I love back to school shopping - I love the smell of new pencils, the first crackle of new notebook bindings, the pens, the book covers, the three-ring binders, the closely-lined looseleaf paper and the excitement of preparing it all for a new year of school. I love back to school shopping anywhere, anytime except the two first days of public school, when I will drive out of my way to avoid Staples, Costco and the mall.
Sometimes I remember how much it cost us to furnish three boys with all they needed, all at one time. More often, I forget. But this year, I will try to keep reminding myself of that overflowing shopping cart. Why? Because I know there are children out there who will not be entering the new school year with fresh supplies in a nice new backpack, ready for all the challenges and opportunities students face each school day - unless we provide them with those supplies. Will these children learn less well or receive a sub-standard education if they start the year with hand-me-downs or last year's No. 2 pencil stubs? Hardly. But as we experience each Rosh Hashanah with a clean slate and renewed energy, we want our students in the Center for a Jewish Life to begin their spiritual and academic New Year with an understanding that they are part of a greater community which, in all its imperfections, provides us with the opportunity to help in repairing it.
This year, Temple Rodeph Torah's Social Action Committee and the Center for a Jewish Future are partnering to collect backpacks and school supplies for needy recipients in our area. Why? Because it takes more than a village to raise children; it takes a community of caring.
To achieve this, we ask you to consider taking your children with you when you make that back-to-school shopping trip. Urge them to choose items other kids might want. Encourage them to feel the excitement the supplies will generate in children whose families have to choose between food and other "discretionary" items. Help your children and grandchildren discover their own power to make the world a better place, even if they are young and their contributions are small. Every little bit helps and every kid makes a difference.
This might not sound like holy work - after all, going shopping seems fairly ordinary. But when it's done well and with the appropriate focus, this year's shopping for ordinary things will become an extraordinary spiritual exercise. Our rabbis taught: "The ultimate purpose of the laws of tzedakah is to nurture in people the quality of mercy and kindness and not just eliminate poverty. God could have accomplished that by providing for the needs of the poor without human intervention." (Sefer Hahinnuch 66, Parashat Mishpatim.) It is up to us to imbue our children with the qualities of mercy and kindness so that they, as the next generation can teach the generations that follow.
Please review the list on the next page and bring the supplies to our atrium any time through the second week in August. We hope to fill that designated box so many times that we will have to enlist help to bring it to those who need it most.
What a way to prepare for Rosh Hashanah!
Wishing you a sweet and happy New Year!
Rabbi Shira Stern
Backpacks of Love