October has been a busy month, packed with holidays, new music, a field trip (literally) for Sukkot, and two Sunday School sessions in the classrooms. Topics included Sukkot (Kesef and Zahav), Shabbat (Zahav), Simchat Torah and the entire Hebrew Bible (Zahav), sitting Shiva (Pre-Mitzvah), Jewish History (Pre-Mitzvah) and the Holocaust (Mitzvah). Read more in the teachers ‘words below.
We have welcomed several new member families and their children to Sunday School.
Shalom Sessions and Music
At the first shalom session in October, all ages came together to listen to a musical, African story about sharing and community. The point of the story was that every person in a community needs to contribute and participate fully in order for the community to function. In our discussion afterward, it was clear the kids understood the meaning. We established that our Sunday School was a community, an idea that we emphasize throughout the year. The fun part of listening was accompanying the storytellers on our own drums!
The second shalom session featured a model humanistic Shabbat service. First, we watched the Shabbat scene from Fiddler on the Roof to see what a very traditional Shabbat might look like. Then, using a combination of services from CHJ and SHJ, we showed the kids a Humanistic Jewish Shabbat service, complete with candles, juice, and challah. We encourage all families to celebrate Shabbat in their own homes or with our CHJ community.
This month, we introduced a new music teacher for the Mitzvah and Pre-Mitzvah classes. Dylan Cotton is a local musician and artist referred to us by one of our new members. He has played in a rock band, taught music, and even knows Adam, our former musician in residence, from his teenage years! We are trying to bring a new kind of Humanistic Jewish music experience to the older kids in Sunday School, including but not limited to their playing along on their own instruments and introducing them to modern Israeli & Klezmer music. So far Dylan’s sessions have been well-received by the kids. Feel free to stop by and listen!
Beth Mistriel ( Batia in Hebrew) continues to teach Hebrew and English songs to the Kesef and Zahav classes. We want all the kids to learn our own CHJ repertoire before they get too cool to sing! Batia is infusing her music teaching with new songs, musical playa longs, and a little dancing as well.
At music on 10/2, the kids sang songs for Yom Kippur about making amends with friends, and a couple of songs for Sukkot (including “The Garden Song”, aka “Inch by Inch,” which we sing outside the sukkah during our Sukkot celebration, ably accompanied on guitar by G Rockwell).
On 10/23, the kids tried out their voices with rounds, as well as a couple of songs in Hebrew.
Kesef (Taffy - K/1)
We focused on learning about the high holidays at the beginning of October. After those passed, we talked about Sukkot. We read stories, drew pictures and talked about harvesting food, and appreciation for that food. We also did a lesson about Shabbat. We read stories, drew pictures of candles and challah, and the children learned the Hebrew letter for the sound SH. We went over the symbols and meaning of Shabbat so that the children were ready for the Shalom session on Shabbat at the end of the day.
Zahav (Batia - 2/3)
10/2 - At music we sang songs for Yom Kippur about making amends with friends and a couple of songs for Sukkot (we will sing “The Garden Song”, aka “Inch by Inch” at the Sukkot event too).
In class we played High Holiday “Jewpardy”. For example, I said “In English, Rosh Hashanah literally means this…” then the students slapped their table when they could answer “what is head of the year.” They enjoyed it.
We talked more about the meaning and traditions of Yom Kippur. They made a craft “Tool for self-reflection,” a “traffic light” with a red circle for “Stop and think,” a mylar circle (mirroring a yellow paper) for “Reflect,” and a green circle for “Go make a difference.” We read a story book based on a tale (If Not Higher) by I.L. Peretz called Even Higher. It was about a rabbi who disappears every year during the High Holidays and the townspeople believe he goes to heaven to bargain with God to get them inscribed into the Book of Life. But a skeptic comes to town and follows him. He finds out that the rabbi actually dresses up as a woodsman and brings firewood to the home of a cold, needy, and elderly lady. The skeptic sees that miracles happen because of what people do. It’s a very Humanistic story.
We also played a quick “shofar blowing game” with straws.
During snack, I showed the kids a felt board sukkah set (homemade). We discussed how a sukkah is built, what you do in the sukkah, the tradition of inviting guests, the traditional etrog and lulav. I read a story called Tikvah Means Hope (by Patricia Polacco. It is a modern Sukkot story about the importance of community.
In Hebrew, Mrs. Snow is reviewing (for most) “Sarah and David” book #1.
10/23 - We started class with a game, “Jewpardy: Sukkot Edition”, to review our recent holiday. For example, one answer was “This is done with the lulav and etrog”, and the question choices were: “a) What is waved three times in each direction (N,S,E,W, up and down); b) What is tied to the roof of the car; or c) What is left on the roof of the sukkah?” Another answer was a good segue for today’s lesson: “This gives the commandment that a Jew should live in a sukkah during Sukkot”, and the correct question was: “a) What is the Torah?” I mentioned that throughout the Torah there are 613 commandments or “mitzvot” that observant Jews try to adhere to.
