Kids Continue Learning About Mitvahs and History and Preparing for Tu B'Shevat, Purim and Passover.
While the youngest kids spent most of their time preparing for the holidays, the Zahav (2/3) class continued to discuss various mitzvahs. This month featured “derech eretz” (“way of the land”) or good manners and “Bal Tashkhit” (“care for the environment”) in honor of Tu B’Shevat. The Pre-Mitvah class discussed the practice of “Tikun Olum” as a way to celebrate Tu B’Shevat. This class also examined the devastating effects of ignoring the abuse of others. The Mitvah class continued to study the Holocaust directly with a discussion of a visit to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. When not addressing these moral and ethical issues, all classes participated in some form of Tu B’Shevat celebration and prepared for Purim and Passover.
Shalom Sessions Feature Jewish Sports Heroes and Singing with Adam Feder at the Tu B'Shevat
Thank you to the Sunday School parents who recently led shalom sessions! They truly exemplify the spirit of a cooperative Sunday School.
In February, Larry Tillem, dad of Maya, discussed Jewish sports figures with the kids. He told them about specific Jewish sports heroes in different sports, and then the kids asked many questions about other sports. The topic is inherently interesting to kids, who were attentive throughout the 25 minute presentation.
Our second shalom session in February was a singalong with Adam Feder at the tail end of the Tu B'Shevat Seder. It was fun to reconnect with Adam and sing some of our old favorites from last year, including Adam’s own song, Free Fall Jump. We all hope to see Adam again soon!
Scroll down to read more in the teachers ‘words.
Kesef (Becca Goldblat, subbing for Taffy - K/1)
2/12 We read Sammy the Spiders First Purim. It's about a spider who lives in a Jewish home where the family is getting ready for Purim. He watches the family make costumes for a Purim parade, bake hamamtaschen, make Groggers, etc. His mom explains the significance behind each of these rituals. The excitement comes when he accidentally gets stapled shut inside a paper-plate Grogger and must find a way out. The book also has a brief story of Purim as well.
Then, we [made our own Groggers the same way they made the ones made in the book, using paper plates, buttons for noise, and streamers. I [had] an assortment of stickers for the kids to decorate their Groggers with, such as stars of David, hamamtaschen, Hebrew letters, etc. I also [had] small plastic spiders so each child [could] have his own Sammy, and staple him into their Grogger to celebrate purim with him, or just keep him to take home.
We also played Purim related games and made a list of the different Purim-themed costumes kids might decide to wear.
Zahav (Batia - 2/3)
2/5 - Today we discussed the words patriarchs and matriarchs (fathers and mothers) and looked again at the Jewish family tree sheet showing Abraham as the first patriarch and Sarah as the first matriarch. Abraham laughed when God told him he would have a son at such an old age, so their son was named Isaac, or in Hebrew, Yitzhak, meaning “he laughed”. We went back to reading the first book of the Torah which tells the story of the next patriarch and matriarch, Isaac and Rebecca, Genesis 23:1 through 24:67.
I chose this section because when Abraham’s servant (and Isaac’s matchmaker) Eliezer meets the “stranger” Rebecca at a well, she greets him kindly and offers him and all of his camels water. Rebecca practices the mitzvah of “derech eretz” (“way of the land”), what we call good manners. After the reading, the group paired up and played the game “Derech Eretz Way”—to win they had to explain how they would help several hypothetical characters on the board game. I encouraged the kids to add to their mitzvah journal in the “Good Manners” section if they can think of something genteel and polite to do this week.
During snack we read the story “Tu Bishvat in Puddlewick” by Ruth Craft (from the Kingfisher Treasury of Jewish Stories). I chose this, partially, because it is about a Jewish family that lives in England. The children who live in London during the bombing raids of WWII are forced to move in with a farming family in the countryside—who, though strangers to these children, are so kind to take them in (“derech eretz”). Although the farmers are not Jewish, they help them celebrate Tu Bishvat by planting a tree with them.
