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Sparking Joy

As Jews around the world emerge from the High Holiday season, we transition from a time of reflection and introspection to a season of joy and celebration.
    Embracing the lessons gleaned from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we welcome the joyful traditions of the Holiday of Sukkot—referred to by the Torah as Z’man Simchateinu, the Season of our Rejoicing—and Simchat Torah (Rejoicing with the Torah), the final holiday that closes the High Holiday period.
    At the Hebrew Academy, Jewish traditions infuse our curriculum and kindle a love for learning beyond traditional classroom experiences. In a visit to our campus during the week-long festival of Sukkot, one cannot miss this celebration of learning in full bloom as students actively engage in a wide range of activities that bring traditions to life. Children take tremendous joy in building their own sukkah  and binding together the lulav (palm fronds), etrog (citron fruit), hadassim (myrtle), and aravot (willow) that symbolize the strength of community.
    Jewish traditions like Sukkot and Simchat Torah are part of our Jewish heritage dating back to Mount Sinai. Traditions, especially those steeped in celebration, help our younger community members embrace their Jewish identities while preserving Jewish continuity.
    When I see our students giggling together inside the sukkah, marvelling at the pebbled feel of an etrog peel in the palm of their hands, and waving their handmade Simchat Torah flags with pride—I know that the joy of Jewish traditions also reflects a joy of learning.
    Now more than ever, joy belongs in our schools and classrooms. In an educational environment where students have been isolated, masked and drilled to doldrums on standardized tests, children come to dread rather than embrace learning. Jewish traditions like Sukkot and Simchat Torah provide the perfect opportunities to create an environment in which students discover the joy in learning while discovering more about themselves.
    While building the sukkah with the family, our children build emotional, social and academic skills. Principles of design and engineering are utilized as they work together and collaborate to solve the challenges that arise. Dancing gleefully while proudly carrying their school-made flag, our children become part of a reality far greater than themselves. It is traditions like these that instill a love for learning, creative expression, and Jewish community.
    By integrating joyful Jewish traditions into our learning environment, we strengthen connections between students and staff. We also connect Jewish traditions to school events, such as our monthly Rosh Chodesh assemblies that celebrate students’ academic achievements while welcoming the arrival of the new moon. Our children are our “new moon”—the next generation of Jewish scholars, leaders, and innovators who will make a lasting and positive impact on the world—and that is certainly worth celebrating!  

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