As a lifelong Jewish educator, I have always felt the connection between the Jewish year and the school year. Personally speaking, there has always been a natural cadence between these two rhythms of time. For me, they go hand in hand, and I have been enmeshed in this accidental alignment for my entire life, first as a Jewish day school student and then as a professional.
As I reflect back on the month of Elul, the month which precedes Rosh HaShanah, I have given a lot of thought to how these two periods of time flow through the veins of the Jewish educator. It was fitting, in fact, that this year our professional development at the Toronto Heschel School began on the 2nd Elul, just as the month began. Our professional development was full and robust. The faculty and staff were engaged in meaningful sessions which were both theoretical and practical in nature. The sessions were led by the school leadership, by outside practitioners who were experts in their fields, and by our amazing faculty as well. But most importantly, the faculty and staff had many opportunities during the week for reflection on their professional practice as well as ways in which they could apply practical applications for improvement and change.
Reflection on personal practice and applying practical applications for improvement and change is exactly what each of us as individuals should be doing during the month of Elul. In our tradition, the month of Elul is a time of teshuvah which means to turn or return in preparation for the new year. Our rabbis teach us that the word “Elul” is similar to the root of the verb “search” in Aramaic. Elul is seen as a time to “search” our own heart and draw closer to God in preparation for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.
For our teachers, this past month of Elul has indeed been a month of preparation and goal setting. Beginning with the professional development week, the teachers have immersed themselves in thinking about ways that they can make the coming school year a meaningful and engaging experience for their students.
By a similar token, for our students, this past month of Elul has also been a month of new beginnings and new opportunities. Each morning at 8:20 am throughout the month of Elul, before the doors open to begin our school day, we have been blowing the shofar, which is one of the traditions during the month of Elul. The call of the shofar every morning during the month of Elul (except on Shabbat and the day before Rosh HaShanah) not only reminds us that Rosh HaShanah is coming, it also reminds us to reflect back on our personal practice and think about ways that we can improve in the coming year. Our students, with the assistance of their mindful, dedicated, and professional teachers, have been participating in this same practice of reflection, albeit at developmentally appropriate levels.
We approach each new year, the Jewish year and the school year, with much hope and anticipation. The month of Elul gives us the opportunity to take account of our personal practices so that we can best approach each new year with positivity and optimism.
I hope that your month of Elul has been as meaningful as ours at the Toronto Heschel School, complete with reflection and introspection. May the coming year bring good health, happiness, and peace to all of us, our loved ones, and our entire community!