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Finding New Ways To Celebrate as a Community

Volunteers handing out apples and honey to students last fall (2019)

McGillis volunteers handing out apples and honey to families last year. (2019)


By Liz Paige, Director of Ethics & Community Initiatives


Last spring, my household, like so many others, had to figure out how to observe Passover in a new way. Knowing that we were not alone in this plight gave us strength and the courage to remake the holiday. It wasn’t like past Passovers, but we made it happen and we celebrated freedom despite our new confinement at home. 


Upon reflection, I realized though it was different, the true intention of the holiday was fulfilled: the youngest generations learned at this Passover that they are part of a community that has for thousands of years overcome incredible challenges to keep our traditions alive and to be together. We kept the traditions-- food, stories, prayers, and songs-- and thanks to technology and everyone’s patience and fortitude, we found ways to be together.


At the end of the Passover meal, it is traditional to say, “Next year in Jerusalem!”. This is a hopeful statement that we will all be in a place of peace together, as Jerusalem was for thousands of years an out-of-reach but hoped for a place for Jews around the world. At the end of our seder, we all said, “Next year, without COVID.” This was our hopeful plea. 


Now the Jewish New Year is upon us and we are still physically distancing and unable to be with family, friends, or our entire Kehilah. Again, we have to find the courage to both hold onto tradition while innovating due to our circumstances. 


The core intentions and lessons of the holiday are what led me to create a new Rosh Hashanah experience for the McGillis community. Students still heard the shofar blast, they ate something sweet, and also enjoyed round challah on Shabbat which symbolizes the year’s cycle. Students participated in lessons about goal setting, being their best selves, and being “bucket fillers'' who do good and kind deeds. While we were not able to sing “I love to hear the Shofar blast” together in the MAC, I know that the melody ran through everyone’s minds as we gathered as a community and listened to a family sing it on Zoom. 


I say all of this not with a tone of loss but with one of great hope and celebration. We are not the first generation to struggle with circumstances beyond our control and our McGillis traditions give us the strength to find new ways. We are persevering and innovating while maintaining who we are at our core -- a community that lives its values. Each child is still cared for and valued. Each lesson is still artfully crafted by teachers. Each day we spend learning remains a day to celebrate.


May this new year be one in which we can lean on our traditions and values to find our inner strength, courage, concern for others, and reasons to still celebrate. 


L’Shanah Tova! To A Sweet New Year!