Now that the early Fall Holidays are behind us and before Hannukah takes over, discussion in the classroom has turned to many of the core Jewish practices and values. The younger kids in the Kesef (silver) and Zahav (gold) classes have been examining Shabbat both by practicing it, at snack on Sunday morning, reading about it, and talking about what they did and read. They have also been talking about mitzvahs, tzedakah, community, tolerance and personal responsibility.
The kids in the pre-mitzvah (4-5) class have been practicing personal responsibility in the form of an 11-point code of conduct that they conceived themselves and signed. This code emphasizes the Humanistic values of taking responsibility for our own actions and the welfare of those around us, regardless of the existence of a higher power, teacher or otherwise.
Finally, the Mitzvah class has continued to explore the origins of religion through the the five branches of Judaism. The kids grappled with the question of being Jewish without a believing in God. The discussion emphasized history, language, literature and values, shared by all Jews, like tzedakah and tikkun olam.
Read more in the teachers’ own words below.
Kesef (Taffy - K/1)
We talked about Shabbat. We learned the Shabbat Shalom song. We read a story entitled Mrs. Moskowitz and the Sabbath Candlesticks. The kids also had a Hebrew lesson with Laura.
We discussed doing good deeds. The kids and I talked about acts of kindness and what children their age could do for other people. We practiced sharing kindnesses with each other. We read Mrs. Katz and Tush, a story about neighbors helping each other and becoming like family as the years passed.
We started to practice the Chanukah song that the children will do at the party. They will sing and do a little dance for all the families who attend the party.
Zahav (Rachel - 2/3)
Thanks to Adam and his music lesson and his new song Kehilah Kedoshah [sacred community] for introducing the vocabulary we defined at the beginning of class. Congregation and community were two of the words we discussed at the opening of class. Students listened to a book from the CHJ library titled, "What is God?" The basic premise being that different communities of people pray in different ways, belong to different congregations, and believe in God differently from one another.
As many of the stories we read during the 2/3 year are from the Bible, I will be revisiting the idea that people all over come from many different religious traditions, (as well as none at all) thus the stories we read should be viewed in a larger context. I believe this understanding also helps to teach the values of the 2/3 curriculum; focus on tolerance and cooperation.
Following up on the creation stories we had read last week, students recalled that God rested on the 7th day, thus we have our day of rest, Shabbat. We discussed the tradition of Shabbat and compared and contrasted what we had all done on Saturday with what might have been had we observed Shabbat as the Orthodox. We then laid out the traditional items for the Sabbath table (candles, kiddush cup, covered challah) and described how each was used on a typical Shabbat evening. The challah was enjoyed during snack time.
We began [our next] class by reading a poster on the wall of our classroom. It read "You are responsible for your own actions." Students were asked to define responsibility and explain what personal responsibility means, taking ownership over both the good we do in the world as well as owning up to our own mistakes. I tied this into a brief reminder about how this extends into the Sunday School and how I expect appropriate school behavior from them.
Following up on the congregation's "Mitzvah Day" and the upcoming Shalom Session activity of making tzedakah boxes; the vocabulary and theme for the class was tzedakah and mitzvah/mitzvot.
We read two stories "Suriya's Bowl", a Buddhist story about a young girl feeding the hungry and "One City, Two Brothers" about King Solomon relating a tale of two brothers sharing their harvest. Students compared and contrasted the stories with each other and with the mitzvah day activity of making sandwiches.
We discussed different good deeds that we can do: honoring our family, making peace at home, taking care of the earth and sharing and giving through tzedakah. Students brainstormed a list of other ways to give tzedakah without giving food or money. Suggestions ranged from donating clothes and toys to helping build homes for the homeless.
Class ended with a "chutes and ladders" style game about the good deeds we can do for the environment.
Pre-Mitzvah (Karen - 4/5)
We welcomed two new students to our class on Sunday, Zac and Indiana Goodman, in grades 5 and 4 respectively.
