Kesef (Taffy - K/1)
November 3, 2013: During the last two Sunday school sessions our class finished our discussion of Shabbat. We had a guest come and read to the boys. Elise Sullivan who is a graduate of my class, and CHJ Sunday school has been joining us. Elise has read a book about Shabbat, and has played games with the children. We are happy to have her join us! Two weeks ago we talked about acts of kindness. We read a story about Habitat for Humanity. I think the kids will be ready for the Mitzvah day.
Last session we began talking about Hanukah. We read about it. We began to learn a song for the party. The boys have been working on a Jewish holiday puzzle. We will continue with Hanukah during November.
Zahav (Batia - 2/3)
November 3, 2013: Becca Goldblat substituted for Batia. Below is Becca's description of class so that you can continue the conversation at home. Also, the iPad app the kids used was called colAR mix. You can draw a picture of anything, or color one of the apps' pre-made drawings such as a bird or a hot air balloon, and the app will animate it.
I was substituting for Batia today, and the class has been learning about different creation stories from various cultures. Today's lesson was to be on the Biblical creation story. The children first told me a little bit about the other creation stories they had discussed in class during previous weeks, and then I presented a short animated audiobook which told the Genesis creation story. The audiobook did use the word God, although it did not show any images of God, and it did say that God created the Earth, since that is part of the story as written in the Bible. I presented the story as one of the many that ancient people used to hypothesize how the earth was created, in particular ancient Jewish and Christian people. I also said that this is one story that some people believe. As the kids did on previous days with Batia when they studied the other creation stories, we then illustrated the story (there was no God involved in these illustrations, each child just chose one or two components of the world and its features and inhabitants...such as the moon, seas, humans, animals, plants, etc., and made a drawing of them, and we then made short films of these things, using an augmented reality app on the iPad, in the order the story presented them as coming into existence. We also had a really great discussion, led by the kids, about the order in which THEY thought some of the components of Earth may have come into existence, and how that differed from the Biblical story.) Much of our discussion about the story centered around the 7th day of rest. We talked about how many Jewish people still use one of the seven days of the week (Shabbat) as a day of rest, and we discussed what our different families do on Shabbat, or, on the weekend in general, that is different than what we do during the week. We all had in common the fact that we don't go to school (except for Sunday school) on the weekend, and in general we do more fun or relaxing activities with our families. Some families in the class, it turned out, celebrate Shabbat with a special family meal including challah and lighting the candles, while others order pizza or have a movie night on Friday nights or "just relax". We talked about whether the Biblical story may have started the ritual of having Shabbat, or a day of rest, or whether people had decided to have a day of rest anyway and used the story as a way to give a reason for that.
Interestingly, while we were animating our illustrations on the iPad, one student brought up the Big Bang theory, because he felt like the spinning circles he was creating in his film looked like planets and stars crashing into each other. The small group of kids surrounding me discussed the Big Bang, which I said is another story that some people believe about how the Earth was created. I am not sure whether Batia was planning to cover the Big Bang theory formally in class, but I do know that last year this was a part of the class discussion as well, when my son was in the class. One student said, "I guess we will never know which one of these stories is true." This is the main point that I think the creation story unit is supposed to raise: there are many different hypotheses about how the world was created, and different people believe different things.
We look forward to seeing everyone at the next class on November 17 when Batia will be back to continue the discussion.
November 17, 2013: We continued the discussion from last class and the class before about the various Creation stories and myths. First we read a picture book about the big bang theory called Older Than the Stars (K. Fox/N. Davis) which explains, "you are made from atoms that were made in stars that were made from tiny particles that were created when the universe began." The book ends with a time line of the universe, including with: starting at "0 Seconds, when the tiny speck of the universe popped into being"; to 100 million years in which the first stars began to shine, die, and explode--which brought more atoms into being; down to 10 billion years when the first simple life appeared on the Earth and evolved to more complex life forms (including humans). Although not all scientists believe that the big bang explains the beginning of creation perfectly, it uses science (the expanding universe) and not just "faith" to attempt an explanation. We compared the time line of billions of years to the "time line" of just 7 days in the biblical Creation story.
