Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The cycle of the Jewish year will begin shortly. We will approach Almighty G-d and ask him for forgiveness, beseeching Him for a year of health and prosperity.

For the Jewish People, the High Holy Days represents a time of renewal; a time for a new beginning. Especially in these Covid pandemic days, this is very real and germane. Starting anew – even just getting back to normal and somehow erasing this past year with all its hardships – becomes so very urgent.

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I often wonder how we are able to approach G-d with the same yearly requests, given the fact that we are essentially the same people we were a year ago and probably didn’t change much over since then. Yet we approach G-d as if our slate has been wiped clean and we can start fresh, as if this was the first day of our lives. What a remarkable thought! The possibilities are endless, and the opportunities allow us to envision for our families and ourselves the possibility of erasing our past and starting fresh.

This ability to look ahead and not necessarily to look back at the past is a G-d-given talent; to somehow forget the past and to believe that the future will bring new and exciting possibilities without the influence of our misdeeds of the past; To see a person as good despite his/her past actions; To give them a second chance knowing full well that they might ultimately fail again.

We find this same concept in Jewish education as well. When we begin the year educators should project the theme of Rosh Hashanah to all their teachers and students – the theme of a new beginning; a chance to start fresh and to right the past.

Teachers tend to label children at a young age. Most times this label remains with the children throughout their lives, frequently stifling their growth and, more importantly, their ability to change. I have often overheard teachers talking negatively about students as early as the first day of school. Remarks such as “Oh yes, I know him very well; he’s a handful and he never does his work” resonate when they receive their student rosters.

While their comments are meant as friendly warnings to their co-workers, their statements have a profound negative effect on any possibility that there is any hope for change in the future for this child. Though we know our children intimately, and we know who are studious and who are discipline problems, we owe it to ourselves and to our students to look at each student as beginning a new slate.

In the past, when I would begin my first staff meeting of the year, I’d often tell my teachers that this is the approach we should have when starting the school year. As difficult as this sounds, given the past record of a particular child, it nevertheless becomes incumbent on all educators to make the attempt and to allow the child to feel that he/she is given a new beginning, to start fresh and forge a new path for their future.

Though Judaism holds accountable the past deeds and misdeeds of an adult, they are nevertheless given the opportunity to assemble on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and ask G-d for forgiveness. Children, as well, must be allowed to feel that there is a chance for them to change despite their past actions. As teachers and educators we owe it to them to attempt with all our passion, love and understanding to give them this chance.

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Rabbi Mordechai Weiss has been involved in Jewish education for the past forty-six years, serving as principal of various Hebrew day schools. He has received awards for his innovative programs and was chosen to receive the coveted Outstanding Principal award from the National Association of Private Schools. He now resides in Israel and is available for speaking engagements. Contact him at ravmordechai@aol.com or 914-368-5149.