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Shana Tova from Our Head of School

Dear Bialik Community Members,

Shana Tova!

As we settle into the new school year at Bialik and approach the start of the year 5783, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the symbolism of the shofar and its role in our lives as Jews.

The ram’s horn can be heard throughout the month of Elul leading up to the new year and, for many of us, the extended sounding of the shofar is the highlight of the Rosh HaShana Musaf services. Interestingly, the religious obligation is not actually to blow the shofar, but rather to hear its sound — its “voice,” Lishmo’a Kol Shofar — לשמוע קול שופר. According to our tradition, the resonant blasts of the shofar command our attention. They grip us viscerally and spur a process of self-reflection and Cheshbon Nefesh — חשבון נפש. They are a metaphoric wake-up call, a stimulant of sorts.

Alternatively, it was long ago noted that “music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.” Rather than behaving as a call to action or having an animating effect, sound can also be calming or relaxing. We all can think of the array of sounds to which we are exposed and the wide range of reactions they elicit in us: a baby’s cry; waves meeting the seashore; the voice of a loved one; the ping of a cell phone; a screech of tires; the rumble of thunder.

The sounds in our school buildings are full of meaning for our community. Bells mark time for both students and teachers, signalling change and transition from one part of the day to the next. Fire- and lockdown-alarms — probably the closest school equivalent to the shofar — interrupt our routines and alert us to the need to take action to ensure our safety. Hearing O Canada and Hatikvah played over the PA system connects us to our homelands and national identities.

For me, the most potent sounds that resonate through our school buildings are also the most ubiquitous: the buzz of student voices engaged in classroom learning; teacher-student dialogue in English, Hebrew, French and Yiddish; shouts of excitement and peals of laughter from the playground during recess.

Each autumn, I am reminded of how pleasing these sounds are and how much I missed them during the summer. They were particularly poignant this year as we returned fully to in-person learning after so much on-again, off-again remote school. Even as I write this message, I do so to the soundtrack of the joyous voices of students outside at play. This is a privilege that I enjoy every day, and one that I don’t take for granted.

This High Holiday season, with challenges both global and personal, may the voice of the shofar awaken us to what we seek to change in our lives, and may we all find comfort and inspiration in the voices of our children.

!שנה טובה ומתוקה

Benjy Cohen

Head of School