29 Sep Making Meaning Through Jewish Ritual
The Middle School students sat in small groups, sharing their ideas about forgiveness. Why do we apologize for things we do wrong? What can we do to turn an apology into a real change? Why is it important for a community to come together and collectively ask for forgiveness? The students considered these important questions together, during the Middle School slichot program on Thursday morning.
After the conversations, the Middle School joined together for the recitation of a selection of the slichot prayers, traditionally recited at this time of year leading up to Yom Kippur. Students in grades 6 and 7 took leadership roles, learning to lead parts of the service over the first weeks of the school year. I was moved by the sound of the community singing the special high holiday melodies together.
The slichot program reflects our approach to ritual at Schechter Manhattan. We aspire for our students to connect Jewish ritual practice with their real lives, so that observance can be meaningful and impactful. In this case, the conversation about the themes of the slichot prayer, forgiveness and communal responsibility, helped students to think deeply about what the ritual means, and what connections they might make between the words of the slichot and the events of their lives. Reciting slichot calls on us to ask ourselves, “What do I need to ask forgiveness for? How can I do better in the future?” This sends the students the message that recitation of the words is meant to both fulfill religious obligations and also to inspire positive change in our choices and behaviors.
Earlier this week, I also observed elementary school students engaging with the words of slichot, through a careful inter-textual study of the words שמע קולינו (hear our voices). These words appear in both the unfamiliar slichot prayers and the weekday amidah, which the students know well from daily tfilah. The 3rd and 4th grade students looked for similarities and differences in the language of the two texts, and offered ideas about why there is a different version of the prayer for the high holidays. This iyun tfilah (study of the prayers) activity builds students’ critical reading and thinking skills, while also challenging them to make connections between the ritual of the high holidays and their regular prayer practice. This sends the students the message that while we are focusing on forgiveness at this time of year, we have the opportunity to change for the better every day.
The slichot study and recitation took place in groups, as a community. Just as the slichot are written in the plural- hear our prayers, forgive us- the group discussion and singing brings our students into closer relationships with one another as part of our community. In this way, the students learn that the ritual observance enhances relationships, so that we can support each other in our collective efforts to make ourselves better people.
It is our hope that such intellectually stimulating and spiritually uplifting Jewish ritual moments, like our recitation of slichot together this week, will inspire our students to make Jewish commitments in their lives.
Wishing us all a meaningful Yom Kippur.
Gmar hatima tova
Each week we will feature the written work of our students. We hope that you will stop back next week and see what they are writing and thinking about.
During the first days of school in Kitah Aleph, we had a discussion about our hopes and dreams for the year. We considered what we wanted to accomplish in the year and what new things we wanted to try. We then drew our hopes and dreams with vibrant colors. We also expressed these hopes and dreams by writing them under the drawing. We shared the hopes and dreams with each other, which allowed us to get to know each other better.
Kitah Gimmel/Kitah Dalet
The third and fourth-grade students have been learning about systems in theme. Each student created a system to make the beginning of the year easier.
In Chagim, sixth-grade students have been studying the three special sections of the Rosh Hashanah Amidah: Malkhuyot (Divine Rule), Zikhronot (Remembrances), and Shofarot. In this assignment, students chose one of the sections and wrote about why they think it is included on Rosh Hashanah.
Rosh Hashanah Amida
I think that the malchuyot is included because G-d is our leader and without him we wouldn’t be alive, we wouldn’t have our family, and we wouldn’t be able to celebrate or even have israel. Also because it’s a new year and when we celebrate we take all of our troubles and put them aside to be able to thank G-d for everything. Because G-d helps us in life, and G-d guides us in our life, and that G-d makes our lives so much happier, that’s why i think that the malchuyot is included in the rosh hashanah amida.
RH amidah project
I chose zichronot, which is where we ask god to remember our ancestors righteous acts. The grandparents of my dad’s mom were in the civil war. I think it relates to me because they helped stop slavery and preserved the union which I would say is righteous. I think it was included in the rosh Hashanah Musaf Amidah because we want god to remember what we did to help judyism and keep it alive. I think it is only included in this part because we want god to remember how we did righteous things for the new year. I think it is meaningful because it reminds us about our ancestors righteous acts.
Rosh Hashana Amidah Addition – Shofarot
In the musaf service on Rosh Hashana, there are three main additions to the amidah, one of which is Shofarot. Shofarot is all about times the shofar is used and mentioned in Judaism. It starts with listing times the shofar is mentioned in the Torah. These are in conjunction with G-d speaking to the people of Israel, like when the people got the Torah.
Next, it lists the shofar’s mentions in the psalms. These continue the themes of the shofar accompanying G-d and praise that were started off in the Torah. Then, it continues by talking about times the prophets mentioned the shofar. The prophets continue talking about the association between the shofar and praise, but also connects the shofar to bringing Jews out of exile. The prayer finally ends with a prayer from the regular weekday amidah about bringing Jews to Israel when G-d sounds the “great shofar.” I found this addition interesting because it really helps give us an explanation as to why we blow the shofar over the high holidays, and it’s a fun topic to learn about.