Fresh Start: Back To School & The Jewish New Year

I’m pretty sure that there’s a place in hell where the really bad people are trapped in a shoe store with hordes of short people who whine “Mommy” at them – forever.  There is a certain dread that fills my being at the end of every summer as we begin our back to school shopping. The shoe store is my least favorite stop on the long road we take each August in order to return the kids to school.

Two of my children have one foot that is slightly longer than the other. You would never know except for the inordinate number of reject boxes that cover the floor by the time we’re done. That coupled with my older son throwing a tantrum over us not buying him Spiderman shoes (despite my extremely cogent argument that the REAL Spiderman would never wear a shoe with his face on it, so why should he?), plus my younger son randomly pulling boxes off the shelves, and running through the aisles giggling as we clean up after him and try to chase him down, leaves me in the looney (shoe) bin by the end of the outing.

The school supply trip isn’t much better. Pushing our way through crowded Walmart aisles filled with other procrastinators. Fighting for the spot closest to the binders. The looseleaf. The folders.

“Ma, I need colored pencils.” Crayons, thick markers, thin markers, short markers, dry erase markers, regular pencils.

“Oh look, colored pencils!”

“Actually, Mommy, this is a twelve pack, the list says we need a twenty-four pack.”

(No!) Twelve pack, another twelve pack, a seventy-two pack (who needs seventy-two different colors of pencils?!), twenty-four pack!

“Mommy, can I get this new backpack?”


“Why not?

“Because I said so.”

Post-it Notes, glue sticks, index cards, Poly-pocket folders (why did they name a folder after a doll?!), and a packet of exactly FOUR highlighters containing blue, green, pink, and yellow. Not a three pack. Not a five pack. Only a four pack.

Although I detest back to school shopping, there is something wonderful about it that I still remember from my childhood: Everything was new. Everything was fresh. What a wonderful feeling it was to have folders with edges that hadn’t been bent back yet, erasers that were still bright pink, having not been sullied by erasing, and notebooks that were crisp with the promise of a new beginning.

In theory, parents could just have their kids rip out the used pages of old notebooks, erase the writing on marked up papers, and tell them to make do. But as long as they as they can afford it, you see most parents getting their kids new supplies each year. And I think part of the psychology (whether or not people think about it) of having unblemished supplies is that there is a hope that comes along with starting off anew.

I was always a good student, but I didn’t always keep my school supplies in the neatest order, and every year, there was a certain point in the semester that I’d get disgusted with my stained, ripped notebooks and binders and long for that fresh start. And through the chaos of back to school shopping, I got to thinking about how this time of year, we don’t just give our kids new school supplies. We are given by our Parent in heaven a chance for a new self through the power of teshuva (repenting/returning) that comes with Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.

When we truly do teshuva, last year’mistakes aren’t simply “ripped out of the old notebook,” or “erased off the used paper” leaving us with a lingering memory of the past. No – our start is completely fresh. Our “eraser becomes one that never erased.” Our “supplies” are all brand spanking new. And just as our children should feel grateful that we don’t make them reuse the old stuff, so too we should appreciate the kindness that the Almighty does for us allowing us to be reinvented each and every year.

The image of leaving last year’s mess behind, last year’s disappointments in last year is a pretty powerful one. Our new start should also fill us with hope. We’re wise enough to know that our “supplies” will get “spilled on” and “stepped on” and “marked up” by the year’s end. But maybe, just maybe we’ll get through this new year with just a few less “scribbles” and “tears” than the year before.

Wishing you all a great start to your school year and sweet, happy, and healthy New Year!

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