For the week ending 12 July 2008 / 9 Tammuz 5768

Some are Here and Summer There

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
Reflections on Summer Vacations
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"Those hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer…"

Thus goes the chorus of a once-popular song that reflects the summer culture of the United States that has infected most of the world.

How did it all begin?

There is no doubt that the single most important factor is the fact that schools, from elementary to university level, close their doors for three months. Add to this the oppressive heat in urban centers and you have a cause for escaping to the mountains and the beaches.

Do these considerations truly justify such a radical change of locale and routine?

Historians make the case that the long summer vacation from school was instituted in the USA when it was an agricultural society and pupils were essential to help out on the farms during the summer months. Critics of the American educational system argue that the long summer break was maintained even when this reason no longer applied because the schools did not have enough of a meaningful curriculum to fill up a full year of classes.

The one bright, lively and sane spot in this leisure society's "hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer" is the bein hazmanim of the yeshiva world. Three weeks rather than three months are deemed sufficient for "recharging the batteries" of students in advanced yeshivot and kollelim. Even on the lower levels in the USA whose schedules are influenced by the high school summer break and urban humidity, there are summer learning camps that allow for regular studies to continue in more comfortable surroundings.

"Bein hazmanim" – the term used to describe the brief break mentioned above– literally translates as intersession, but has a much deeper meaning. Zman is the Hebrew word for “time”, and it has developed into a name for a “session” or “semester”. The two meanings are intertwined. If time is looked upon as a Heavenly gift of life to be utilized in pursuit of eternal values, then the interlude between one session and another is not regarded as an opportunity to "get away from it all" but as a filling station to acquire the energy for the next session.

When our ancestors hurriedly left Mount Sinai after receiving the Torah they were criticized for the spirit in which they departed – "like a child running away from school". It is the challenge to our society, and especially its educational system, to ensure that we do not repeat this error. Educators and leaders must strive to bring about a change of attitude towards the summer that will make the entire year more meaningful.

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