In Hashavua Article

Freshly sharpened pencils

Purchasing that new lunchbox, binder, backpack or outfit

A first morning picture outside the school every year in the same spot

These are but a few of the possible first day of school rituals I’m sure you look forward to every year or that you even remember from your own childhood. That’s the thing with rituals, we look forward to them, anticipate them, enjoy looking back at them and remember them with warmth and nostalgia. When we experience a ritual, we transcend the present moment as it fuses with the experience of years past and future, connecting us to something deep and eternal. So when something happens that gets in the way of experiencing that ritual, the loss we feel can be deep.

Anthropologist Clifford Geertz describes ritual as the opportunity for us to experience the world as is and the world as imagined as the same world.This year the chasm between the world as is and the world as imagined or the world as we wish it would be feels wide and profound. I imagine you, like me, feel a sense of sadness and disappointment as we approach this school year.

However, as Geertz says, rituals provide us an opportunity to experience the world as imagined. So what if we strive to reclaim those first day of school rituals and reinvent them for our moment with acceptance for what is while striving for what we imagine could be. In other worlds, rituals create a physical, liminal and emotional space to celebrate our highest joys, feel our deepest losses and experience all the emotions in between. How might you do that with your children as we approach the first day of school?

One of the gifts that living a Jewish life gives us is the possibility to find the holiness in every moment, even the most mundane. We can create sacred moments through reciting blessings or observing rituals, but we can also create sacred moments with our children just by taking a moment to pause, reflect and choose our words carefully. How can you find the holy moments as you prepare for the first day and begin this first day of school while in your home? How can you create a reflective space in order to give voice to the many emotions both you and your child are feeling?

You will find the way to do this that is right for your family, but if you’d like a little help to get you started here are a few ideas. Regardless of how you choose to shape your ritual, remember rituals allow us the space to feel all of our emotions, it’s okay if there are tears. We need to feel all of our big feelings in a safe space:

Sweet as Honey: In the Jewish tradition, we say that learning Torah should be as sweet as honey. It has also been the custom in many Jewish communities to introduce a young child to the Hebrew alphabet by writing the letters on a board and covering each letter with honey. As the custom goes, the teacher would say the letter and when the child repeated it they would lick the honey off that letter. Inspired by this old tradition, I invite you to think about how you can symbolically and actually add some sweetness to your child’s first day of learning. And if honey feels too sticky for you, all sweet foods count. For an example of how one family has adapted this ritual for their home click here.

School Supply Scavenger Hunt: Take some of the key learning supplies for this school year that your child will use and set up a scavenger hunt around your house. In addition to the supplies, have a few of the items be pieces of paper on which you write hopes and blessings for them for the school year. Have the final stop on your scavenger hunt be their learning space in your house. Take a moment to put all of the supplies in their proper place and together offer a hope for what will take place in this learning space.

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