December Bulletin Article: Why Should We Know This?
The following is a bulletin article written for the Valley Temple, in Wyoming, Ohio, where I serve as Rabbi Educator.
Every educator is familiar with the most intimidating question a student can ask. The question: “why is it worth knowing this?” What makes this question so daunting is that it requires constant attention, constant vigilance against falling into the ruts that prevent a succinct, thoughtful answer.
Students ask this question when they are deciding how much time and energy to invest in their learning. They ask it when they are unsure of how to take what they are learning and meaningfully apply it to the lives they are living outside of the classroom. And we, as teachers, have to be prepared to engage carefully, lest the student think we aren’t taking them seriously.
As a Religious School Director, I cherish getting the chance to answer this question. Judaism is the language our people have been using for finding meaning in our lives for centuries, and every chance we get to explore its application is a win for the system. Any time we get to explain how the knowledge we’re teaching can be used to help amplify the beauty of our world, the better off we are as learners and teachers.
This year, the Religious School has been exploring the flow of Jewish time, from holiday observances to lifecycle events. It has been beautiful to see the students get their hands dirty playing with the rituals of the holidays, getting to see the way we process different times, seasons, and feelings. We experience great joy and celebration at Simchat Torah, great contemplation and reflection at Yom Kippur. We get to practice communal self-care at Shabbat, and get to celebrate and grieve together as a community when life’s big moments happen. So far, in this first semester, we have been continually giving our students the tools to find themselves in the practices that have bound our people together throughout history.
Why do we need to learn about our ritual calendar? Because our relationship with time is vitally important for acknowledging the flow of emotions that we humans contain within us. As Ecclesiastes says, “to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” (Ecc. 3:1) After 18 months of “unprecedented times,” we owe it to ourselves and to our children to lay a foundation that says that what we are experiencing is survivable, that there is a language for processing the diverse emotions that this moment evokes, and that we are capable of expressing that sentiment in Jewish ways.
We will constantly engage with the question: why should we learn these things? Why should we use Judaism to express our daily life? If you ever wonder about the answer, contact your rabbis. They are eager to help find all the answers that will uplift us and drive us forward. Jewish spaces can never be afraid to confront the question of “why”.