Next we talked a bit more about Shabbat. Last class the students shared what they did for Shabbat, if anything. Today we looked at the Friday night blessings. Most of the students recognized the traditional blessings for lighting candles, wine, and challah (http://jgateways.org/Resources/Shabbat). We compared them with the humanistic Jewish blessings, seeing that traditional blessings thank God for "mitzvot" and creating things like "fruit of the vine" and bread, while humanistic ones thank people (and farmers and bakers) for those things.
After breaking for Hebrew with Mrs. Snow, we went to the classroom to read excerpts from an article from the Washington Post about the convergence of Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah this year on November 28 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/thanksgiving-and-hanukkah-converge-on-thanksgivukkah-for-the-first-time-since-1888/2013/10/30/ed628bbe-418f-11e3-b028-de922d7a3f47_story.html). We discussed the article's point that Thanksgiving and Hanukkah have some similar themes (much more than Hanukkah and Christmas), both the pilgrims and the oppressed Jews of Modi'in were looking for religious freedom; though, the Pilgrims left for America to find it and the followers of the Maccabees fought the Greek armies to achieve it. We also looked again at the lunar Hebrew calendar to understand how it could take a REALLY long time for these holidays to happen at the same time again (next in over 77,000 years). Then we did a craft: "Thanksgivukkah Menurkeys" that will do double duty to decorate your home for Thanksgiving and as a Hanukkah menorah.
November 24, 2013: We continued and added onto the theme begun last class: "Thanksgivukkah", pilgrims, religious freedom, immigration, and Hanukkah…
I played a video parody of the song "Royals" (by Lorde) called "Oils" (a Thanksgivukkah Miracle http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pl55YT7j5GU ) about the rare celebration of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah together. ( I only heard this once before and forgot that it should be edited--sorry! There is a swear word mentioned once when they say "historically inaccurate, but we don't really give a sh--". Luckily none of the kids seemed to notice the issue).
We read the book by Barbara Cohen called Molly's Pilgrim which is told from the perspective of a Jewish third grade girl who is a recent Russian immigrant to an American suburban town. Molly deals with the bullying of her classmates who pick on her for sounding and looking different. For a Thanksgiving assignment, Molly's mother makes a Pilgrim doll, but it looks like herself, a modern pilgrim who left Russia because the Cossacks burned down her synagogue. The classmates are taught the lesson that people still come to this country to have (religious) freedom, just like the original "Pilgrims". From that point on Molly is no longer teased for looking and sounding different.
We also read the picture book Hanukkah at Valley Forge (S. Krensky/ G. Harlin) about General George Washington's talk with a Jewish immigrant soldier in the War for Independence who he found lighting Hanukkah candles. The soldier tells the general the story of the miracle of the ragtag army of Maccabees who overcame the Greek army in order to have freedom. General Washington empathizes because of his own desire for liberty from a distant king. And the soldier explains that he came to America because he did not have freedom to follow his beliefs back in his Polish homeland. Then we compared Molly with the soldier--they were both Jews from Eastern Europe who immigrated to America to have freedom--they were both pilgrims.
Finally we did a read-through of a short play, "ZNN: Zahav Network News", that we will perform at the Hanukkah party on December 8th. We assigned parts:
Ruby: Mrs. Sevivon
James: Suffie Sufganea (soofee soofgahneeyah)
Ben: King Antiochus
Sarah: Reporter (scene #1)
Zoe: Reporter (scenes #2 &3)
Please read through the lines with your child before our next class (before the party). If you want to put together a costume, that is great--Let me know. We can make the rest on December 8th in the morning (we need a crown for the king, a dreidel cotume/box for Mrs. Sevivon, and a "donut" costume for Suffie.) All the news people can wear "professional" attire ;)
Wishing you all a happy Thanksgiving and a happy Hanukkah!!
