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The Mommy Chronicles: Back to School and Shul

May 9, 2009 | by Leah Kaplan

Getting ready to go back to school and getting ready for the High Holidays have a lot in common.

Summer is most definitely over. Yes, it was close to 90 degrees this week, but once you're shopping for new lunch boxes, notebooks and pencils, summer is officially over. As I write this I'm acutely aware that I should be planning lunches and snacks, or picking out the kids' clothes for next week, or finding everyone's shoes. The back-to-school list is long, but the preparation is well worth it.

Preparing the kids for school takes place during the time of year when the High Holidays are right around the corner and we are preparing ourselves spiritually for the upcoming year.

Being Prepared: The dog ate my homework.

There's nothing worse than showing up unprepared. There's a common dream people have where they show up at school to take a test and they're wearing their pajamas. Getting ready to go back to school and getting ready for life actually have a lot in common. Both scenarios require goal setting. We can't pick our classes if we don't know what we're trying to accomplish. (Sometimes I feel like I'm in philosophy 101, but I meant to take gym. Everyone's talking about Plato and I'm sweating profusely and worrying about the game of dodge ball in my imminent future.)

Setting Goals: What's your major?

Remember freshman year when we weren't sure why we were there? It's much harder to do well when we don't have a sense of purpose. Firstly, because the lack of direction means our choices won't be moving us where we need to go. And secondly, because we can be left without proper motivation. Life, like school, can be very challenging. Having a sense of our own purpose can be the fuel that keeps us going when things are difficult.

Checking In With Our Soul: Report Cards

Goal setting means we need to have a realistic idea of where we are holding. It's much harder to get where you are going if you don't know where you are.

Grades matter. They give us much needed feedback and keep us from coasting through life unaware. We need to ask ourselves on a regular basis how we are doing, and most importantly during this time of year. Listing our accomplishments, as well as determining our weaknesses, is crucial to getting an accurate picture. We need to do some accounting.

Taking stock of our accomplishments, failures and dreams is a good place to start. The month of back-to-school sales is the same month that God gives us to prepare for the High Holidays. Elul, the name of the Jewish month, is a time for introspection and honesty. Getting an accurate sense of self is essential for getting the most out of the New Year.

Making a Plan: Registering for Class

What does next semester look like? If we fill our schedule with classes that aren't a requirement or in our major, we are probably wasting time. Easy A's have their place in this world, but working hard in life pays better in the long run. If we do the work, the growth will help us soar. Life will be sweet, and there will still be plenty of time to hang out on the quad.

Guidance counselors are an excellent resource. In life they are called rabbis and good friends. It's actually a mitzvah to go out and develop a relationship with each of them. They are an excellent source of wisdom and clarity. They can help us figure out what classes we need to take. They can help us see patterns and identify why we keep getting an F or an incomplete in a particular class. Most of all, they can support us when we are having a tough semester.

Rosh Hashana: Getting Oriented

Hopefully, everything is pretty much in place by the time we head off to orientation. This is our opportunity to make our best impression. We haven't taken any tests yet. There's nothing written down in our notebooks. They are white and pure with no mistakes. School hasn't really started, but the smell of glue is in the air.

The beginning of the New Year is a opportunity to divorce ourselves from the past and experience the person we know we can be.

Rosh Hashana is like orientation. God, our ultimate teacher, is coming to meet with each of us to inspect us, our goals and the limits we've put on ourselves. It's a serious day, much like the first day of school. But it is also a joyful one because our teacher loves us so dearly that He is coming to make sure we have everything we need to have a great year. All He asks is that we aim high and do our best.

We show up in our best clothes. Not to make a good impression on the teacher, but to make a good impression on ourselves. We are dressing for success. Rosh Hashana is a day that focuses on potential. We aren't going to spend our conference with God talking about last year's report card. We are going to focus on who we could be this coming year. And even though we may not have mastered the curriculum as of yet, we need to behave as if we have. We need to feel like the person we want to be. We are showing God that we deserve the chance and the resources to be that person. We are asking for a year of life. We need to show God what that means to us.

The Ten Days of Repentance: The First Week of School

Luckily for us, teachers do not usually make up their minds about a student right off the bat. It takes some time to see if a student will be able to accomplish their goals. Are they doing their homework? Do they pay attention in class? Do they come to school prepared to learn? Many teachers keep an observation book where they write entries about the students in order to track their progress.

In life, God also gives us some time before he makes that first mark in his observation book. We are judged on Rosh Hashana and then given 10 days until Yom Kippur when God opens the Book of Life and, God willing, inscribes us for a good year with all of the resources we need to reach our goals. We must use those 10 days to show God and ourselves just what we could accomplish during the year to come.

The beginning of the New Year is a opportunity to divorce ourselves from the past and experience the person we know we can be. This is powerful. It leaves its mark. Knowledge of our potential should be a guide and a motivator as we move through the year. Much like the teacher conferences set up over the course of the school year, or the report cards sent home each semester, we need to keep checking in, reevaluating our progress and reminding ourselves of our goals.

Like the school bell ringing and calling us to class to begin our learning, on Rosh Hashana the shofar sounds, calling us to wake up and begin our lives. May we all be written and sealed in the Book of Life.

Click here for to learn more about the High Holidays.

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