One of the many things I’m thankful for is that my children love school. There’s never a battle in the morning to get them out the door (or if there is, it’s because I HATE THESE SHOES.) We are reminded on a daily basis why we pay a substantial percentage of our income to send our kids to this school instead of the very good public school two doors away from our house. But on the last day of school before Thanksgiving we got second helpings.
Every class in our children’s school spend most of the day preparing or collecting foods for the various local providers of free Thanksgiving meals. Zoe’s class made gorgeous sugar cookies decorated to look like ears of corn. The children didn’t get to eat a single one – and my treat-obsessed daughter didn’t utter a peep in protest. Ella’s class prepared apple crisps, and the eleven children in my Gan class trimmed six pounds of green beans.
At our Thanksgiving assembly at the end of the day, each class told the rest of the school about their mitzvah project. The younger children described with pride the beautiful, delicious foods they prepared, and the older children talked about going to the local supermarket with a list of foods most needed by our food pantry and asking shoppers to make a contribution and their Skype session with Rabbi Steven Wernick, who spent last week participating in the Food Stamp Challenge. The assembly closed with the song “Im Ein Ani Li, Mi Li?” – If I am not for myself who will be for me, but if I am only for myself, what am I? – reminding all of us that helping others is not just a nice thing to do – it’s a true mitzvah. In other words, an obligation. Or in kindergarten terms, a have-to.
Most importantly, gratitude and service isn’t a once a year day in my daughters’ school – it’s part of their daily practice. Whether it’s saying Modeh Ani every morning (and, at least in the Gan sharing with classmates what they are thankful for before reciting the prayer), or saying blessings before taking a bite of food, or collecting tzedakah on Fridays, or leading a seder at the local elder care facility, these themes are woven into the curriculum, and framed with a Jewish perspective.