Pre-Mitzvah (Marnie - 4/5)
November 3, 2013: Here's the recap of what we did this past Sunday in class. I will be doing a 5 class mini unit on Sephardic Judaism. The next few classes will focus on the Jews from Iberia (Spain) who due to politics either; fled/emigrated (to Morroco, Turkey, Greece, Italy and Africa), converted or practiced in secret. We will discuss the history, culture,& traditions of Sephardic Jews and compare the similarities & differences between Askinazi & Sephardic Jews.
I started the unit on Sunday with a video & discussion on the history of Jews in Spain up to 1492. The class mentioned the interesting fact that Jews escaped Spain as part of Christopher Columbus's crew. We watched a short video that reviewed the history leading up to 1492 when Jews were kicked out of Spain. The video explained how early on Jews and Muslims worked together to build Spain up during it's rennisance period. It was a time of culture and growth when Spain thrived. It lasted until extreme Muslims, called Vizigoth's turned on those same Jews and enslaved many. Things changed again when the Christians, helped by the Jews won the battle for power. Things were peaceful for a while until the Christians began to worry that their Jewish friends might take over. Afraid of giving up what they won the Christians forced Jews to leave Spain or convert. They were given 4 months to leave and it was a terrible time.
After the video was over we discussed what we learned and filled out a worksheet. We discussed where the Jews could go and how they might get there. In the next few classes we will discuss what happens to the Jews after 1492.
November 17, 2013: Today we continued discussing Sephardic Jews in Spain. We began with a mini geography lesson showing how many Sephardic Jews took surnames that reflected the towns they came from - I.e. Michael Cordova from Cordoba, Spain. We also discussed the distance that Spanish Jews would need to travel if they left the Iberian peninsula.
The second part of today's class focused on the choices Jews made in 1492. Jews were forced to leave Spain or convert to Christianity. Those who stayed, (conversos/morranos) often practiced Judaism in hiding. However the consequences of getting caught were awful and often meant death. The class reported the news of the day circa 1492 - aka The Spanish Times. We recorded various reporters sharing the stories of those who stayed and those who left. Everyone participated as either a reporter, camera person, or sounds.
Finally, we split into two groups and each group discussed the reasons to stay and convert OR leave Spain. They wrote down how they would feel being forced to chose. Each group shared their thoughts and feelings regarding each decision.
Next week’s class we will focus on the story of Chanukah.
Mitzvah (Rachel - 6/7)
November 3, 2013: Today we watched a video and spoke about the Nazi rise to power in Germany from the end of the first World War up to the days before WWII. The video and discussion served to answer many of the questions the students had last class, about how the Nazi's rose to power. As students saw the early persecution of the Jewish people in Germany, some new questions were:
In answer to these questions, we discussed differences between contemporary American culture and life in the early 20th century.
Hannah drew the very interesting parallel to the latter in pointing out how recently, in Arizona, anti-immigration legislation was passed to require people to show proof of their legal status/visa when requested from authorities.
We will begin next session with Kristallnacht and a discussion of the creation of the jewish ghettos and changing life in Europe during the beginning of the war.
November 17, 2013: If look back on the theme that came of today's Sunday School lesson, it would be etymology.
The lesson focus was on the beginnings of the Holocaust, Kristallnacht, and life in the ghetto. However, the most common activity was looking up definitions and origins of terms and names and then tying the knowledge back to our lesson. Through discussion and the videos we watched, many terms and ideas required defining. This included prejudice and xenophobia.
Also, when discussing the Nuremberg Laws, the students were confused about laws related to names and identity. Growing up in secular, multicultural America, the students had a difficult time understanding how their name would identify them as jewish. We looked up the definition of each students first name and surname. They were surprised to find that 4 of 5 of them had at least one name that identified them as Ashkenazi.
When Laura came in the students discussed new terms including minion, which the students were able to relate to the use of the term in "Despicable Me."
