At 8:45 this morning, I heard the sounds of families starting to come to religious school. The new Gan (Pre-K) students approaching with both excitement and trepidation. The older students either new or returning, coming to the day and the year, each in their own way. I heard the music specialist and music madrich (teen assistant) going over the music with the cantor. I heard the teachers chatting, waiting for me to go to meet with them for our weekly check in, as I was a couple of minutes late, having been checking in with the set up for our opening assembly.
At 9:03, I heard the opening lines of Mikey Pauker’s Hinei Mah Tov, a song about how good it is when people come together, as our religious school students, families, and teachers joined together with full voices.
Before silent prayer, at about 9:20, I spoke to the group about how dates are interesting and their significance changes, and that on this date in this year, we are coming together to start our year of learning together, and celebrating the start of a year of learning and improving ourselves and considering how we can challenge ourselves to be the best selves we can be–and how in our personal prayers, we can think about how we can all work towards a world that embraces diversity, seeks righteousness, and works towards peace. I didn’t name the date, but those for whom this date is etched in fire in our memories, we all knew what I was saying. If it wasn’t already obvious, the multiple catches in my voice as I held back tears made it clear.
It was around that same time 15 years ago that I heard the news.
At 10:05, I was talking with students and their families about the new Hebrew program and answering questions about how the program will enable the students to use their own skills and their own pace to build their learning experience.
At 10:28, I was sticking my head into our new Gan (Pre-K) classroom as the students were starting to be picked up, and saw the joy of new learning and adventure in the eyes of 3 and 4 year olds–and the smiles of satisfaction on the faces of their teachers. A lovely moment in my day, seeing the start of a new phase of Jewish learning–the sweetness in starting something new.
How vastly different each of these exact moments were 15 years ago. I’ve written before of my experience on September 11, 2001 and reflections after. I’ve shared the story many times aloud, in memorial services, in conversations, in teaching, and in my own memory.
It was both easy and difficult to decide what to do on this date in Religious School. It was easy to realize that it’s the first day of school for the year, and the first day of religious school ever for some of our students–it is a day that must focus on the joy of learning. Especially with students for whom the events of that day are history (even the oldest teen madrichim were themselves in Pre-K 15 years ago). But it was also difficult, to decide to not mark this day in a formal way. For those of us who remember, for the families, the teachers…how can we not memorialize it. And so I settled on that couple of sentences, not coloring the date for those for whom it’s just a day, but acknowledging the day for those of us who will never forget.
Hearing the shofar sound today at the end of our opening assembly was both evocative of the alarms that went off 15 years ago (literally and figuratively)–and so vastly different at the same time. My own prayer is that hearing that sound will wake all of us up, to a world that we ourselves constantly renew.