On Rosh Hashanah it is customary to offer this seemingly simple and pleasant wish: “May it be Your will, G-d, to renew us for a good and sweet year.”
To fulfill this charge on the highest level, however, Jewish tradition requires us to engage in teshuvah (thoughtful reflection leading to personal growth) so that we may plan for a year that is not only pleasant, but also filled with meaning, purpose and service to causes greater than our own self-interest.
Great schools — those that promote a culture of study, with rich content and critical discussion of great ideas — have served as the means by which the Jewish people have survived and thrived for over two millennia, providing our best means to access the wisdom, critical thinking and ethical judgment to do acts of tzedakah and gemilut chesed (service and activism) that bring positive change to the world.
Looking forward to the year ahead, I am reminded of the lyrics to one of Paul Simon’s greatest songs: “These are the days of miracle and wonder.”
Today, as our young people face a world filled with unparalleled opportunities and challenges, we must ensure that Jewish schools do not merely offer the sweetness symbolized by apples and honey, but also provide dynamic, creative educational settings that not only prepare them for college and careers, but also cultivate them as intellectually, socially and ethically advanced young adults with the desire and capacity to serve the Jewish and broader communities of North America and Israel.
An ambitious mission, no doubt, but one that is necessarily embraced by educators in Jewish schools. As we begin our 21st year at the Weber School, where we have welcomed a record 270 students in Grades 9 to 12, our faculty and staff work to create a culture of teaching and learning that fosters wisdom, critical thinking and ethical judgment in our students through ongoing innovations in curriculum and programming:
- Advanced interdisciplinary academic electives in English and Hebrew language and literature, STEM, social studies, Spanish, and other world languages, including French and American Sign Language.
- One-of-a-kind community engagement opportunities, such as our legacy program Peace by Piece, along with new initiatives in Jewish sustainability and environmental stewardship and the establishment of a student-managed Office of Tikkun Olam and Community Service.
- Along with the legacy Senior Year Israel-Poland Experience, expansion of Spanish immersion travel learning programs, in which students visit and engage with the Jewish communities of Spain, Cuba and Argentina.
- A record number of athletic teams over three seasons competing in the Georgia High School Association, along with expanded electives in club and intramural sports, health, and fitness.
- Growing courses and co-curricular opportunities in visual arts, theatrical productions, instrumental and vocal music, and dance.
- The expansion of three professional student fellowships — Social Entrepreneurship, Teaching Fellows, and Public Relations & Marketing Fellowship.
On behalf of the students, families, and dedicated teachers and staff of the Weber School, I offer you wishes for a shana tova u’metuka — best wishes for a new year in which we experience a “good and sweet” year of high meaning and purpose.
Rabbi Ed Harwitz is the head of school of the Weber School (www.weberschool.org).