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.
New Year Begins with Review of Fall Holidays and Discussions of What it Means to be Jewish.
As always, the first two Sunday School meetings of the year focused on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The Kesef class, the youngest kids, learned about foods and symbols and read a story about a family celebrating the New Year.
The Zahav class, second and third graders, learned how the Hebrew calendar is based on lunar cycles and about the tradition of Tashlich. Lacking bread crumbs and moving water, the kids symbolically cast off wrongdoings by writing them on pieces of paper and throwing them into the trash can in the classroom.
In addition to the holidays, the Zahav class discussed what it means to be Jewish – “being part of a big, old family, with a special culture and heritage,” according to teacher Batia Mistriel – and how Humanistic Jews fit in to that ‘big, old family’.
Already familiar with many of these concepts, the Pre-Mitzvah class, fourth and fifth graders, engaged in a lively game of Jewish Jeopardy to review. Then they settled down by quietly revealing to each other what they’d like to do better in the coming year.
The kids in the Mitzvah class, sixth and seventh graders, also got to know each other better by working in small groups to “define what makes someone Jewish.” “We then worked on defining Humanism. This proved to be a bit of a challenge. Students were able to talk about being a Humanistic Jew, but could not separate the Humanism from the Judaism,” reports teacher Rachel Rockwell.
The next week the Mitzvah class broke up into groups again to examine the different branches of Judaism, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Humanistic, and compare how they observe and celebrate the fall holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah.
By working together in groups to answer questions on their own, the kids are developing connections and a sense of community that are the bases of our Congregation and Humanistic Judaism. To learn more about what the teachers are asking and how the kids are responding, read the teachers’ own words at the end of this article.
Shalom Sessions Feature Sounds and Foods of Rosh Hashanah.
During Shalom Sessions, students from all classes convene for 25 minutes to participate in a demonstration and school-wide activity before dismissal. The two Shalom Sessions this month focused on Rosh Hashanah. An annual tradition, the first session featured Joy Moon blowing the Shofar, while her mother Rachel Dreyfus sang and explained the meaning of each blast that summons us to celebrate the New Year. Everyone enjoyed hearing the music and seeing, touching, and even trying to get a sound out of the real ram’s and elk’s horns. All kids, old and young, veterans and newcomers, joined together as a single group, reflecting the purpose of all our Shalom Sessions.
At our second meeting, the Shalom session introduced the Rosh Hashanah seder, a Sephardic service featuring specific foods that are related to blessings for the New Year. The foods are chosen either for their symbolic value or because their names sound like some of the words used in the blessings. The foods include some familiar Jewish foods such as apples and honey, dates, and figs, as well as beets, scallions, green beans, and pumpkin. After we read each blessing, which was revised to reflect Humanistic values, the children got to taste each food. We substituted Fig Newtons for figs and homemade pumpkin bread, baked by Hannah Ulman, for the pumpkins. The least favorite food to try was the beets!
9/11 - Welcome all,
It was wonderful to meet all the new children last week. We spent some time getting to know each other, sharing favorite foods, colors, etc.
We talked about the Jewish New Year, read a story about a family celebrating the holiday, and spent time going over the foods and symbols associated with it.
This Sunday we will be talking more about the holiday, and touch on Yom Kippur. I will also introduce Sukkot to make sure the kids are ready by the time they go build the Sukkah.
9/11 - Welcome, everyone, back to CHJ Sunday School! Our class had fun getting to know one another, as we had several new students and visitors to the class. To start, all of the children wrote their first name on a paper apple. As we went around the room, each had a turn to tell three things about him/herself to the group and then stuck the apple to a "class tree". Today we met: Julian Z., Grace, Maya, Sophie, Eli, Zoe, Julia, Remy, Aiden, Zoe, Julian F., and Jeremy. After our introductions, we had a discussion about "CHJ". The students helped me first define a "congregation". Then we talked about "Judaism" and what Jewishness means (being part of a big, old family, with a special culture and heritage). Next we discussed our branch of Judaism, Humanistic Judaism and our belief that people need to solve their own problems and are responsible for what happens here on Earth. We also talked about how Humanistic Jews believe that being good to other people is important. The children shared their thoughts about God; I explained that in our congregation we respect the diverse beliefs that people have about this. I pointed out that the other branches of Judaism are different from Humanistic Judaism because they say it's very important to believe in and pray to God, whereas for us it is a more personal choice. Next we came up with ways for us to be responsible for keeping a peaceful classroom. The students all gave their opinions and I wrote their agreed upon rules onto poster board:
We then made a handprint "Circle of Peace" around the written rules with our painted hands. It's a lovely sign that I will bring in each week to remind us how to keep our classroom peaceful, respectful (and I hope fun and educational). Laura Snow, our Hebrew teacher, came in to teach the students the song "Tapuchim U'dvash/Apples and Honey". They learned what we say to wish someone a good New Year (Shana Tova) and colored in the Hebrew letters. We then enjoyed the Shalom session with the Moons and the rest of the students where the children heard the shofar.
9/18 - We began class today with a review of last week’s lesson and discussed (and colored) the “Humanorah”, the symbol of the Society for Humanistic Judaism.