Then we learned about the holiday that celebrates Torah and follows Sukkot, Simchat Torah. We read a poem “in the round” called “Simchat Torah” by R.H. Marks that helped the students understand how religious Jews traditionally celebrate the holiday. We also read a picture book during snack called When Zaydeh Danced on Eldridge Street (by E. O. Rael, illus M. Priceman). This story is about a young girl living in the Lower East Side in the 1930’s who celebrates Simchat Torah with her usually (except on Simchat Torah) grumpy grandpa. The book used many familiar Yiddish and some Hebrew words, which we reviewed together, such as: Zaydeh (grandpa), Bubbeh (grandma), Tante (aunt), shul (synagogue), simcha (joyous occasion), yarmulke (skullcap), tallis (prayershawl), and bimah (stage/platform in a synagogue where Torah is read).
We did a worksheet that shows that the Jewish Bible, the Tanach, is made up of actually 39 books, only the first five of which, the Five Books of Moses, are called Torah. Even though the Torah is five books, the students know that it is really one very long page, a parchment scroll that is read in weekly portions. And on Simchat Torah, the very last portion and the very first portion are read. Because of that, it is very handy to have two Torahs available (this was the case in the story we read), one turned to the last section and the other turned to the very beginning.
I brought out a Jewish Children’s Illustrated Bible and asked them if they remember the very first story. Most remembered it is the Creation story. Then I brought out a book of Myths and Legends and pointed out that there are eight very different creation stories from cultures around the world published in that volume. I promised to read some of them next class, when we will also get a chance to look at our congregation’s own Torah scroll.
Pre-Mitzvah (Marni - 4/5)
10/2 – Marni was not able to teach today because her father died, so we discussed Jewish customs surrounding the death of a loved one. The family will sit Shiva for almost a week, say Kaddish for the first year and then Yizkor on Passover, Sukkot, Shavuot and Yom Kippur. If the kids went to CHJ’s Yom Kippur services the following week, they witnessed a Humanistic form of the latter.
Emma and G talked about what they did when their relatives died. We find comfort in sharing memories of people we care about so that they are never completely gone. It’s a Mitzvah to comfort the family sitting Shiva. To comfort Marni, the kids made a giant card with original artwork and expressions of caring.
10/23 - Over the next few weeks, we will be learning and discussing Jewish history. Everyone got a copy of "The Story of the Jews." We began by reviewing how we create a timeline. We discussed the concept of history BCE - before common error, and CE. This allowed us to set up our timeline that we will fill in as we continue to learn the history of the Jews. Today we were able to read and discuss chapter 1 - 2000 BCE thru 1300 BCE. The period covers from Abraham becoming the first Jew to the Jews escaping slavery in Egypt and arriving back into the land of Canaan. Next class we will continue reading our books and working on our timeline.
Mitzvah (Rachel -6/7)
10/2 - Today we spent the day on identity and an introduction to the Holocaust.
First we identified some important terms: Holocaust, identity, scapegoat, bullying, propaganda, fear, stereotype.
In keeping with the ideas outlined on Facing History and Ourselves website, we started with reading a story and doing exercises on identity. In the story, “The Bear that Wasn't,” we saw a bear who woke up to find that everyone else saw him differently (most often as a man who needed a shave and wore a fur coat.) We explored the identity of Bear, how he saw himself, how he was perceived in this new "society," and how the society now defined bears.
Students then made their own identity charts. Through sharing we discussed the similarities, how our names help identify us and also our physical appearance. Many students also shared the experience of being one of only a few Jewish students in school. One even shared that as the only Jewish student, he is called, "the Jewish kid." We discussed how names often can tell us about a person's heritage. (I used my name as example: Rachel=a name from the Jewish bible and Rockwell=American) We spoke of identity as what groups we join (sports, music).
We then charted What do they know about the Holocaust vs. What do they want to know? Questions that came up often revolved around the themes of "Why didn't they just say they weren't Jewish?" and "What happened if you were caught...helping Jews, lying about being Jewish, hiding, etc?” I documented all the questions and we will explore all of them over the coming sessions.
In a closing exercise, students wrote about a time that they were a bystander or participated in something they knew to be wrong, even if it was against their better judgment. They also wrote down their reasons. The following week, we discussed the reasons (not necessarily the actions) and what it means to be a bystander.
Through these exercises, I feel the students will have a better understanding of the human complexity of the Holocaust and the many roles people (and governments) played. (Victim, perpetrator, bystander or upstander.)
10/23 - Class started with a review of our "bystander" activity. In the 1st slide of the Power Point (attached) you will see the list of experiences your students wrote. We reviewed these, and discovered that there are times when everyone was a bystander.
We then reviewed the identity story and activities we had done. (slide 2) Jewish identity, how it changes, and eventually becomes just numbers, is an important part of the Holocaust story. As we got into talking about the Nuremberg laws, (slide 4) this topic of identity was further explored. Also, some students recalled survivors they knew with tattoos, and we briefly went over what it means as you go from being a person with a unique name, to having to always identify as Jewish, to eventually becoming identified as a number.
We spoke about post WWI Germany and the concept of scapegoating.
Eventually we worked our way up in history to Kristallnacht. We watched two videos. (links are below.)
Students asked about/commented:
Still pictures set to music. Short, only 2 or 3 minutes long.
Story of Kristallnacht told by survivors. About 20 minutes.
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.