As I reflect back on the month of Iyyar at The Toronto Heschel School, I am reminded of a paragraph that we read LAST MONTH, in the month of Nissan, at the Seder Table:
הוֹצִיאָנוּ מֵעַבְדוּת לְחֵרוּת מִיָּגוֹן לְשִׂמְחָה, וּמֵאֵבֶל לְיוֹם טוֹב, וּמֵאֲפֵלָה לְאוֹר גָּדוֹל, וּמִשִּׁעְבּוּד לִגְאֻלָּה.
He brought us out from slavery to freedom, from sorrow to joy, from mourning to [celebration of] a festival, from darkness to great light, and from servitude to redemption.
This quote from the Haggadah not only is appropriate for Pesach, it also describes the month of Iyyar, the month which will be completed at the end of Shabbat tomorrow night. In the month of Iyyar, we have sad occasions such as the period of the counting of the Omer and remembering the fallen soldiers of the wars of Israel and victims of acts of terrorism. But, as is the Jewish way, and as described in the Hagaddah, we balance out the sad with the happy. During the month of Iyyar, we also celebrated Israel’s 75th anniversary of independence, Lag BaOmer, and the reunification of Jerusalem. By all accounts, the month of Iyyar is a busy month on the Jewish calendar where we are constantly shifting our attention and focus from the bitter to the sweet.
All of these special days were commemorated or celebrated at The Toronto Heschel School. On Yom HaZikaron, our students led a moving ceremony remembering the fallen soldiers of Israel. As is the Heschel way, this was beautifully presented through dance, song and poetry by the students. On Yom Ha’atzmaut, the students celebrated throughout the day, and coupled their learning about Israel with lessons about environmentalism and ecology. And on Lag B’Omer, our students participated in a partial “Yom Iyyun” (day of study) learning this special day on the calendar with fun outdoor activities and games. To say that the students were engaged in the learning during the month of Iyyar is an understatement!
But wait! There was more! In this newsletter you will also read about the many additional activities in which the students participated during this extraordinarily busy month! Our sports teams excelled and several of our students demonstrated their knowledge of the Bible at the Chidon HaTanach, the national Bible Contest held this year in Montreal. Yasher Koach and Kol HaKavod to all of our students, coaches and volunteers who helped make all of these extra activities possible during the month of Iyyar! Yet, in all of these additional activities, our students learned an important lesson which the month of Iyyar teaches us: we practice, we study, we play hard, we compete, but, in the end, not everyone is going to end up on top. The month of Iyyar teaches us that we must temper our expectations. As sports reporter Jim McKay used to say, “the thrill of victory; the agony of defeat!”
During the month of Iyyar, I am reminded of the famous song “Al Kol Eleh,” written in 1980 by Naomi Shemer, known as the “first lady of Israeli song and poetry.” I am reminded of the song partially because we often sing it on Yom Ha’atzmaut, but also because of its powerful message which is reflected in the month of Iyyar. In this beautiful song (prayer?) we recognize that without darkness there is no light, without the sting there is no honey, without the bitter we have no ability to recognize what is sweet. This is an important lesson that the month of Iyyar teaches us, to find acceptance in both the good and the bad so we can truly appreciate our celebrations and all of our blessings. I am confident that our students at The Toronto Heschel School truly took this important message to heart. May we continue to commemorate the sad and celebrate the good as a community for many years to come!
Shabbat Shalom VeChodesh Tov!