Counting our blessings

It is always good to reflect, and Shabbat offers us the perfect opportunity to take some time to do just that. Last week, we celebrated Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of a new Hebrew month; held our inaugural Parsha Parade in the Primary School; welcomed close to 170 Year 6 students into the High School for their Year 7 Orientation Day; supported White Ribbon Australia in creating awareness about violence against women; and wished mazal tov to our Year K students as they celebrated their Mitzvah presentations, during which the boys received their first Tallit and the girls, their first candlestick. To see the excitement in their eyes as they recited their lines and received their special gifts, and to feel the pride radiate from their parents and grandparents, is always very gratifying. As I reflect, I do so with a sense of gratitude. It is with that same sense of gratitude that I approach the various activities and events that will punctuate the final weeks of the 2020 academic year, which will include a very exciting and inspirational three-day Year 10 program, an assembly to commemorate the plight of Jews from Arab Lands and our various end-of-year and Chanukah celebrations.

We are fortunate to partner with a number of educational organisations around the world who invite us, our students and families to join them in implementing innovative and exciting initiatives. One such program is ‘The Days of Gratitude 2.0’ program. Developed by M² in partnership with dozens of organisations, Days of Gratitude is an initiative that seeks to ground us in the moments that matter, help us count our blessings, and bless what really counts. By marking these moments, we hope to become more attuned to the good around us and see ourselves as part of a more just, compassionate, and resilient world.

In April, Moriah College joined more than 300 organisations and 3,000 subscribers globally for the original Days of Gratitude program. In the week leading up to the Festival of Shavuot, we tapped into the power of gratitude to lift up our blessings and build our resilience in the face of a global pandemic that has suspended so many lives.

Of course, the pandemic and many other challenges continue to face us each day. It is this that has inspired the launch of ‘Days of Gratitude 5781’ — now a six-month gratitude journey starting in December 2020. 

Every month between December 2020 and April 2021, participants will receive a set of activities, prompts, and inspiration to guide them through a three-day gratitude journey, helping them notice and celebrate the blessings in their lives.  In May 2021, Days of Gratitude will culminate with a seven-day worldwide celebration of gratitude, leading up to the festival of Shavuot. We will be incorporating some of these ideas and activities into our Tefillah, Jewish Studies and Wellbeing programs in 2021.

Days of Gratitude can be experienced in many ways: individuals can experience it as a self-reflective journey; families and friends can partake in it as a unit, whether on the actual dates of the initiative or at the Shabbat table; and congregations and communities can explore it together. Created and developed by a team of creative educators at M²: The Institute for Experiential Jewish Education, Days of Gratitude can serve as a powerful and immersive curricular framework that can engage learners of all ages. The theme for Days of Gratitude is “A Journey to Notice the Unnoticed,” encouraging learners to elevate the mundane to the extraordinary: the sun’s first rays spilling through your window, a clear night of glittering constellations, freedoms we take for granted, the people very close to us, as well as those we never see, or the opportunity to sharpen our mind and perspective.

Further, Days of Gratitude is inspired by the Jewish tradition of Brachot (blessings), primarily those Brachot we recite as the first part of our Shacharit (morning) service – the daily morning blessings.

The themes for each month can easily be adapted to suit adults and students of different ages. The first series, available during Chanukah, will focus on noticing the unnoticed, exploring those things we often fail to see and appreciating the gift of being able to distinguish right from wrong.

The next set of activities will be available around Tu Bishvat and will focus on the world inside and around us, exploring our internal and external environments. The third set, to be sent out on Purim, will focus on expressing gratitude for what we have. The fourth, available on Pesach, will focus on accessing freedom and supporting those still tied up. The second last set released on Yom Ha’Atzmaut will focus on celebrating our people’s strength, and the final set of activities will be released on Shavuot and will conclude the program by focusing on counting our blessings. For those interested in registering (which is free of charge), click here.

Speaking of counting Blessings, as part of our Year 10 ‘Me as a Jew, Me as an Australian and How I can Make a Difference’ program, we are very excited and honoured to be able to host Holocaust survivor, esteemed Psychologist and best-selling author of The Choice and The Gift, Dr Edith Eger. Dr Eger will be live in conversation with our Year 10 students.

A native of Hungary, Edith Eger was just 16 years old in 1944 when she experienced one of the worst evils the human race has ever known. As a Jew living in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, she and her family were sent to Auschwitz, the heinous death camp. She and her sister survived even though they were subjected to horrible treatment by Dr. Josef Mengele. In 1949, she and her young family moved to the United States. In 1969 she received her degree in Psychology from the University of Texas, El Paso.

Dr. Eger has always found ways to use her personal experiences to inspire, educate and help others. She has a clinical practice in La Jolla, California where she uses her past as a powerful analogy to inspire people to reach their potential and shape their destinies. In Autumn, 2017 at the age of 90, her memoir The Choice, Embrace the Possible was published. In her book, she details how the synergy of working with and learning from her patients’ perspectives has enriched her life experiences and outlook. The book focuses on moving forward in light of hardship, has received excellent reviews and was a New York Times Best Seller.

Her second book, The Gift, Twelve Lessons to Save your Life was released in September 2020 and immediately became a best seller. In this book she gives actionable advice to assist every person facing life’s difficulties to deal with them in a positive and healthy manner.

In addition, students will also hear from the ‘The Happiest Man on Earth’, Eddie Jaku. Eddie, a Holocaust survivor, will share how he found gratitude, kindness and hope in the darkest of places. Because he survived, Eddie made a vow to smile every day and will discuss how happiness can be found even when surrounded by tragedy.

The Year 10 program will also include an Israeli-themed Amazing Race, a bushwalk to learn about Aboriginal culture and a panel discussion featuring inspiring speakers who have all contributed in significant ways to the broader community and will challenge our students to do the same as they enter their senior years at the College.

As a school community, we can certainly feel a sense of gratitude knowing our students are exposed to such inspiring, educational, exciting and enjoyable programs.

ronnengraumanAbout the author

Ronnen Grauman is the Acting Head of Jewish Life and Learning at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.

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