Next week we will learn more about the Tu Bishvat holiday during class and then celebrate with the congregation having music and lunch downstairs.
2/12 - We planted parsley with the other classes, K-5, and then had a Tu B'Shevat seder with just our group.
Instead of having music in the morning (it was held at the end with Adam Feder), we had a planting station set up. It is a Tu B'Shevat tradition to plant something, and parsley is often chosen because it can be used in the Passover seder. Thanks to Joan Shaw’s help and expertise, we had plenty of potting cups, seeds, and directions for each child to grow his own potted parsley plant. Hopefully, they will be ready in time for Passover.
Our Tu B'Shevat seder was based on ideas I found at the SHJ.org website. It included a general history of this holiday, nowadays considered a “new year for trees” and a day to remind us to care for the environment. We discussed what trees give us and why they are indispensable. I told a classic story from the Talmud about Honi “the wise one”, who learned from a man planting a carob tree that, though it takes 70 years for it to bear fruit and he would not enjoy the fruit himself, he planted the tree for his descendants as his own father and grandfather had done. The seder (“order”) was based upon the Sephardic Jewish mystics’ seder, wherein we drank 4 different colored cups of grape juice to represent the seasons. And we ate fruit with: an inedible protective peel (banana, orange) to symbolize winter; an inedible pit (apricot, nectarine, olives) to symbolize spring planting; and edible parts throughout (berries, grapes) to symbolize the time of creation (summer). Throughout the seder we recited the humanistic blessings for “wine” and fruit. We concluded with a discussion of what we can do to care for the environment (the mitzvah of Bal Tashkhit).
I have been collecting the family trees, and we will be doing more activities with these in upcoming class sessions.
Pre-Mitzvah (Marni - 4/5)
2/5 - Since, Tu B'Shevat is on Feb. 8th this year - we discussed the holiday. We focused on a few things:
What it is - Jewish Arbor Day/Earth Day How we celebrate the holiday, & Tikun Olum - repairing the world.
I read them Eve Buntings story Terrible Things - a story that illustrates what can happen if you don't speak up when you see bad things/bullying. Then we discussed how that story connects to both Tu B'Shevat & Tikun Olum. Finally, we ended with a quick fire quiz session that ended in a tie. As always, we wrapped up with music. Dylan led the kids singing: Wave the Flag, If I had a Hammer, Oseh Shalom, One Day, and Heaney Matov.
2/12 - It was a very full session. G, Hannah & Stevie started the day planting parsley to celebrate Tu B'Shevat We plant parsley as a way to bridge Tu B'Shevat with Passover. After Hebrew with Mrs. Snow, we continued with the Passover theme. We are going to be creating/writing a class Haggadah over the next few classes. So we started by looking at different Haggadah's. We discussed the similarities between the different versions. We also discussed what parts we want to include in our class version. We ended the day by joining the mitzvah class and the adults at the Tu B'ShevatSedar.
Mitzvah (Rachel -6/7)
2/5 - As you probably know by now, our stellar teacher Rachel Rockwell broke her leg badly in the beginning of January. On the 22nd George Rockmore stepped in and executed Rachel’s lesson plan to teach about the birth of Israel through our text The Story of the Jews and the 2008 BBC Documentary.
The following week there was no Sunday School, but about half of the class visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage (A Living Memorial to the Holocaust) in New York City. A Holocaust survivor Sami was our tour guide. Early on Sami disclaimed, “I represent myself; I do not represent all Jews.” Rachel Dreyfus noted, “Sami had a definite point of view.” This point view elicited by the compelling exhibits thoroughly engaged kids and parents alike.
Rachel and Ellen Luntz, who organized the trip, used the next session to help the kids who went on the trip share their experiences with those who couldn’t make it. Recalling Sami’s identification of “Remember; Never forget” inscribed on the museum’s wall, Scotty Luntz explained, “’Remember’ is something you do with your mind in the past; ‘never forget’ is in your heart and tells how you will act in the future.”
