Organizing an effective school assembly can sometimes feel very much like producing a movie that has to appeal to a broad an audience as possible. Organize an assembly that is too serious and content-heavy, and parents, grandparents and students in attendance will fidget, look at their watches, and have that glazed eyeball look before it’s even half over. Go too light and fun, and you get the opposite – a bubbie-fied audience and student reaction of “Where’s the beef?” Too Disneyfied and cutesy, and you ask: “What am I spending all this tuition money for?” So it is with some degree of trepidation that you put these school assemblies together – you want to make sure that you succeed on a number of levels, especially if it is an assembly that is Judaic in nature, such as the school’s yearly Tishrei Assembly. It has to a) show that learning is happening in the school and b) it has to reflect the depth, the nuance, the spirit and the joy inherent in Judaism. And above all, it has to try and be as real as possible.
Today’s assembly had a bit of everything, and besides being a crowd pleaser had some beautiful and genuine moments. Students were eloquent in sharing what they have learnt in school about the holidays we are currently celebrating, and artful and joyful in performing their songs and dances. The gym was beautifully decorated, and the program went off smoothly.
We wrapped up the assembly with a special Torah reading that gave the students a taste of what happens over Simchat Torah (albeit without the candies or alcohol!). Grade by grade, we called up the classes to get an “aliyah” and we leyned (read) from the Torah. The portion we read was the blessing given to the tribe of Asher at the end of the Five Books of Moses, in Parshat V’Zot HaBerachah:
“And of Asher he said: “May Asher be blessed with sons. He will be pleasing to his brothers, and immerse his foot in oil. Your locks are iron and copper, and the days of your old age will be like the days of your youth. Jeshurun, there is none like God; He Who rides the heavens is at your assistance, and with His majesty, [He rides] the skies…”
Something about reading the Torah with the students, with all of them gathered around under a tallit held up by parents and students in grade 7, seemed to deeply affect many of the parents in attendance, and there were quite a few tears. The way I interpret it is that we were doing something authentic and real, and we were engaging with the Torah in a way that profoundly moved people. Kids need to see the inside of a Torah, they need to hold on to the handle of the scroll itself, they need to see the squiggly letters that look the same yet so different than how Hebrew looks in print. They need to hear Torah sung, not just taught. And for so many of us, I think reading the Torah at the assembly brought us back to our own Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, when we were nervous and feeling oh so small and we stood in front of the Torah for the first time.
Ultimately, the sight of Jewish children, our future and our hope, gathered around a Sefer Torah, and becoming a part of the chain of tradition and our way of life, is what resonates the deepest. At RJDS, we are so proud that we were able to be a part of this moment. May we merit and be blessed to be a part of many more of these moments in the weeks and months ahead.
Chag sameach to all.