By Sarah Lessing
Every year as Thanksgiving approaches, we turn our thoughts to the multitude of things we are grateful for while sharing great times and food with loved ones. This past year posed a few unique challenges to the celebration. Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy (SCHA), eager to continue the tradition and excite students about gratitude, found multiple ways to teach them the importance of being thankful in their everyday lives.
A Jewish Perspective on Thanksgiving
Gratitude is a core value in Judaism, which is a central tenet in life throughout the year. The word “Jew” (“Yehudi” in Hebrew) comes directly from the Hebrew word “Yehuda,” which means “to show gratitude” and to “offer thanks.” Living in a state of constant gratitude to the Almighty for everything on a daily basis is inherently at the center of Judaism. As such, gratitude is naturally a pillar of the Jewish education SCHA provides its students from preschool to high school. SCHA Preschool Director Raizy Kaplan explains that, “every day we wake up in the morning and we say the prayer ‘Modeh Ani,’ which is thanking HaShem (the Creator) for giving us new life for another day. We carry gratitude throughout the entire year.”
Thanksgiving is a great way to emphasize this attitude towards life and to celebrate with families, staff and community helpers.
The Gratitude Project: Sharing Gratitude with Others
Thanksgiving is a joyful reason to explore thankfulness and consider ways to express it. COVID-19 created a multitude of obstacles in 2020 but SCHA took the initiative to turn difficulties into opportunities. “In conjunction with learning about the first Thanksgiving, the preschool took the opportunity to participate in the Gratitude project, which Chabad preschools all over the world took on especially for this year,” Kaplan explains.
This project offers students the chance to explore everything there is to be grateful for during the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. To encourage children to notice the many things they could be thankful for, the school initiated multiple activities, such as engaging songs, special books, and creative activities like gratitude bracelets they would bring home and share with their families. With projects that were adapted to each class’ level, they also had the chance to explore the world of nature with its many elements to be thankful for—such as the sun to enjoy on their cheeks and the fresh air to breathe through their noses. Some of the classes worked on a gratitude journal; the teachers would document different things that the children would notice or were grateful for, says Kaplan.
The project was launched to allow children to develop a greater appreciation for many parts of life they are grateful for on a daily basis; there is a strong focus on people and the value that sharing their gratitude with others can have. This past year has taught us—perhaps more than ever—that the people in our lives are what is most important. With this in mind, the little artists created hand-made thank you cards that they distributed to the school staff and sent to Emergency Medical Service professionals. They were very appreciative of that, Kaplan proudly shares.
Zoom Family Bake Keeps Sense of Warmth and Community
For years on Thanksgiving, SCHA has been organizing a community event where students and their families participate together.
“Every single year, it is a beautiful morning where the kids prepare different performances they do for parents, and make decorations and several dishes that we serve at the Thanksgiving Feast,” mentions Kaplan. This year, COVID didn’t stop her team; they worked to maintain a sense of warmth and community. Strictly following protocols for health and safety, they created a Thanksgiving Family Bake that would allow the whole family to participate in the celebration. Each family received pre-packaged and measured ingredients for a delicious blueberry cake and over 40 families interacted on Zoom to bake together. They then had a heart-warming surprise of viewing a video of their children performing songs and pictures of what they had been learning in school.
Leah Sandman, who has been sending her children to SCHA for over 16 years, joined the joyous online event and reports. “I was wondering how the preschool would celebrate Thanksgiving this year instead of the usual festive feast. All I can say is that Raizy and the teachers put together the most interactive fun activity for both my daughter Sara to enjoy with her siblings as well as her classmates and teachers! My daughter was so proud of her cake, she felt very independent pouring in each individually labeled and measured ingredient,” says Sandman. The parents were grateful for the experience and the opportunity to share a special activity together, just like any other year.
SCHA does not know yet how the celebration of Thanksgiving will be organized next year, but it will definitely continue to be an uplifting experience for all families involved. Let’s all jump on the bandwagon of gratitude and joy, and maintain this beautiful outlook all year.
Learn more about Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy at schacademy.org.