Pivoting into Rosh HaShanah and A New School Year

Posted on 08/27/2021 @ 08:00 AM

Tags: Jewish Schools & Educational Services

Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it.
Reflect on it and grow old and gray with it.
Don’t turn from it, for nothing is better than it. 
(Pirke Avot/ Teachings of Our Ancestors 5:24)

If one words sums up the teaching and learning in our Early Childhood Education centers this past year and a half, it would be “pivoting.” At the start of the pandemic, the educators had to pivot from teaching their preschool children in person to virtually through the computer screen. Then when summer camp and school started, they pivoted again, teaching in person while incorporating all the Covid-19 protocols designed to foster as much health and safety as possible for the staff and the children. 
Our early childhood educators thought they were gearing up for this new school year with Covid on the wane. But once again, they are having to pivot yet again.
Our ECE directors are describing this time differently and maybe you can relate? 
The pivoting is more internal and personal.  
They (and we) have been riding the emotional pandemic rollercoaster. Each staff member needs to muster the strength to move through the pandemic malaise and acknowledge their own sense of uncertainty, anxiety along with a myriad of emotions… including potential anger and frustration with those who refuse to wear masks and/or vaccinate.
To help them do this, CAJE and the school directors are urging our teachers to focus on the unexpected blessings the past year provided - recognizing our own resiliency and flexibility; working with a supportive team; and intentionally connecting to the Jewish values that anchor us through life’s challenges and obstacles. 
Our teachers are pointing out what we all need to focus on— the things we can control.
Rosh HaShanah - the Jewish New Year - is perfectly timed to help us during this resurgence of the Delta variant.
In our Jewish communal cycle of time, it is the season that beckons us to stop, reflect, pivot and reconnect. It encourages us to celebrate our blessings as well as set new challenges and goals for ourselves. It is the time in our Jewish year carved out for doing the personal work that gives us a renewed sense of purpose. 
Opportunities await us in the year to come. We just need to do the internal pivoting. We need to engage in the process. 
The Greater Miami Jewish Federation has generously funded a position to help our Early Childhood teachers and parents get better at the work of engagement. The position is called JRS or Jewish Resource Specialists, and they are embedded within 4 of our Early Childhood programs: Dave & Mary Alper JCCTemple JudeaTemple Beth Sholom, and Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus.
Our Jewish Resource Specialists (JRS) design and support Jewish engagement opportunities for children, parents and teachers in their schools. The JRSs open doors of opportunity to parents (and teachers too), guiding them in actively learning, exploring and celebrating holidays, values and wisdom, in ways that highlight Judaism’s relevance for families with young children. 
The JRS learns and teaches their colleagues and host institution that engagement is not gathering people in the same room for “programs.”
As Ron Wolfson, author of Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community, has said in a Jewish Journal article:

The goal is to help the leaders of these Jewish organizations embrace the idea of focusing energy beyond programs and a transactional relationship with the organization and instead getting to know people. It’s all about relationships, and people should come before programs. 
The main point of relational Judaism is: Do you and your institution really know the people you’re trying to serve, or do you just expect their contribution? We need to get to know people in a deeper way so they feel connected on three levels: 
  • Do they know someone in an institution like a rabbi, a federation professional or a staff member at the Jewish community center? Do they have a personal connection with someone on the professional or leadership level?
  • Between the members of the community. It’s not hard to quit an institution, but it’s hard to quit your friends. If you have deep connections at the Jewish community centers, with other day school parents, with the federation or with your synagogue, then there is a better chance you will stay connected well beyond the original reason you joined the organization.
  •  A connection to Jewish living, where you help bring people to a deeper appreciation of Judaism

Often on the High Holy Days, Jews find themselves sitting and listening passively as the service takes place. In other words, they are spectators, not really engaged in the action.
Instead of spectating, engaging is actively participating, actively doing. Rosh HaShanah, like anything else in our lives, becomes personally more meaningful when we pivot from the usual ways of being and actively engage in a deep process of reflection of how we can do better in the year ahead.
The quotation at the beginning of this article is attributed to the sage, Bag Bag. He is referring to Torah of course, teaching us that when we hug and wrestle with Torah, when we pivot and look at it from all sides, when we actively engage with it, we taste the sweetness of it.
It is the same with Rosh HaShanah- the New Year.  When we eat apples and honey and other simanim (symbolic foods), we remind ourselves to start a new cycle of life, learning and engagement.
May we all remember to pivot and turn to Torah and Jewish wisdom, gaining sweetness from its insights and principles upon which to build Jewish families and communities, one person at a time. 

The Jewish Resource Specialist (JRS) Initiative is a pilot program developed and directed by CAJE and generously funded by the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. For more information about it and the work of Early Childhood, contacjoyschandler@caje-miami.org