As the director of the Frances Jacobson Early Childhood Center at Temple Israel (FJECC), I have the privilege of experiencing the first day of school every year and am now going on something like my 30th first day. The anticipation of meeting new people and the excitement of familiar routines and rituals combine to create a comforting blend of new and old, known and unknown, one of many reasons teachers choose this profession. While this is true in any early childhood setting, it is particularly profound in a Jewish school, as the start of the school year aligns perfectly with the Jewish New Year.
Whether it is tasting apples dipped in honey, hearing (and seeing and touching) the shofar, or gathering the annual crop of crabapples on our playground, the delight and wonder that grace children’s faces as they experience our shared customs serve as a poignant reminder about the potential for fresh starts and new beginnings in the upcoming year. We treasure witnessing the remarkable phenomenon of children encountering age-old traditions for the first time.
We adults are caught in the throes of routine and become blinded to the beauty of beginnings. But what is life if not a series of beginnings? This is one of the essential messages of Rosh Hashanah, which marks a period of reflection, renewal, and new opportunities. It is a time to let go of past missteps, embrace fresh perspectives, and welcome the unknown with open arms. The same is true for new parents and grandparents. As new life unfolds, we are carried along on children’s journeys, offering us a bit of a redo on life.
Children barrel into the clean slate of their future with unwavering curiosity and resilience, delighting in the simplest things along the way. It is sweet grace to relive a bevy of “firsts.” As witnesses to children’s joy, we co-navigate uncharted territory and discoveries alongside them, offering the umami of our wisdom to flavor their sampling of new tastes.
Each “first day of school” and each Rosh Hashanah observance reminds us that we, too, can approach the upcoming year as if experiencing it for the first time. These moments in our calendar hold the heart of what we value and believe. To honor tradition, to repeat the familiar, is to say—we love this. This—life, children, joy, the promise of the new—is important to us. It binds our individual and collective commitment to compassion, the promise of healing, connection, and love.
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