The Days of Awe and Cheder

Today, I started my new part-time job – as Cheder (religion school) Teacher for my synagogue. My extensive qualifications for this role are that no-one else volunteered. I co-opted the eldest to help, who at 14 is regarded as an adult member of our community. We have seven children to teach, split into two classes – one of a six and a seven year old (looked after by my eldest for most of the session), and one of five children approaching Bar or Bat Mitzvah age, so between the ages of 10 and 13.

I am rather baffled at this new stage of my life, which is unexpected, and so far, after a single class, exhausting. Who knew that two hours of looking after five lively and intelligent children, teaching them stuff I don’t really know about with no plan or curriculum, would be so tiring?? Apparently I’m ‘rather strict, but in a good way’, whatever that means:-s I did treat everyone as if I was in a business meeting and they were my stakeholders – now I just have to make sure that in my workshop on Tuesday I don’t wave my Hebrew flash cards around and start teaching everyone the Shemah…

It’s obvious to me now that I know very very little about either Judaism or teaching, so I’m mentally preparing myself for a steep learning curve. The older children have said they want to learn Hebrew, which will be a challenge since I don’t yet even know my Aleph Bet off by heart (the flash cards were mostly for me!), and the order of the Shabbat Morning service, so they are well prepared for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremonies. There will also be a degree of discussion about the Jewish celebration cycle, and this did take up quite a bit of today’s lesson, because we’re coming into a very busy part of the year.

At sundown a week today, Rosh Hashana begins. This is the Jewish New Year (well, one of them – we have several). We eat apples and honey or honeycake to celebrate the sweetness of the new year (and some people eat fish heads to celebrate the head of the year – I can assure you, not in my house!) The Jewish calendar year will change from 5775 to 5776, and the Days of Awe will begin.

Ten days after Rosh Hashana, comes Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. To quote from one of my favourite websites,

“The ten days starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur are commonly known as the Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim) or the Days of Repentance. This is a time for serious introspection, a time to consider the sins of the previous year and repent before Yom Kippur.

One of the ongoing themes of the Days of Awe is the concept that G-d has “books” that he writes our names in, writing down who will live and who will die, who will have a good life and who will have a bad life, for the next year. These books are written in on Rosh Hashanah, but our actions during the Days of Awe can alter G-d’s decree. The actions that change the decree are “teshuvah, tefilah and tzedakah,” repentance, prayer, good deeds (usually, charity). These “books” are sealed on Yom Kippur. This concept of writing in books is the source of the common greeting during this time is “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.” ”

Darn it – I wish I’d found that quote and copied it out before class:-)

So to all of you, whatever path you follow (or none at all), whatever part you play in my life, may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

Chag Sameach!