What Story Will You Tell?

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The Hebrew month of Elul is a time for reflection and new beginnings as we prepare for the upcoming holidays. Unlike Passover or Chanukah, the High Holidays don't have a single story with a hero or heroine, and yet there are many stories that are essential to understanding these holidays. As educators, we have the opportunity to bring these narratives to our learning communities during this back-to-school season. Here are the three central stories that Sefaria's Education Team is thinking about this Elul, complete with texts and classroom resources.

Voice Lessons: The Story of the Shofar
The shofar is the simplest of instruments: its power lies in its ability to transform our breath into a cry. Over the course of the month of Elul, the sound takes on different resonances and nuances. On its most fundamental level, the shofar is a reminder of Isaac's willingness to be sacrificed in the course of Abraham's test of faith. But as Maimonides describes, the sound that emerges from the ram's horn is transformed into a wake-up call, encouraging repentance. And in the course of the holiday prayers, it becomes a stand-in for the voice of the community, calling out in prayer.

Are you teaching about shofar? Check out Tzvi Sinensky's lesson plan on The Curious Case of the Shapeshifting Shofar. Organizing a holiday meal? Check out our Shofar and Memory conversation starter.

Happy Birth Day: The Story of Creation
According to the Rosh Hashanah machzor, the world has a birthday! If your community has ever studied the story of the creation of the world, Rosh Hashanah provides an opportunity to celebrate that beginning. Any birthday is an opportunity to think about what we've accomplished, and to make a wish - or a plan - for the year ahead.

Are you teaching about new beginnings? This lesson plan helps students think about the way the story of creation informs our Rosh Hashanah celebration, and we hope that this conversation starter about birthdays will spark new ideas as you discuss.

Hard to Say I'm Sorry: The Story of Forgiveness
Everyone makes mistakes; the real differences lie in how we make amends. When and how we apologize, and what we do to repair the damage caused by our actions, can determine the future of our relationships with others and change how we think about ourselves. The Ten Days of Repentance provide us with an opportunity to think about who we might have hurt; to apologize, and to reflect on our own behavior. The Yom Kippur liturgy freely acknowledges that we come together on this holiday as a community of people who have done things we regret. We practice admitting all that we have done wrong, and we ultimately celebrate the fact that there are so many opportunities for forgiveness in our world.

Are you teaching about forgiveness? This sheet will help your students or community talk through the issue; for a more formal lesson plan, click here.

The Host with the Most: The Story of the Sukkah
On Sukkot, it is traditional to welcome guests, both past and present, in to our temporary homes. The narrative begins with the instruction in Leviticus to live in "Sukkot" for seven days, because God provided the Israelites with booths to live in when they left Egypt. The Talmud continues the story by instructing us to model our time in the Sukkah on our actual homes--eat, sleep and study Torah in the Sukkah of course! It becomes the location to which real and symbolic guests (ushpizin) are invited even as the hosts of a Sukkot meal are themselves just temporary residents who have stepped outside of their homes in order to be in the sukkah.

Are you teaching about Sukkot? You can find a lesson plan about hosting here, and a conversation starter for all your Sukkot guests is here.

Teaching about another aspect of the holidays? Remember that you can use Sefaria's search feature to find hundreds of relevant sheets and informative texts.
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If you use any of these resources with your community, in your classroom, or at your holiday dinner table, we hope you'll tell us about it! We're looking forward to hearing about the stories you tell this Elul season.

Happy Learning,

Sara Wolkenfeld
Sara Wolkenfeld
Director of Education

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