To catch them up and because review is always good thing, we went over what we had covered in the first two classes on the fall holidays, the Torah, the Jewish creation story and creation stories in general and the early history of the Jewish people. We did this in Q and A format, with the kids who had been in the first two classes providing the answers. I was pleased to find that by now they have retained so much of this material.
We then moved on to a discussion of the branches of Judaism, what Humanistic Judaism is and a little about God (belief is a personal decision for Humanistic Jews).
To inject some fun into the class --and because some kids learn better through movement -- I had planned a brief game of Jewish Twister in which the kids were paired up and took turns answering questions on the above material and contorting on the mat. In Hebrew, we reviewed the letter "shin."
[In our next meeting after Mitzvah Day,] our class discussed why our families chose CHJ and how we can apply humanistic principles in our Sunday School class. The class came up with an 11-point Code of Conduct. Everyone signed it and we will try to live by it in the coming year. We finished the class with a review of the branches of Judaism.
Mitzvah (Donna & George -6/7)
Donna reviewed the evolution of religion from idol and nature worship up to current organized religion. We discussed the evolution of Judaism, and compared and contrasted its diverse branches, practices, and traditions. We talked about Humanistic Judaism, how and when it was founded, and of our CHJ traditions. George began a discussion of the Bar and Bat Mitzvah process. The class shared their experiences of going to more traditional or mainstream Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies. And we talked about the process as practiced in CHJ. This will be an ongoing discussion throughout the year, as some of our second year students get closer to being Bar or Bat Mitzvahed.
Last Sunday was a continuation of our ongoing conversation on what is Humanistic Judaism. As a resource on this topic, we gave each student a copy of Abby Ulman's Bat Mitzvah project, "Where We Fit In: Judaism in the Greater Jewish Community." We read the first two pages out loud and then discussed the following questions: how can you be Jewish if you don't believe in God?" (Parents: try asking your child this question). We talked about Jewish history, language, literature, values, and the Jewish people as all being "Judaism," and how our identification with all of these is what makes us "Jewish." We also discussed "values" as beliefs, such as honesty, that inform our actions. Tzedakah and Tikkun Olam were also discussed and we passed around copies of Dylan Kornfeld's Bar Mitzvah program.
Ongoing Social Action
As you may have read in last month’s Newsletter, all our kids and many adults participated in Mitvah Day on October 24. The Social Action Committee aided by the Teen Tzedakah Club lead us in making about 240 bagged lunches for Operation Hope’s Fairfield Shelter (http://www.operationhopect.org/) and The Bridgeport Rescue Mission (http://www.bridgeportrescuemission.org/). Recognizing that helping those in our community requires more than one day, the Sunday School accepted the Social Action Committee's challenge to collect donations for the Connecticut Food Bank (http://www.ctfoodbank.org/) throughout the year. New Sunday School parent Beth Mistriel, mother of Gaia and Zoe, guided our kids in making their own tzedakah boxes for those donations.
At the end of the session, fourth/fifth grade teacher Karen Berman showed the group her grandmother's tzedakah box, which she did not call by its Hebrew name, but by its Yiddish name of pishkah. She's not sure precisely how old it is, but it's more than 60 years old because it references the sponsor of the box, the General Israel Orphans Home for Girls, located in Palestine -- so it was fabricated before 1948. These boxes were common in Jewish homes at that time; someone from a Jewish charity would come to collect the money each week. Karen shared with the group that her grandmother was widowed at the height of the Depression with a new baby and five other children. But no matter how little she had, she always put a few pennies into the box because she felt there was always someone worse off -- a good message for our kids, who have so much.
Link to article and more Westport News photos of CHJ's Purim celebration.
Below, Pied Piper music teacher Dylan Cotton leads Sunday school children down to Bedford Middle School's cafeteria.
Thanks to photographer Mike Lauterborn for documenting the party.