Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Welcoming the Rosh Hashanah for Learning

Since Jewish holiday customs is my thing and the new school year is about to begin, my internal voice asked: "Is there a tradition in Judaism marking the beginning of the school year? A custom going beyond writing the Aleph Bet on a slate, then dripping honey over the letters so that a very young child learning to read can enjoy the experience of licking the letters clean?"

 I searched and searched, but couldn't find much more. However, I did discover that the above custom is a Shavuot tradition dating back to 12th century Germany. It was part of a ceremony that included a honey cake and a hard boiled egg cracked open, symbolic for broadening the mind. 

It turns out that connecting learning with honey was a practice embraced by many Jews across the globe. Moroccan Jews of the Atlas Mountains embellished the tradition with a parade. Children about to begin learning Torah wore garlands on their heads, marching throughout the village until they reached the school house. Once they took their seats, a taste of honey inaugurated their studies. 

To quote the great sage, Jackie Gleason: "How sweet it is!" But is this custom suitable for 21st century learning? I think so. It just needs some tweaking. After all, you can't replace finger licking fun with a virtual experience. It would create too sticky an issue. A beginning of the year learning ceremony is a honey of an idea, worthy of a she'he'che'yanu in the same way the apple is blessed when dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanah.

Speaking of Rosh Hashanah, I have another question. Why not make the beginning of the school year the fifth New Year and add it to the four listed inMishnah Rosh Hashanah? Electronic or paper, everything about the school year is new -- new notebooks, new textbooks, new writing utensils, new book bags...you name it, it's new. 

So, I'd like to suggest a delicious honey joy snack ceremony  for the new school year that will include these wise words from King Solomon: “Educate the child according to HIS way, so that even in his old age, he will not turn away from it” (Proverbs 22:6) -- along with this quote from the Babylonian Talmud: "I have learned much from my teachers. More from my colleagues. But most of all — from my students" (Ta'anit 7a). There's an inherent equality in these two quotes that puts everyone on the right footing. Wrap the ceremony up with special blessings for learning developed by your students and I think you'll have a new school custom sweeter than honey.

Wishing students, teachers & parents a Shanah Tova!

 Image credit