The High Holiday celebrations in the Jewish world are an incredibly hands-on experience.
Even the tiniest active gesture pulls the holiday off the page and into our hands making it real tactile and dynamic. Slicing apples, cracking open pomegranates, finding tiny sticky hands asleep on the couch, clutching a Siddur heavy with emotion, or holding a tallit over a child’s head is all part of the Jewish New Year experience referred to as the High Holidays.
Coming through COVID, we have lost this essential element so vital to Jewish life and learning. In schools across the country, students have spent the past two-plus years being told to cover their faces and keep their distance. With the new school year upon us and the High Holidays on the horizon, now is the perfect time to reconnect children to their peers and their sense of wonder through hands-on experiences.
Studies show that experiential learning (otherwise known as hands-on learning) is one of the most effective ways for students to understand concepts and retain knowledge. Hands-on experiences allow students to actively engage both sides of their growing brains—the analytical and the imaginative. Through active participation in lessons, they are encouraged to ask questions and engage in critical thinking, making personal connections that add meaning and relevance, that inspire curiosity to know more and understand better.
It is the richness of our heritage and hands-on holiday experiences that inspire the dual curriculum program at the Hebrew Academy. Our teachers and staff integrate High
Holiday activities into purpose-driven, experiential classroom instruction that connects the lessons, world, and student’s heritage by adding purpose, meaning, and value to the standardized curriculum.
The experiences students share in the classroom extend to their lives outside the classroom walls, as well. Students come home excited to set the honey dishes they made in art class on the Rosh Hashanah table, sing the songs they learned at school with their families, and proudly share a holiday message for all to hear. As they become more proficient in Hebrew, they can confidently attend services and enthusiastically follow along in their siddur. They write cards to their grandparents and apply the Jewish values they’ve practiced in the classroom to their own families and communities. Planting pomegranate and etrog trees become a science lesson in photosynthesis and the natural world. As they grow, they develop a sense of pride and belonging that comes with being part of the Jewish community and ensuring that Jewish traditions continue to thrive.
This year as you strike a match to light your Holiday candles and raise your Kiddush cup to usher in the new chag with blessings, look at your hands with a new appreciation for the power that they hold to bring the holidays to life. As you braid your challah into a circle, imagine our community wound together in love, prayer, and hope for our children’s future, our Jewish community’s future, and for a new year that’s filled with purpose, meaning, and joy.
Rabbi Avrohom Popack is the A Judaic Studies Administrator at the Hebrew Academy