Students Explore Mitzvahs, Creation Stories, 2000 Years of Jewish History and The Holocaust
In November, classes settled into topics appropriate for the kids’ ages. The youngest class Kesef learned the meaning of a mitzvah. The second and third graders Zahav continued their review of Bible Stories by questioning the stories of creation in the Torah and other cultures. Picking up where Bible Stories leave off, the Pre-Mitzvah class augmented its timeline with the ancient kingdoms of Saul, David and Solomon. Grappling with the more troubling aspects of modern history, the Mitzvah class finished its five-session discussion of the Holocaust.
Scroll down to read more in the teachers’ own words.
Shalom Session Features Torah
Our own CHJ Torah was the focus of our Shalom session on November 6. We brought the Torah to our school so the children could see it up close, learn about its unique history, and reflect on the Humanistic view of the Torah compared to traditional Jewish views. They also learned about how a Torah is made and its proper care and use. We took the Torah out of the ark so they could see the Hebrew letters and the sewn pages. We showed them the yad, which is used as a pointer by Torah readers. We explained that the Torah is considered a sacred text by many Jews, but Humanistic Jews value it more as a great work of literature. For that reason, we keep our Torah in the CHJ library. The Torah is also a link to the past for Jews, so Torahs are treated with great respect. Our Torah in particular is an important historical document.
Sheryl Baumann did some research about the Torahs that were rescued from Czechoslovakia after World War II, one of which was ours, and found a video about them. You can watch online at http://vimeo.com/11488749.
On Nov. 20 in lieu of a Shalom session, we participated in Mitzvah Day by making sandwiches and decorating lunch bags for the hungry. For photos see http://www.humanisticjews.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=91&Itemid=480.
Kesef (Taffy - K/1)
11/6 - Last Sunday we talked about doing a mitzvah, what that means and how we at CHJ are going to do this next session. Our class will decorate the paper bags our food donations will go in for people in need of food. We did some practice drawings, and talked about what decorations would be appropriate.
We touched on Chanukah briefly, and began learning the song for our holiday party. Next session, we will continue with the meaning of the holiday, the symbols, and continue to practice our song and dance. We will as a group prepare lunches for donation.
11/20 - Last session we talked more about Chanukah, and discussed our party. We read a Yiddish folktale called The Big Quiet House, and discussed the message of our story. We talked about gratitude and appreciation for all that we have in our homes,families and our lives. I felt this was a good way to get ready for our Mitvah project downstairs. The kids enjoyed decorating the bags for the food about to be donated to people who are hungry.
Zahav (Batia - 2/3)
11/6 - We began class with a review of Simchat Torah: we discussed the meaning of the words simcha (joyous occasion) and Torah (“teaching”/ or the first five books of the Jewish Bible that contain 613 commandments woven into its stories); we briefly discussed how the Torah is read in weekly portions (parashot) according to the weeks in the lunar Hebrew calendar. Then we read the very first story in the Torah, Creation, begun every year on Simchat Torah in traditional congregations.
The children enjoyed a picture book based upon the translated text from the Torah that tells the story of creation in seven days (Jane Ray The Story of Creation). As I read, I asked volunteers to act out each day of creation. By day five, we had a room full of fowl and fish flapping their wings and fins! As we arrived at the seventh day in the Torah story, the day that God rested from his work of creation of the world, we broke for a Shabbat snack of challah and grape juice.
We recited the Humanistic blessings for candles, wine, and challah, which bless the light in the world and in people and bless the earth for creating its bounty. I also recited the traditional blessings and explained how these are different as they bless God for his commandment to light the candles and for his creation of fruit of the vine and bread. We talked about when and why Shabbat is celebrated (sundown to sundown Friday to Saturday to have a day of rest to enjoy all of creation) and will continue the topic of Shabbat more next time we meet.