When the students drew the parallel between ghetto life and the segregated South in the United States, conversation returned to words and terms used by their peers. How the word ghetto had multiple meanings, depending on their school. They also discussed the use of the n-word. We spoke about the difference between name calling/cursing that refers to actions or objects and those slang words that put someone down because of the color of their skin or their religion, those words that mean- you are less than me, because of your birth.
As we move through the Holocaust curriculum, I am really letting the students set the pace. This small group is thoughtful and inquisitive. Watching them explore these ideas and make personal connections is fantastic. While it may take us more time to work through this unit, I believe that following their pace will prove the most beneficial to their learning.
November 24, 2013: I need to start this recap by once again saying what a unique year this is for the mitzvah class and how fortunate I am to spend Sunday mornings facilitating discussion among these young adults. That truly is my role, facilitator. I am not a lecturer, I am a guide. The topics are introduced, and I check facts, help them make connections between each other's ideas. However, they are their own teachers. It is really a pleasure.
Today we continued our conversation about ghetto life. We checked maps that showed the number of ghettos and when they were created. We watched a couple shorts of film footage (black & white, silent) that had been taken at the time. Jessica made note that there was so much energy put into creating the physical separation between the ghetto and free society. All the students felt that had so much energy been put to positive use, incredible things could be done.
In the films we saw people wearing armbands. We looked at a chart that gave the definition of all the variations on the armbands and their various meanings/targeted groups. G pointed out that the Nazis wore their own armband with the swastkia. Discussion followed about those who were forced to bear their identity on their arm and those who had choices. We also researched and discussed the history of the swastika as a symbol.
Looking into the history of the swastika, we then discussion appropriation of symbols, words, ideas and how they change meaning over time and with context. Examples students gave were song lyrics and sampling; the n-word and other slang terms. Students agreed that today, the sighting of a swastika would elicit fear. Jonah shared an experience of walking into a diner and a white supremacist coming through the door, and how he felt seeing the swastika on his arm.
Students had questions about the life in the ghetto and it very naturally led into a discussion of hunger in America today. Today being the mitzvah day, when the congregation feeds those in need, it was a natural day to answer questions students had about hunger and homelessness in America. Some questions were about food stamps, what happens when the people run out of food stamp money, and the differences between shelters, SRO's and subsidized housing.
I wish you all a very happy holiday!
See you on December 8th.
It’s Autumn at CHJ Sunday School!
Our sessions were very busy this month. Beginning with the holiday of Sukkot (actually the session on the last Sunday in September), we traveled next door to Bedford Middle School to Town Wakeman Farm where the children learned about and decorated a sukkah. The venue is perfect for working on the sukkah while learning about organic farming, beekeeping, animal husbandry, and other good environmental choices. Our event was co-sponsored by Wakeman and was open to the public, attracting a few non-CHJ families. After a tour of the farm, the kids picked veggies from the Wakeman garden to hang in the sukkah. We then had our traditional Sukkot service, with music by Abby and G and some lulav waving and etrog sniffing. A delicious potluck lunch and conversation ended the morning.
The following Sundays were filled with stories, dancing, history lessons, and philosophical discussions. We’re so excited to have such enthusiastic students this year!
Kids Get to Know Each Other in Shalom Session Games
We used the first Shalom session to sort all the students into groups of 4-5. Each group was assigned a Hebrew letter on a poster and a tzedakah box, which they decorated with markers. The purpose of the groups is to create a sense of community within the school, from the oldest students to the youngest. The older students understand it is their job to make the younger kids feel comfortable and happy during the Shalom sessions. For the rest of the school year, the kids will sit with their groups during Shalom sessions.
The annual Getting to Know You Race was on during the second Shalom session! Each student was given the same list of things people might have done in their lives (many with a decidedly Jewish bent), and they each had to find someone in the room who had done or could do that thing. Some examples of these things are: made a challah; visited Israel; can count to 5 in Hebrew. The kids spent about 15 minutes asking each other to sign their papers so they could complete the assignment. It was nice to see the older kids helping the younger ones.
