As of this morning, every 5th grader at The Davis Academy has now officially chanted Torah publicly and in the midst of their Kehillah. The lead up to this milestone moment, the moment itself, and what it means for their future and for the future of the Jewish people all deserve special consideration.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: there is no greater honor than standing beside a child as he/she chants from the Torah for the first time. It is truly awesome. What makes it awesome isn't just the technical ability-- the Hebrew skills, the understanding of Torah trope, or things like that, but the undeniable appreciation of what the moment means for the child.
Learning to chant Torah (and then actually chanting it publicly) involves a lot of skill acquisition. It's tough. But there's a deeper type of learning that is required. Children have to understand what Torah is, what it means to the Jewish people, and what it means to them at this point in their lives. They then have to figure out how to externalize this abstract and ultimately spiritual awareness. They have to cultivate the middah (the character trait) of Kavod ("honor") so that they don't approach the Torah as a task to be mastered, but as a relationship to be cherished and cultivated. Tough stuff for a 5th grader to say the least.
Like so many life moments, the moment when the child actually demonstrates their learning is a fleeting one. At most it takes 60-90 seconds for them to chant their passage. All the learning that has led up to it is what will hopefully sustain them and provoke them to continue to cultivate their Jewish identity.
What I'm most proud of here at The Davis Academy is that when our children approach the Torah for the first time they do so with a sense of pride, confidence and understanding. They do so already having begun to cultivate their relationship to their Jewish faith and heritage. This authenticity is essential to the future thriving of the Jewish people. Davis Academy students will, without a doubt, chant Torah many times over in their lives and may likely find themselves in communities where they are one of the few Jews who has the knowledge and the relationship to Torah to do so authentically. They will NEVER approach the Torah as something foreign or from a place of ignorance and, more than likely, they will expect the same for their own children and grandchildren.
The 5th grade Torah service demonstrates undeniably how The Davis Academy is not only impacting individual lives, but the course of the Jewish people's future.