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Find Your Jewish Syllabus

Tuesday, 3 September, 2013 - 8:29 am

Welcome to Texas! It’s an exciting time to be here with school starting, 102-degree Fridays and football season starting tomorrow. But it’s not just an exciting time to be a UT student—it’s also an exciting time to be a Jew here, as the holidays fall on the English calendar earlier than I can ever remember this year. In fact, Rosh Hashana is this coming Wednesday night!

It’s very fitting to have the new beginnings together. As I organize my class syllabi and order textbooks, Rosh Hashana reminds me to take a step back, organize a “spiritual syllabus” so to say, and look into the appropriate “textbooks” for my Judaism as well.

What does that really mean? It sounds fun and my notion of a Jewish syllabus differs greatly from those I receive in class. One teacher this week told my class how he detests syllabi and thinks they fail to prepare students for life beyond school. Though I happen to enjoy knowing what comes ahead, my teacher argued that jobs, and life more broadly, aren’t about following instructions—they’re about creativity, ingenuity and figuring out how to perform to our best abilities and take risks. He argued that Steve Jobs didn’t follow instructions to start Apple and that at gametime tomorrow, David Ash won’t be able to follow exact rules from practices months earlier (I think the latter is debatable, but the sense of leadership and spontaneity are a fair point).

I’d like to challenge y’all to do the same, as we look to a new school year and a new Jewish year. In the second of this week’s double Torah portion of Nitzavim- Vayeilech, the Torah states: 

כו. לָקֹחַ אֵת סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה וְשַׂמְתֶּם אֹתוֹ מִצַּד אֲרוֹן בְּרִית יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וְהָיָה שָׁם בְּךָ לְעֵד:

“Take this book of Torah and place it at the side of the Ark of the Covenant of Hashem, your G-d, and it shall be there for you as a witness.” (Deuteronomy 31:26)

This isn’t merely an instruction applicable to the Jews who wandered the desert. This is Moshe’s chance to make a farewell speech to his people before they enter a new land, a new life, as we have before us with this school year and the Jewish year of 5774. We must keep the Torah, and our Judaism, as a witness for us wherever we go and whatever we do. So my challenge is to find some aspect of Judaism this year to integrate in your life.

Be it Jewish Greek life, coming to Shabbat dinner, the culture/celebrations, Jewish learning, or even just embodying the morals and values of the Jewish heritage—choose something, stick with it and make it a part of you from the beginning, before life gets too hectic to give it a second thought.

Have a wonderful school year, a wonderful new year, and best of luck to everyone!

Jori is pictured on the left. 

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