Today’s lesson then focused on the Jewish year, the month Tishrei, and Rosh Hashanah. We looked at a poster of a pie-shaped lunar calendar of the Hebrew months. Each of the months begin and end with a new moon, waxing to the middle of each month into a full moon. The students discovered that we are still in Elul 5771 but will start Tishrei 5772 on the first day of the next month—and year—Rosh Hashanah—and there will be a new moon (“no” moon that night—don’t forget to check!). I read a poem/song called “Gifts of the Year” which mentions each month of the Hebrew calendar and the students guessed which monthly holidays were referred to in each line of the poem (i.e. “Kislev is for eight shining candles”).
We completed a hand-out about the month of Tishrei and everyone colored in the many (five) holidays coming up that we are looking forward to. We read the book The Secret Shofar of Barcelona by J.D. Greene about a Converso Jewish boy, living in Spain around 1500, who “secretly” plays the shofar in a concert performed for the Duke and the Inquisition—unbeknownst to them it is the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah. After the story and snack, we discussed the shofar some more. Not only is it traditional to blast it on Rosh Hashanah, but it was used in ancient times to warn of invading enemy armies. I compared the sound it makes to an alarm clock that wakes you up, not literally, but emotionally, on Rosh Hashanah, a time of self reflection.
This led to a discussion about the traditional practice of Tashlich on Rosh Hashanah. Instead of emptying breadcrumbs from our pockets into a stream of water to represent wrongdoings we have done in the past year, I asked everyone to jot down on scrap paper a “wrongdoing” that they have done this past year and want to get rid of. Someone shared that they had not cared for their guinea pig as well as possible; I confessed that I have yelled at my kids at times. Most of our ideas were kept private, but everyone came up to crumple and tear their scrap of paper into the trash bin.
Mrs. Snow came in for Hebrew and we met in the pod for a special shalom session, the Rosh Hashanah seder.
Pre-Mitzvah (Marnie - 4/5)
9/18 - Good Afternoon everyone!
We started with a quick review of the Fall Jewish holidays: Rosh Hashanna, Yom Kippur, Sukkot & Simchat Torah. Since the kids have been learning this for years we reviewed by playing Jewish Jeopardy. The kids were broken into two teams - J & E (Jessica & Emma) vs. G & H (G & Hannah). It was a close scoring game with G & H going into Final Jeopardy with the lead. The Final Jeopardy Answer - This "instrument" is played to celebrate the High Holidays, to call people to war in ancient times, and to call people together. The question: What is the Shofar? Both teams KNEW the answer but in the end J & E risked it all and came out ahead.
During snack we discussed our goals for the New Year. The kids wrote down something they'd like to learn/to do better in the coming year. Overall it was a nice discussion and a good way to learn a bit more about each other. The kids also found out that today is my birthday. In honor of this they learned how to say Happy Birthday in Hebrew and sang Happy Birthday today to help me celebrate. The other Hebrew phrase they learned was Happy New Year - L'shana tova.
9/11 -Great first day!
We started with a brief silent reading from our text The Story of the Jews, bringing us up to the 10 commandments. The students surmised that the commandments were handed down from God to Moses as rules to follow. We discussed that while some were concerned with God, others were about ethics. The group defined ethics.
The students then broke into 4 groups where they each wrote out 10 commandments for our classroom environment.
When we came back together as a class, groups shared ideas and wrote out (thank you to Becky Hoving for being secretary) the 10 commandments of the Mitzvah class. This was then signed by each student.
We then broke into groups again to define what makes someone Jewish. All agreed on:
I added that we share a system of ethics/beliefs about behavior toward others.
We then worked on defining Humanism. This proved to be a bit of a challenge. Students were able to talk about being a Humanistic Jew, but could not separate the Humanism from the Judaism. Google and Elise's iPod came to the rescue! We learned that being a humanist means being concerned with the welfare of other people.
Just when we began to talk about 9 11, it was time to go. My intention was to discuss the humanistic efforts that were evidenced that day … people helping each other, first responders, etc. We ran out of time. Your students were so on task, with so many appropriate responses to all discussions that we did not finish everything.
9/18 - Today we covered the different types of Judaism and Fall Holidays.
As students ate snack, they read out of our text a small excerpt illustrating American Jews and the different ways they do observe Jewish customs.
Following this, they broke out into 4 small groups. Each group was assigned a branch of Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or Humanistic) and one fall holiday (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Simchat Torah or Sukkot). Each group then researched (through available articles) and wrote down the traditions and relationship to God their branch and the meaning and customs of the holiday.
We then watched a short movie outlining the traditions of the Orthodox. We discussed the differences to our lives.
After Hebrew, each group presented their findings to the class.
Following, we all played vocabulary bingo, drawing on language from our lessons last week, this week and holiday related vocabulary.
To wrap up students told me what they knew about the Holocaust. This will be the subject of our next few lessons. I am sure your students will have questions and being interested in speaking with you about the material we cover.
As we cover this sensitive content, we will watch the movie, "Paper Clips" about middle school students learning about the Holocaust and (I hope) arrange for a survivor to come in and speak with the students. In addition there has been some discussion about planning field trips for the students. One potential museum to visit is the Museum of Jewish Heritage in NYC. Please check out the website (below) and let me know if that trip would be of interest to your family.
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.