Growing up, I was never a big fan of clothes shopping. Come September, however, my mother would determinedly set forth on her annual mission: to take me and my three younger brothers shopping for new clothes, just prior to Rosh Hashanah.
We did our best to deter her. But - as is the case among many wise parents and their sometimes-less-than-cooperative children - our boisterous complaints and impatient behavior at the store was of little consequence. My mother was resolute: on Rosh Hashanah, we were going to be dressed appropriately. For her, this was an instruction written by God, in the Torah itself.
Only later in life did I come to learn that "God's instructions" for new clothing before the High Holy Days was not literal Torah law. But I was surprised to learn that, in fact, the commandment of "hiddur mitzvah" (fulfilling a commandment with as much beauty as possible) was both a Biblical and Rabbinic requirement. Psalm 29 instructs us to "prostrate ourselves before God in holy splendor." Thus, dressing attractively when going to synagogue on the High Holidays is directly connected to the Psalmist's instruction.
The rabbis, however, further expanded on the teaching. Buying new and attractive clothes for Rosh Hashanah was intended to be a reminder to us that "dressing up" is a spiritual discipline. Just as we take the time to physically look attractive, we must to ensure that we are also emotionally and spiritually attractive. Dressing up for the holidays is a Kal Va-Chomer - an assertion that states that if a law is strict in a case where we are usually lenient, then it will certainly be just as strict in a more serious case. If we take the time to spend money and time on physically looking good during the rest of the year, how then much more so during the High Holy Days should we take the time to ensure that we match our insides to our surface, by preparing ourselves to be good, and make our world a better place?
In the case of our children and teens, not much has changed since my mother's time. Parents still struggle year by year, as fashions become more outrageous and fads come and go, to get their children to dress correctly. As parents who, as children and teens, once stood in those uncomfortable new High Holiday shoes, we tend to remember our own experiences and thus, see those of our children with a more loving and lenient lens. Sometimes, we are happy just to see them showing up to take on Jewish learning and identity.
In our congregation, we have not only remembered our own experiences as young Jewish learners, yearning for informality and creativity, but have also listened to what our own kids and teens have told us. Thus, in this season of "trying on" and "figuring out," we are so pleased to launch our new program for teens, called Chalutzim, which is the Hebrew word for pioneers.
As pioneers of the 21st century, the critical task of building a vibrant future of Judaism rests on our children. In the spirit of all great pioneers, our teens are the first to challenge us to find meaningful and achievable Jewish activities in which they can participate.
We also recognize that our teens have many demands on their time. The Chalutzim program allows teens to participate in one or more of our affinity groups, in effect, "trying on" new ways to explore their Jewish identity until they find the fit that feeds their passion for learning and growth. Whether it is playing with the Rak Band, exploring Jewish popular culture through TV and the movies, singing in Cantor's choir, leading Shabbat services, or considering the complexities of Israel, our Jewish homeland, each Chalutzim affinity group helps teens maintain a strong connection to the synagogue and Judaism by providing an opportunity to continue their Jewish education through activities they already love. All of our Chalutzim opportunities are listed in this new brochure, which you can explore here.
These opportunities provide our teens with experiences that bridge their personal interests and Jewish life. The mission of Chalutzim is to provide teens with a continuous Jewish education and social relationships within the Temple Sholom community.
So, I encourage parents and grandparents to take their children to the store and buy this year's new clothing. But, when in the fitting rooms, take the time to speak with them about ways to consider their Jewish identity in the coming year. While it is important that they understand that the physical clothing we wear is a reflection of the spiritual beauty we wish to pursue each and every day, it is also an exciting chance to help them understand that this New Year brings new opportunities to develop their love of Judaism. Perhaps the beauty of those new shoes, new suits and new dresses just might actually give way to new ideas, new friends, and new ways of making the world in which we live just as beautiful as our children and teens.