Explaining that the Nuremburg Laws enacted in 1935 stripped Jews of their German citizenship, Rachel asked the kids, “What if the U.S Government told you that you were no longer American?” The kids discussed discrimination throughout history, using examples of Irish, Chinese and African Americans and noting that mistreatment of groups perceived as different was not limited to Jews by Germans.
Our kids recalled that German kids were taught to hate through cultural influences such as music, games and posters. The discussion turned to the different roles people played in the Holocaust. ‘Collaborators’ were people in occupied lands who helped the Nazis find and persecute Jews. Others, including the Americans, were ‘bystanders’ who ignored Hitler’s atrocities and even turned away the MS St. Louis a ship full of 930 desperate Jewish refugees. Sami suggested that this act signaled to Hitler that the international community did not care what happened to the Jews and emboldened him to start killing them outright.
The discussion also emphasized the positive aspects of humanity. Describing ‘rescuers’, Abey Levin recalled, “They hid Jews from the Nazis and smuggled them out of Germany.” These brave individuals risked their own lives to act on a moral imperative.
2/12 – Today the Mitvah class joined the adults and participated in their Tu B'Shevat seder, which included readings about the mystical connection between the four seasons and the human spirit . There was also much discussion of the need to care for the natural world on which we depend for health and happiness. The group concluded the seder by singing with Adam Feder. Everyone enjoyed old favorites like He Nay Ma Tov and Od Yavo. Then kids then taught Adam a new song “One Day” By Matisyahu that they have been working on with Dylan Cotton for the past several months.
Kids Resume Exploration of Bible and Jewish History
In January the kids and teachers got back to work in the classroom, after having spent most of their time in the last month preparing for and celebrating Hanukkah. The youngest kids (Kesef – K/1) continued to read variations of Bible stories and discuss the lessons they teach. The Second and Third graders (Zahav) also discussed Bible stories but in more detail. The kids connected the Jewish stories of the great flood and the Tower of Babel to similar stories from Sumeria, modern day Iraq, through which Abraham passed on his way to Canaan. To understand the Jewish family tree in the Bible, the kids are making their personal family trees. The Pre- Mitzvah and Mitvah classes continue to study history. While the Pre-Mitzvah kids are developing a timeline, beginning with Abraham’s journey and ending with Roman expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem, the Mitvah class is exploring the return of the Jews to Isreal and the founding of that nation in 1948.
Scroll down to read more in the teachers ‘words below.
Shalom Sessions Present Havdallah and Community Service
On Jan. 8, we learned about Havdallah. We looked at a few different ceremonial Havdallah sets with braided candles and passed around some spice boxes filled with cinnamon and cloves. We compared the traditions of Shabbat to Havdallah and talked about the purpose of ending Shabbat with a special service. We learned the blessings of Havdallah. We also talked about how we could incorporate Havdallah into our modern lives, such as marking the end of Shabbat on Saturday, instead of the beginning on Friday evening, if we were more likely to be home with our families on Saturday. We noted that challah is not traditionally eaten as part of the Havdallah ceremony, but we could certainly add the blessing for it and eat it then if it felt right.
The younger students were treated to a shalom session led by Mitzvah students on Jan. 22. The older kids took turns telling about their community service experiences in preparation for their bar/bat mitzvahs. Our kids are helping out in such diverse places as a preschool, a senior citizen community, an afterschool program, and a rose farm where people with autism can interact with others and work on the farm. All the kids were very much engaged by their older schoolmates, and they asked terrific questions. It was inspiring to see our school community come together in this way. It was also inspiring to hear how our kids are practicing tikkun olam as they move toward becoming adult members of CHJ.
Kesef (Taffy - K/1)
We have been reading bible stories for the past two sessions, and children's stories that retell bible stories. We have been discussing what values and lessons we can take away from our stories. The kids have also enjoyed playing a Jewish holiday card game, which serves as a review while they are having fun. Last session we discussed Tubishvat, and why trees and plants are important to all of us. I showed the kids some pictures of a vegetable market in Israel.
