The High Holidays are set aside for soul searching and repentance. But can remorse actually atone for one’s missteps? Should one be punished for his actions even after he has repented? In this resource, learners will read “A Retrieved Reformation” by O. Henry,  which tells the tale of Jimmy Valentine, a bank robber who decides to change his life and reform himself. After reading the story students will discuss their feelings as to the outcome and articulate their opinions about the role of remorse, repentance, and potential punishment as it applies to one’s interactions with others as well as with God.

The learner will:

  1. Understand that the relationship between repentance and punishment is complex.

  2. know the storyline of the O. Henry story and its connection to the High Holidays

  3. be able to write about how this story and the class discussion impacted the way they think about and approach the High Holidays

When you click on the Jewish Education by Design resource link featured above, you will find the following educational building blocks for the creation of a lesson plan:

  1. Essential questions that get to the “heart” of the learning

  2. A hook/s to open the lesson in an engaging fashion and spark the learners’ curiosity

  3. In depth discussion questions that are designed to elicit conceptual thinking and personal reflections about the featured source/s

  4. Suggested activities that enable the students to both process and apply what was learned in a thought provoking and creative fashion

  5. A further study option/s to related materials on the JEBD site or to external links


Supplement to the lesson plan:

The lesson from the JEBD uses an O. Henry story to get students thinking about one’s potential for self-reformation. The Sefaria source sheet above (see Attachments) invites students to study a Talmudic text that discusses the power of repentance. It is best placed after reading and discussing the short story, as it  will add a Jewish perspective on this universal predicament.

After reading, ask the students to discuss the following questions with a partner:

  • In what ways is the passage about Reish Lakish similar to the O. Henry story?

  • In what ways does it differ?

  • What does Rabbi Soloveitchik add to your understanding of the power of repentance?

  • Do you agree or disagree with this perspective? Why?

Student handout

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