During snack I read aloud three very different creation stories from diverse cultures: “How the World Came from an Egg,” a story from China; “How a Turtle Carried the World,” a Seneca tribe story from North America; and “The Great Serpent,” a creation myth from the Fon of West Africa. The interesting thing about these stories is that they were very creative and different. In ancient times, I explained, people from faraway parts of the world did not communicate much with other peoples because of the difficultly in travel and lack of “media”; moreover, they did not use scientific principles to make sense of the world. Instead, they tried to answer important questions, like where the earth, planets, people, plants, or animals came from, using very fantastical and amazing stories that appealed to their particular culture and climate.
For homework, I asked that each child make up their own creative story of creation. They may write a story, draw a picture and tell us about it next class, or do both.
After Hebrew we attended the Shalom session with the entire school. There we had the opportunity to see the CHJ Torah, on permanent loan from Europe, taken out of its ark. With the yad (pointer/hand), I pointed to a letter we learned during Hebrew (shin). We saw the scroll parchment which comes from animal skin and which is sewn with sinews to make it so long. We also learned that the person who writes the Torah is a special scribe called a sofer who uses a quill. A short clip from a documentary movie showed us the 1,500 (or so) Torahs, like ours, that were rescued from ruin in Czechoslovakia after WWII.
11/20 - In “Zahav” class this week, we reflected some more on why the Jewish creation story was written. People in ancient times were trying to explain the big questions they had. As Aiden, explained, “they were curious.” But without science, they came up with some very creative explanations of how the world began. Zoe shared a creation story she wrote. Then we read a brief explanation of the Big Bang theory of how the universe began. We also considered the idea that perhaps the Jewish story of creation was written to insure that Shabbat is celebrated every seven days, giving hardworking people in ancient times a day off for rest and renewal.
We continued with reading the next stories in the Torah about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and Cain and Abel, their children. We pondered these enigmatic stories which created many questions for discussion. For example, why did God put the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden if he didn’t want them to eat from it? (Maybe he wanted them to make choices). Have you ever wanted to blame someone else for something you did? How did you feel? Why do bad things happen—is it always because someone disobeys? (Sometimes things are just bad—like when someone gets sick because of germs or genes). What does this story teach?
The Torah is full of stories that teach or make us ask questions. It is also full of 613 mitzvot. We made “Mitzvah Journals” to keep at home and share in the classes to come. We included nine sections in our journals to cover nine types of mitzvot: Peace at home; Honoring parents; Welcoming guests; Caring for animals; Protecting the environment; Visiting the sick; Study and learning; Good behavior; and Tzedakah. Everyone was asked to begin writing and keeping track of their own good deeds in their journals over the next weeks until our next session—many probably will have a chance to be “welcoming to guests” over the Thanksgiving holiday. We will talk more about this next time and share what they are doing.
Because we had no Hebrew session, we did a couple of letter 'poses' of Alef-Bet yoga (bet and shin). Then we went downstairs to help with making lunches for Mitzvah Day.
Pre-Mitzvah (Marnie - 4/5)
11/6 - We began the class by creating a permanent timeline on butcher paper. We filled in our timeline from 4000 BCE thru 1200 BCE. While this was mainly a review of last week, it really showcased how much the class remembered and learned. The class liked the idea they were creating a lasting timeline that we will continue to work on. They are also looking forward to adding artwork of their own once the timeline is complete. Next class we will move forward and cover chapter 2 (1200-925 BCE).
11/20 - This past Sunday we continued our work on our timeline while reading The Story of the Jews. Today’s chapter focused on the first kings of the Israelites, King Saul, and King David. We added their information to our timeline. Then the kids got a chance to begin illustrating the events we already documented. We discussed events while coloring and continued during snack. The kids wanted to know more about Sampson & Delilah after they were briefly mentioned in the chapter. Thanks to a quick lookup on wiki, they were able to hear the whole story.
Mitzvah (Rachel -6/7)
11/20 - This Sunday we wrapped up our unit on the Holocaust with Partisans and Up-standers. I read the Sugihara story, about a Japanese diplomat who helped thousands of Jews in Lithuania escape by writing visas for them; we watched a video about Oskar Schindler (excerpts from an A&E special) and clips from the making of the movie Defiance.
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.