1/8 - We started off with the K/1 class for music. Today we learned a Yiddish/Russian Jewish folk song called “Tum Balalaika” (“Play balalaika”) and a few Yiddish words and expressions (bokher=boy; meydl=maiden; tum/shpiel=play; freylekh zol zayn= you should be happy. We also learned a song, in honor of the upcoming holiday Tu B’shevat, called “Etzei Zeitim Omdim” (“Olive Trees Are Standing”); for this one we acted out the stances/movements of different types of trees and learned the verb for stand—females “omdot” and males (and males with females) “omdeem”—and the names of some trees that grow in Israel. We also did some standard songs to get the kids moving and singing (which was a challenge today for this sleepy bunch!): Heenay Ma Tov; Rosh K’tayfayeem (Head Shoulders…); and David Melech.
First we reviewed Torah stories from Genesis that we have read, then we read some others: Noah’s Ark and the Tower of Babel. A theme that was discussed is why these stories were in the Torah, and one idea was that people didn’t have science to explain why things are the way they are (why rainbows really occur, why floods happen, or why there are diverse languages around the world).
I pointed out another aspect of both of these stories: they have connections to ancient Sumeria (which I showed them on the globe is roughly modern day Iraq). The Sumerians, an even older civilization than the Jews, had a story called the Epic of Gilgamesh which was about their king and his escapades with their gods and was written on stone tablets that have been translated by archeologists. In chapter IX is the story of the “great flood”, similar but different from our Torah story—we read a summary of it. We also learned that the Sumerians built ziggurats (temple towers) of mud-clay bricks to reach up to the sky/heavens, much like the peoples in the Tower of Babel story. Except in the Torah story they get scattered into all ends of the earth for doing this “wicked” thing.
Why learn about the Sumerians? Abraham, the first Jew and father of monotheism, is thought to have come from Ur, a city in that region, to the land of Canaan. We started to look at the Jewish family tree today. Next week we will continue. Please start to talk about your own family tree and where your more recent ancestors came from. Next class on January 22 we will have a homework sheet to fill in with this information.
During Hebrew class we split into two groups. Mrs. Snow took the more advanced group to read and made Wiki-stick letters. My group reviewed shin, bet, tav, the “ah” vowels, and practiced reading.
1/22 – [Today we] looked at the Jewish family tree and began learning about our patriarchs and matriarchs of the Torah.
I started class with the “hand out” The Jewish Family Tree that shows the “lineage” of Adam and Eve down through Joseph and his 13 siblings. We reviewed the Torah stories we have read and found the characters from those stories in this family tree diagram. Then I pointed out the names of Abraham, his father Terah, and wife Sarah. We looked at a biblical map of Mesopotamia to find the city of his birth, Ur, and the city Haran that he left from to go to Canaan.
I asked the students to find examples of mitzvot that Abraham practices in the Torah stories. Before reading the stories I read a poem called “The Quarrel” (Eleanor Farjeon from I Can Make a Difference selected by M. W. Edelman), which is about a big brother that stops fighting with his brother—it was a good example of “shlom bayit” (making peace at home). Then I read from The Illustrated Jewish Bible for Children (S. Hastings), Genesis 11-13, 15, 16-18, which tell the stories of Abram and Sarai’s trip to Canaan and the births of both Ishmael and Isaac. The children concluded that Abraham was practicing “shlom bayit” when he allowed his nephew Lot to select the location to bring his flocks to graze when both of their shepherds had been fighting over good grazing land—Abraham agreed to go in the opposite direction and landed in Canaan. Later, when the three strangers (“angels”) came to Abraham and Sarah’s tent in the desert, the children concluded that they were practicing “welcoming guests” (hachnasat orkhim) by offering them shade, food, drink, and a place to wash their feet.
We reviewed the Torah concept of the “covenant” first made between God and Noah (and symbolized by the rainbow) and made again a couple of times in these chapters between God and Abraham (and his descendants). I did not explain the circumcision part, so feel free to do that at home—I just was not comfortable getting into the details with the second and third graders, as you can probably understand.
