Young students go apple picking for Rosh Hashana
As Jewish residents around the suburbs prepare for one of the holiest days on their calendars -- Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year -- a few young students got to experience an age-old tradition first hand.
Students from The Torah Academy of Buffalo Grove visited Heinz Orchard in Green Oaks to pick apples and learn how honey is made. Dipping apples in honey is a traditional way to ring in the Jewish New Year, which this year falls on Sept. 28 and 29.
"It's symbolic for having a good, sweet new year," said Rabbi Shimon Zehnwirth, co-head of the school. "We pray for a healthy year full of mitzvah (good deeds) and we eat goods that symbolize that."
In the days leading up to the trip students learned about how apples grow and how bees make honey, before they got to see it in real-time on the field trip.
"Touching the beehive made it very real to them," Zehnwirth said. "That kind of learning is the most long-lasting."
Apples and honey is just one of the symbolic ways Jews will celebrate the new year.
Rabbi Eliezer Grunberg, co-head of the school, ended the trip by blowing the shofar, the ram's horn used in Jewish services.
"On Rosh Hashana we blow the Shofar because it is a day of judgment," Grunberg said. "It's kind of like a wake-up call for introspection and to improve our relationship with God."
Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are the two holiest days on the Jewish calendar.
"A lot rests on Rosh Hashana," Zehnwirth said. "It sets the tone for the rest of the year. It literally means the head of the year, and the body follows the head."
Since Torah Academy is still small, with only 25 students, some of the parents got to come along on the trip as well.
"My favorite part was picking the apples -- they are tasty," said Mia Grossman, 8.
"I'm going to eat them with honey on Rosh Hashana."
Teaching the students about culture is one of the ways Torah Academy tries to create a seamless connection between secular education and Judaic studies.
"The symbolic foods we eat are not just gestures," Zehnwirth said. "It's a tangible, concrete tool to help us focus and show that the holiday is sincerely on our minds."
The school, which opened in 2009, teaches preschool through third grade and will add grades each year until they get to eighth grade. Students come from all different Jewish backgrounds from reform to orthodox, Grunberg said.
"Besides the academics we want to educate them on how to be moral people," said Zehnwirth, who said he thinks a faith-based school is the best way to to do that. "The values and morality, it's part of what being a Jew is all about."