Carmel Academy middle school students ushered in the new year by exploring practical implications of Jewish rituals through a series of experiential programs that took them to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Westchester Hills Cemetery and Anshe Chesed Synagogue.
“One of the challenges Jewish educators encounter when teaching ancient liturgy and its values is creating experiences that bring meaning and relevancy to students living in a modern world,” said Dr. Tali Aldouby-Schuck, Carmel’s director of Judaic studies.
This fall, as the students studied the High Holy Days amidah, they delved into three unique sections of the Mussaf amida: malchuyot (kingship), zichronot (remembrance) and shofarot. They began by studying the verses that make up these sections and they further explored the meaning of those verses by taking their learning on the road.
“We wanted the liturgy to come alive for the students, to transform the words on the page with a clear, cohesive message for the way we live our lives,” said Rabbi Jordan Soffer, Carmel’s Rabbi-in-residence. “The focus was on three relationships: between the students and God, between the students and each other and between the student and their own selves.”
Carmel’s eighth graders traveled to West Point where they explored malchuyot, crowning God king through acts of selflessness. They met with Dr. Ruth Beitler, a professor of comparative politics, and Major Matthew Cohen, who will be working at the American embassy in Jerusalem. They also took a private tour with Cadet Emma Davenport and learned about duty and sacrifice.
“When the students returned, they discussed what it means for them to have a calling, to serve something bigger than themselves. They reflected on what might be their calling to serve, and how did the trip connect back to the prayers [of] malchuyot,” Aldouby-Schuck said.
“We learned about how Judaism can be lived in all different types of places, and, at this time of year, we have to stick together as a nation and pray to God. I thought about people who can’t be with their families because they are in service, and it made Rosh Hashanah this year one of the most special for me,” said eighth grader Dani Loren.
Carmel’s seventh graders delved into the concept of zichronot, the duty to remember, by volunteering at the Westchester Hills Cemetery where they explored the question: “What is the role of memory in our sacred tradition?”
The students cleaned tombstones and each painted river rocks to place on the tombstone they helped clean. They painted enough rocks to leave behind for mourners to use when visiting the graves of a loved one.
“We reflected on what it means to do something for someone who can’t show gratitude and how oftentimes that “quiet” chesed transforms us as human beings,” Aldouby-Schuck said.
Carmel’s sixth graders studied shofarot, the Jewish call for action. They spent the day at Anshe Chesed, a synagogue in New York City, that doubles as a homeless shelter at night. There, the students learned how the synagogue’s call for action is to care for the homeless. They toured the facility, learned how the synagogue is transformed each day and spoke with volunteers.