We also discussed, another touchy subject, the sons of Abraham by two “wives”, Isaac by Sarah and Ishmael by his servant Hagar. I began to explain that Ishmael is considered a patriarch in the Arab family tree and mentioned that Ibrahim (Abraham) and Ishmael are written about in the Muslim Qu’ran (but nobody knew what that is).
We also talked about the word “midrash”, which is a story made up by Jewish sages to explain a story in the Tanach. I told them a famous midrash about Abraham as a boy—we only “really” know about him from age 75 when he is first mentioned in the Torah. The midrash tells how he smashes his father Terah’s idols (blaming the mess on the idols themselves) while watching his shop one day. The story demonstrates his belief in one god as he tries to prove to his dad that idols don’t really have any powers.
Finally we looked at our homework sheet, a personal family tree to fill-in with a family member. Please take a look at this and send back next class. If your child was absent, please try to look at the Torah stories that we did in class so they will understand the upcoming stories next time.
1/8 – We added a new student to our class, Stevie. She fit right in as we went back to continuing our class reading of "The Story of the Jews." Since it's been a while we started with a quick review of our timeline. G was out, so the girl's did a great job of explaining our timeline so far to Stevie. We were then able to start reading chapter 3. We wrapped things up mid chapter, at the point in history where the 10 tribes of Israelites disappeared. We added that note to our timeline.
We also had a long Hebrew session with Mrs. Snow where the class reviewed the Hebrew alphabet. Finally, we wrapped up with music. Dylan led the kids singing: Wave the Flag, Henay Ma Tov, Od Yavo and One Day.
We will continue reading chapter 3 next week. At some point soon, I'd like to have the class present our timeline to everyone during a Shalon session.
1/22 - We continued our class reading of "The Story of the Jews." We read all of Chapter 3 today (pages 39-49). This Chapter covers a lot of history. Mainly, the chapter focused on; the prophets, the rise and fall of Assyria, the destruction of the Temple and the rise of Babylon - led by King Nebuchadnezzar. The chapter ends with a hint at a new power rising - the Greeks. Of course we added all the highlights from this chapter to our timeline. I'm hoping next class we can share our timeline with the younger classes.
Finally, we wrapped up with music. Dylan led the kids singing: Wave the Flag, Aveno Shalom Aleichem, Od Yavo, Inch by Inch, and One Day.
1/8 - We started talking about Israel. Students began by reading about early Zionism (pre WW2) in their text, "The Story of the Jews". We then went on to brainstorm a list of things we know about Israel. They included things like: national language is Hebrew, an agricultural community where figs and olives grow, the Western Wall, it is located in the middle east, there is a conservative population, it is modern.
We continued to speak about why this is an area of conflict, who is interested in owning this little piece of land and why it is important to them. We briefly spoke about Jeruselum's importance to all three major religions. Discussed how the birth of Israel is a history involving wars and multiple views on a story.
This was followed by a couple of videos. First, an Israeli tourism bureau video to give an idea of life in Israel today. We then watched a Danny Ayalon video presenting an Israeli view of the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Class discussed how we knew this was an Israeli view.
Next week we will watch and discuss a documentary from the BBC (2008) that goes back and forth showing the Israel and Palestinian views of Israel's history.
In music the students worked with Dylan on:
Wave the Flag
He Nay Ma Tov
They are sounding great!
1/22 - Hi -- I [George Rockmore] was Rachel's sub for the day. I followed her lesson plan as closely as I could. We began by meeting in the center pod where the students had snack and read a section of their texts. This section covered the period of Israeli history from the end of the Second World War up to the founding of Israel in 1948. Although it is a complicated period of history with a lot of political maneuvering, the kids understood the basic premise, which was that there was a huge push to establish a Jewish homeland given the circumstances of World WarII. But also a lot of resistance. We then followed that up with a DVD in the classroom, which reinforced some of this information but in more specific graphic details. I would stop the video every couple of minutes to elaborate or emphasize a point.
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.