Scroll down to read more in the teachers’ own words.
Zahav (Taffy - K/1)
10/6: During the last Sunday school session we discussed Shabbat. We read a book about Sammy the Spider's family, and how they celebrate the holiday. We also read a story about Mrs. Moskowitz and her candles. The kids did a Shabbat lesson with Laura too.
I taught the kids a folk dance, and then they worked on a Jewish Holiday puzzle.
10/6: This week in Sunday school, we reviewed the Hebrew calendar and the Jewish holidays that had passed in the month of Tishrei. We talked about the previous week at the farm and a bit about Sukkot, the plural of sukkah (a hut), and how they remind us of the biblical story of the Israelites that wandered in the desert for forty years and who had only temporary homes. Mrs. Snow came in to do an alternate (non-Hebrew) lesson on the map of the Middle East. The children located and colored in many places on their maps, including that biblical desert, the Sinai.
We moved on to Simchat Torah. They knew that Torah is a scroll, so we compared it to a book which has pages. Books can be flipped through and you can use the index to go back and find topics of interest. The Torah is special, in one way, in that it is read in parashot (weekly portions). We read a poem by R.H. Marks called "Simchat Torah", which is written in a circular pattern and describes the holiday's customs, including, "We read the last of Torah…We read the first of Torah…." On Simchat Torah the scroll needs to be rewound. We also read a rebus story about a poor tailor who celebrates Torah on the holiday even though he can't, like many of us, read Hebrew. We talked about the parts of the Hebrew bible represented by the acronym Tanach: tav for Torah; nun for neviim (prophets); caf for ketubim (writings). Although there are many books in the complete Tanach, I explained that Torah, also called the "Five Books of Moses", is what we focus on in this class as the stories are ones that teach lessons; and that some compare the many (613) "mizvot" in the Torah to the seeds of a pomegranate. We finished our lesson with a craft, paper doll Torahs.
10/20: Today we talked about Humanistic Judaism. It was a philosophical class. First we brainstormed what Judaism/being Jewish is. They included things like food, holidays, language; I asked kids who have been to other Jewish congregations how they differed from CHJ--usually they hold services where there is praying to God.
Then we talked about Humanism. We read a couple of poems from the book Humanism, What's That? A book for curious kids by Helen Bennett. We discussed the Humanistic idea that it is people/ourselves and our own ideas and actions that can improve the world....They colored a picture of the Humanorah during these discussions. Finally, we discussed its symbolism after I explained that this is the symbol that represents the Society for Humanistic Judaism. The menorah is an ancient symbol of Judaism. But the person is at the center of the Humanorah and has a few sets of "arms" that bring forth the light (from the flames). We talked about how "light" is also symbolic, for it can mean joy, goodness, knowledge and ideas.
They spent a few minutes contemplating their Humanistic Judaism and did an independent activity. The assignment: Given pictures of few "tools" (pen, recycling bin, computer, or hammer), choose a tool that you could use to improve the world and draw yourself using it; then give your picture a caption. I should have assigned them different tools because they all chose the recycling bin and showed themselves recycling paper and plastic bottles!
Next we discussed why ancient people needed religion. We talked about how the scientific method and knowledge that has come from it is relatively very, very new. For thousands of years, people really did not understand why things in nature occurred. The class agreed that it must have been scary to live during those times. The ancient people ended up using their feelings to try to explain things, such as how the earth and people came into being, because they did not have science. And they were very creative….We ended our class by reading a few diverse Creation stories, one from the Australian aboriginal people, a Taoist one from China, and a poly-theistic one from Greek mythology. It was interesting, to us all, how completely different each one was.
More on Creation next time! See you in a couple of weeks!
10/6: Today's class we discussed the different calendars we user to keep track of time. We learned that the Jewish calendar follows the moon, while our "everyday" (Gregorian calendar) follows the sun. We learned the first month on the Jewish calendar is Nissan. The first Jewish holiday is Passover and that the new year is during the 7th month. I read the Story of Chelm – a folktale about the importance of the moon v. the sun.
