As Jews, we are often referred to as people of the book. But while that usually refers to the Torah or the Bible, it could mean any number of books from the Talmud to the Zohar (a collection of kabbalistic writings) to any number of rabbinic texts. In fact, we are living in an era of an explosion of Jewish writing about a wide variety of topics from Jewish food to Jewish history to Jewish humor. Just check the shelves at Barnes & Noble.

Books are central to who we are as Jews. The stories and knowledge contained in them help define us, guide us and give us something to argue with. It is perhaps this deep relationship with the written word that makes the images of book burnings during Kistalnacht hit us so strongly.

Today, our first graders received their first real siddur during our Kabbalat Siddur program. Until now, they have been using a photocopied packet as they learn tefillot (prayers). For them, it is the first of many books that they will receive from the school and their parents on their path of Jewish learning. It is a moment that they have been eagerly awaiting for all year, and they were excited to have the eighth graders hand them their new siddur.

Our Kabbalat Siddur ceremony, however, was more than just an opportunity to present a siddur to our first graders (and we are excited about our new siddur – see below for more details about it). Today was a learning opportunity for all of our first grade families. Each family was asked to prepare a d’var tefillah  (a short presentation, talk or activity about a prayer). Our families learned together, shared their insights and explored our relationship with God as we explored tefillot from throughout the siddur. The excitement as each student stepped up to talk about their prayer was incredible. Everyone, students, parents, and staff, left the Merkaz this morning having learned something new.

Kol HaKavod to Hadassa Hoff and Marci Friedman on their hard work preparing our first graders for this morning. Mazal tov to the first graders and their parents! We look forward to marking many more moments together with you.

Shabbat Shalom,

Dr. Ari Yares
Head of School

P.S. For Schechter, today marks another first. It is the first time that we are giving out a brand new siddur. For years, we have given out the same siddur to our first graders, and you can still see many of them using it middle school. With the explosion of Jewish publishing, we took an opportunity this fall to survey the many new siddurim that have been published since the last time we had a conversation about this important text.

The content in each siddur that we looked at was similar. After all, the prayers that we use have been part of Jewish life for generations. Some had translations while others had other key features that resonated with us as educators. We explored each siddur, comparing them, looking critically at them and wondering about the decisions of the publisher.

In the end, our first graders will be the first students at Schechter to receive the beautifully written, Siddur Halleli Nafshi. Published by our sister school, the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston, Halleli Nafshi is a brightly-illustrated siddur that is engaging for daveners of all ages. We’re just as excited as the first graders to see them start using it, and we’re looking forward to placing copies in our Lower School classrooms next year.

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