Wishing You a Sweet and Happy New Year
Last Tuesday as I was driving in for the first day of school, a radio interview with two school teachers caught my attention. The teachers were sharing their excitement about the upcoming school year and their hopes and dreams about what the new beginning with new students would bring. At the end of the interview, one of the teachers wished everyone a “Happy New Year.”
There was nothing to indicate that either of the teachers or the host of the program was Jewish and yet, there it was — what to my ear sounded like a Rosh HaShana wish or blessing. It struck me that much of our secular world is in sync with our Hebrew calendar. For so many of us, and especially those of us whose lives are connected to schools and the academic year, the fall really is a time of new beginnings and fresh starts.
As we enter the year תשפ״ד — 5784 — we once again have the chance to reflect on ourselves and our lives, clarify our values, and set our course for a new year. That this opportunity coincides with the return to our Bialik classrooms just makes the occasion all the more relevant and meaningful for our students and community members.
The number 5784 marks the years our tradition tells us have elapsed since the creation described in Genesis. In effect, we are about to celebrate the 5,784th birthday of the world, and the arrival of humans in the natural world. Breishit tells us that,
Vayikach Adonai Elohim et ha’adam vayanichehu v’gan-eden
God settled the Human in the Garden of Eden, to till it and tend it.
(Genesis 2:15, sefaria.org translation)
The translation that reads “till it and tend it” could also be understood as “work it and guard it.” In either case, it seems clear that we are to recognize both a benefit that nature provides — ostensibly from agricultural produce (“till it”) — and an obligation to protect and preserve the garden and the natural world it represents.
We’ve come quite a distance since that long-ago beginning in the Garden of Eden and our relationship with nature has certainly become more complicated. Indeed, as its birthday approaches, the planet and its human inhabitants are struggling with droughts, wildfires, destructive storms and debilitating heat waves. So perhaps part of our collective חשבון נפש — Cheshbon Nefesh — this year should be about what more we can do to fulfill that biblical obligation to protect our environment.
At Bialik, one of our new year’s resolutions is to focus more of our attention on the environment and sustainability through student engagement in our agriculture-based STEM projects. I am pleased to share that we are developing plans for community gardens at both branches, providing resources for students to further explore their relationships with nature and all that grows around them. You can expect to hear more about these projects as the year progresses.
So as we begin another year in the Jewish calendar and contemplate new beginnings in school and with our families, it is a time to look inward to seek growth and maturity. May we also turn our view outward to the natural world and recommit ourselves l’ovda ul’shomra — to work it and protect it.
Please accept my sincere wishes for a שנה טובה ומתוקה — a Sweet and Happy New Year — full of good health and prosperity.