“A Heschel Parent’s Response to our Chanukkah Festival of the Arts” by Ava Kwinter.
I always feel a roller coaster of emotions during the Chanukkah concert: I’m excited for my kids and proud of them; I’m amazed every year by the beauty of the music and their voices; I’m grateful that we are celebrating another Chanukkah safe and healthy and embedded in the community that we love; and I usually cry, like I do on New Year’s Eve, because it’s at annual traditions like these that you can really feel time passing. I always like to look around and see the same emotions reflected on the faces of the other parents. Knowing that we are all sharing a similar mixture of feelings both happy and wistful is so moving.
When the lights in the sanctuary go down and the crowd gets quiet, Morah Betty starts playing the first notes of “Banu Choshech,” and the kids start marching in carrying their torches high, everyone in the audience turns around and sort of draws in their breath because it’s all so wonderful: that is always my favourite moment. It never fails that I get a shiver down my spine with those first few opening notes of the song.
This year I was also blown away by the new version of Mi Yemalel, arranged by Moreh Josh and accompanied by him on guitar. It was fantastic, so fresh and energetic. And from the amount of cheering and applause I heard around me, I’d say everyone else loved it too!
Everyone always talks about Heschel’s integrated curriculum and how awesome it is, but it’s really at school-wide events like the Chanukkah concert that you can really see the integrated curriculum at work, what it’s capable of, and how much it benefits our kids. When my oldest first started in the early years and I saw how they were using the oil in the chanukkia to learn about transmutation of states of matter (liquid to gas, etc) I remember thinking that that was so genius! How come everyone hasn’t always learned science in this way?! Then in the older grades the units on Chanukkah extend into social studies/SES, and the story of the Maccabees is used as an occasion to talk about what it means to be a hero, to face adversity and stand up for what you believe in… I mean, these are very compelling and relevant connections, and this is where you can really see what is unique and special about this style of curriculum.
This year I really noticed how much freedom the junior high classes have to put their own individual and collective creativity into their Chanukkah performances. I always look forward to see how the older grades write and choreograph their own numbers, they are always unique and consistently excellent. By encouraging the students to interpret the texts and stories through their own experiences the traditions and practices stay alive; I think it’s so important that the version of living Jewishly we practice and give to our children allows for individual self-expression. When I see the older kids writing raps for Chanukah, or singing about the ancient customs through mashups of broadway and hit movie songs, and that what they are doing is meaningful to them, it shows me a way of engaging with the culture that is authentic and sustainable.
I was surprised at how crowded the shul was and how hard it was to get seats. What a crowd! This school is REALLY growing! May we go from strength to strength.
Blog written by Ava Kwinter.