a critical look at what students did well and where they need to improve. For those of us attending High Holiday services, we are highly encouraged to take stock of our own personal actions for the past year and consider how we as individuals have treated our family, friends, congregants and fellow Jews.
- Change in the coming year. From educators to congregants, each unique group is tasked with how they will do things differently and treat others. How will you challenge your students to approach a problem with a new perspective? As congregants and individuals, how will we will respect new ideas and offer support and empathy to our fellow humans?
- Accountability. As adults, we’ve learned that self-improvement comes from within. If you want to become a more effective teacher, then you will need to improve your own set of skills to do so. As Jews, we are called upon to better ourselves each year, to ask others for forgiveness and to lead a moral and ethical life. No one can do this for us. We must do this for ourselves.
As the sun begins to set around America and beyond Wednesday evening, those of us attending services will have the chance to wish one another well. Our greetings to each other will be simple in words but deep in meaning. If I see you in synagogue, I’ll say to you, “Have a Happy, Healthy and Sweet New Year.”
Jonathon Oleisky is the founder and president of Kalix Marketing, a full-service, integrated educational marketing firm with independent school (non-denominational, Jewish and Catholic) and educational organizational clients from around the country.