I have always been fascinated with calendars.
At first glance, the annual calendar seems repetitive and predictable. The year is a circle. We progress from winter to spring to summer to fall, and . . . whoops! . . . we’re right back where we started.
The Gregorian calendar, a solar schedule that times the movement of earth’s orbit around the sun, has been around since 1582. This is the internationally accepted civil calendar. You might remember that it replaced the Julian calendar, created around 45 BCE, in an attempt to correct an error measuring the precise number of days between vernal equinoxes. I’d bet this is something that most of us don’t worry about much.
January and March in the civil calendar are named for mythological figures (Janus and Mars), July and August for emperors (Julius and Augustus Caesar). Some months are just numbered – September is the seventh and October the eighth month on the old Julian calendar, though they’re now months 9 and 10, making month names impossible to associate with anything vaguely consistent.
The Hebrew calendar is even more interesting. It is based largely on a lunar cycle, the amount of time between new moons, but also attempts to stay synchronized with the solar cycle. Thus an extra month of Adar is inserted every 2 to 3 years. If the calendar didn’t do this, Rosh Hashanah would move progressively earlier in the seasons, and the harvest festival holidays of Shavuot and Sukkot would soon occur nowhere near the time of the actual harvests.
Our lunar Hebrew calendar starts many conversations, especially with non-Jewish friends who wonder why the Jewish holiday celebrations seem to “move around” every year. We can point out that the date on which Easter falls each year is the Sunday after the full moon that follows the first day of spring – in other words, like the Jewish holidays, it’s based on a lunar calendar, not a solar calendar. Thus it’s no coincidence that Easter and Passover usually fall within the same week.
The other calendar that many of us live within each year, especially parents and teachers, is the school calendar. The end of the school year is quickly upon us. Like the civil calendar and the Hebrew calendar, the ending of one year brings with it the beginning of another.
In our community, did you know that 2,080 students recently completed a year of religious school? Nearly 800 completed a year in a Jewish day school, 269 finished their 7th grade year (roughly the same number became a Bar or Bat Mitzvah) and another 124 completed their Confirmation year.
Though the calendar cycles are constant, what differs is the impact of the activities, events and experiences each year. Students move forward on their personal paths. They learn and they grow.
My third child is graduating from high school this month and moving on to college — an ending and a new beginning. She has matured so much since entering high school only four “short” years ago. School advancements are filled with excitement and joy – a celebration of education “completed.” In Hebrew, we refer to a completed learning period as “siyyum.”
Yet like the ending of so many other cycles – completion of one phase begins a time of reflection, refueling and relaunch into the next phase. It’s a time for students, teachers, parents and truly all of us – to move into the next step in our educational lifecycles.
So to all who are celebrating a graduation at any level this month, a hearty “mazel tov” for a job well done, and boundless wishes for continued joy as you take your next steps in learning.