Summer Series: Cycles of Life, Part 1: Cycles of Life

Now that Memorial Day has passed, summer is here! This season offers the promise of new adventures and a chance to reset and recharge from the rigors of the school year.

It’s also a time of transition. In late spring, we celebrate as kids finish a year of school and transition to a new grade. (Growing up, my favorite day of the year was when, on the last day of say, first grade, I could declare: “I’m a second grader now!”) As I walk through the West Village in mid-May, I love seeing the purple gowns of graduating NYU students, who celebrate as they complete courses of study, earn degrees, and graduate from their programs. This is a popular season for B’nai Mitzvah ceremonies. And later in the summer, wedding season will begin. 

Any transition—from first-grader to second-grader, from student to alumnus, from child to teenager, from beloved friend to spouse—brings change and the need for realignment. No matter how joyful a given change might be, it always involves adjustment to new and unexplored realities. And of course, when we experience hardship, the changes that come with illness and loss of all kinds can be all the more challenging to face.

As the Hebrew expression goes: Kol hatchalot kashot. All beginnings are hard. Human beings innately understand that it takes time to incorporate and integrate a new aspect of our lives. That’s why all faith traditions have tools to help us navigate new realities. These tools are called rituals. Rituals, like tossing a cap in the air during graduation or standing under the wedding canopy and breaking a glass, transform us from one identity to another. But they also provide a framework to make sense of these new identities, as well as the new experiences that come with them. 

In honor of summer, this season of transition and growth, this D’var Torah series will explore moments along the Jewish life cycle and their accompanying rituals. We’ll discuss some of the more familiar ones, like a B’nai Mitzvah or a wedding, and some that might be less well known, like a siyyum, the conclusion of a period of study. But all will share key elements that help us navigate new beginnings. 

Let’s get started!