I had a few students demonstrate the way sunlight reflects on the moon. I also reviewed the Hebrew names for the day of the week. We ended class with a few rounds of Jeopardy.
10/20: Today's class we discussed Immigration – specifically coming to the U.S. through Ellis Island. We did a virtual tour of the trip from ship to entry into NY. We followed the trip online using Scholastic's online tour (http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/immigration/tour/). There are 10 "stations" that we looked at from ship to shore. The stops included: third class passage from Europe, arrival in NY, to the line that went from the baggage room thru the registry room, medical inspection, legal inspection to the arrival in NY at the kissing post. We also looked at what happened if you didn't pass the medical or legal inspection – which often meant waiting or worse being sent home. We listened to first-hand audio from those who came from Poland, Palestine & Turkey. The class learned that the journey often wasn't easy or quick. They also heard the joy that comes from arriving in a new place where new lives began.
We did a quick roll play around the room answering questions that immigrants needed to answer like: what's your name?, where were you born?, where are you going? etc. If they hesitated I explained that security might not have let them come into NY. One of the first-hand accounts tells of a girl that might have been sent home because she didn't look like her parents. This was very interesting to the adopted kids in our class who realized they might have been separated from their family. It was a long lesson but not as long as the real deal. ;)
In fact the question came up "what does this have to do with Hebrew School?" Which is easily answered – this is where some Jews come from. We weren't all born in this country; Jews come from all around the world. This is just one piece of the bigger picture of being Jewish. I plan to discuss this idea more in the coming weeks.
10/6: Hello Sunday School families. I have to say I have been so pleasantly surprised at the level and amount of discourse that five students can bring to the class. These are extraordinary students and today was such a pleasure.
As an introduction the Holocaust as a topic, we defined and discussed the following vocabulary words: identity, fear, stereotype, bullying, scapegoat, conformity and propaganda. Students were able to discuss personal identity, and group identity. In defining the words, the students made numerous references and provided examples from school, created examples based on history of sexism and civil rights/issues about race.
I can see this group has the ability to discuss issues in depth. Moving at this pace, it may take us longer to cover the Holocaust as a topic than I had originally anticipated. However, I believe that it is important to allow them to explore their ideas, teaching each other and helping everyone make connections to their lives.
Please know that the topics we cover as we discuss the Holocaust are very content full and one class builds on the next. If for some reason your student misses class, I will email you the information we covered. In that way, everyone will be up to speed and able to contribute in the next class.
10/20: Our small Sunday school group once again impressed me with their ability to sit around a table and have a discussion like a group of adults.
Today we reviewed the vocabulary words from last week and then read a short story, "The Bear that Wasn't". The story about conformity and identity had many themes parallel to themes we will discuss during the history of the Holocaust. Students pointed out that no matter how many times he was told he was not a bear, the bear was able to maintain his identity and knew that others were wrong about him. Another student pointed out that sometimes people keep telling you something about yourself that isn't true, and if you hear it too often you may start to believe it. We discussed how the people in the story made assumptions about the bear based on a very small amount of information, and treated the bear in a a way that was not just because of these assumptions.
After discussing the story, the students referred to their personal identity wheels and shared a part of their identity that would lead people to make an incorrect assumption about who they are.
Returning to our theme of bullying, the students defined the difference between the term bystander and up-stander. Students then reflected on a time in their own life when they either participated in a situation or was a bystander to a situation, instead of standing up and changing things for the better. The experiences were shared and the reasons given included, "because I thought it was funny," "I didn't want to be picked-on/be unpopular,"and "he is really annoying." These students amazed me in their honesty with themselves and the group. They were able to see in this exercise how we are all capable of doing less than the best/most righteous action.
Winding class up, the students stated the facts they know about the Holocaust, and then what they would like to learn.
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.