Friday, September 29, 2017

Shabbat Around the Table -- Yom Kippur

Tonight is not only Shabbat, it's also the start of Yom Kippur. It's a time for deep introspection, a time to acknowledge the ways in which you fell short this  year and to think about how to do better next year. There is a prayer service tonight, lasting about three hours, followed by a full day of prayer tomorrow. The service starts at 9 am and won't conclude until around 7 pm. There is usually only an hour or so break in the service in the afternoon. It's an intense day, made more so by the fast. From 6 pm tonight until 7 pm tomorrow, there is no eating or drinking at all. Not even water. Fasting enables those in the service to focus solely on their prayers; for many, this is a deeply spiritual experience.

A tradition associated with Yom Kippur is to donate the food that you would have eaten that day to the needy. Our synagogue has a food drive every year to encourage people to give. Especially in light of the natural disasters that have befallen our fellow citizens in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, now is a perfect time to talk with your children about the needs of others and to show them how to give. Another Jewish tradition is to "leave the corners of your fields for the poor." In ancient times, the Israelites wouldn't harvest the grain from the corners of their fields, instead leaving it for the poor to come and gather for themselves. One way to recreate this mitzvah (or good deed) in modern times is to buy a little extra food at the grocery store at every visit and donate it. Your children could help by selecting the food that will be donated. Young children take great pride in helping others. Now is the perfect time to instill in them values of compassion and generosity.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Shabbat Around the Table -- Nitzavim Vayeilech

In this week's parsha (or weekly Torah reading) Moses reminds the people of the covenant God has made with themGod has not only made this covenant with the "people standing here today" but also with "the people not here today," which has always been understood to mean future generations.

This notion that future generations are beholden to the promises of their ancestors might not fit with our modern sensibilities, but to me it's a profound reminder that what we do now -- or don't do now   -- will matter in some way, somehow in the future. Our actions (or inactions) do have consequences, some immediate, and some we'll never even live to see.

As parents, this might feel overwhelming and exhausting. It might feel like a burden. It some ways it is. But we can also see it as a privilege. We can remember another Jewish value, tikkun olam, which literally means repair the world. We believe it is our duty to work with God to finish the work of God's creation, meaning that it's incumbent upon us to do our part -- small or large -- to make the world a little better than we left it. We're not doing it for us, we're doing it for our children and their children.

There is a story about an old man planting a fig tree by the side of the road. A stranger walks by and laughs at him: "Why are you bothering to plant that tree? You'll never live long enough to eat its fruits!" The old man replies, "My ancestors planted fig trees for me. And now I am planting this fig tree for my children and grandchildren."

As your children continue to grow, take time to acknowledge, and feel joyful about, all the fig trees you're planting for them. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Looking Ahead to the Fall

Founded in 2005, Agudas Achim Preschool will turn thirteen this school year.  This milestone provides us with the perfect opportunity to reflect on the past and think about the future – to think about the kind of community we want to be and the kind of program we want to offer. To that end, I want to share just a few exciting new changes, large and small, to look forward to this fall.

Our playground, already a perfect balance between a traditional play space and a natural environment, will be made even more beautiful when the children work together to plant a garden. There’s a particular corner that needs tending to. Working with parent volunteers, we’ll hopefully plant a flower garden that can be enjoyed over multiple seasons by the entire community.
Kitah Katom friends
enjoying some of our new vehicles.

We are so fortunate to have the social hall available to us; few, if any, other preschools have such a large and well equipped gross motor play space. But, much of the equipment has begun to show its age. Last year we purchased Imagination Playground, or big blue blocks. This year we’ll have new riding toys, including low riders (think Big Wheels), a “taxi” for transporting friends, and even a space buggy, which will be exactly as much fun as it sounds. We’re also replacing the worn foam blocks with newer, studier blocks perfect for climbing and tumbling.
Of course, each classroom will get new toys as well, many of which will be math and science oriented. Last year we’d noted that we needed more of those kinds of toys in the classrooms. To that end, we’re going to take advantage of an unused classroom this year and equip it with a variety of math, science, engineering, and art supplies. This multi-purpose room will start out small, but hopefully grow to be something that truly sets Agudas Achim Preschool apart from every other preschool in Alexandria.
None of these new purchases could have been made without the overwhelming generosity of our preschool parents (and grandparents!) and the members of this congregation. Please know that every donation you make to the preschool helps provide our children with remarkable new opportunities to explore and to grow, which in turn allows our program to thrive. Thank you. Here’s to the next thirteen years. 

Outdoor Magic

Early childhood educators have long known the   benefits of outdoor play . To name but a few, outdoor play improves physical and mental heal...