On Monday, we returned from our mid-winter break. It can be difficult sometimes to return from a vacation, but we were fortunate enough to begin our week by celebrating Rosh Chodesh Adar, which enabled us to return to school with real joy. Each month, for our Rosh Chodesh celebration, we choose a different characteristic to highlight in connection with the new month and as part of our sequence of “Mensch Train” characteristics. To this point, we have celebrated conservation, bravery, hospitality and introspection among others, all aimed at making the notion of “doing the right thing” practical, achievable and valuable while still being age-appropriate. It is an engaging educational tool that we use to help our students see themselves as everyday mensches. This month, our school-wide theme is “simcha” (joy), and it is of course perfect for the month of Adar, in connection with which we say “mishenichnas Adar, marbin b’simcha”–when the month of Adar arrives, we should increase our joy!
It is worth considering how, exactly, “joy” fits into the category of “mensch-y” behavior. Compared to the other “Mensch train” character traits, ‘happiness’ seems somewhat naïve, perhaps even superficial. Must one whistle while composting? Smile when facing one’s fears? Are we trying to turn our students into Pollyannas?
You can find answers to these questions (no, no, and No!), by “peeking” at what the first-second grade class was up to this week. Students were busy getting ready for Purim. They heard, told and retold the story of the Megilla; they worked in groups to act out parts of the story; they painted paper plates yellow to create happy emoji-like faces; they made groggers and learned about the ways to celebrate Purim. They of course baked hamentaschen and decorated ’mishlo’ach manot’ bags. Finally, they spoke Hebrew–asking and answering questions, saying simple sentences, reading books. Students of all skill levels were able to practice, in context, the masculine and feminine forms of verbs and adjectives, and had a comfortable, informal opportunity to switch between the singular and plural forms of words. They played vocabulary games and created their own. And all the while, they did so with delight and excitement.
One of our goals is to help students build a deep and lasting Jewish identity. We provide warm, positive experiences of Judaism, and we rely on joyful pursuits to reach that goal. Yes, we want them to know facts about Jewish history, religion and traditions, but we want even more to give them life long memories that will bring them again and again to that joyful first or second grade classroom that helped established their pride and love of being Jewish. Joy it is.