Welcome to the New Year at CHJ Sunday School!
It’s the beginning of another exciting school year at CHJ. Our four Sunday School classes are full of inquisitive children who are ready to learn. There was a great deal to discuss between getting reacquainted with old friends and meeting new ones, and the holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot.
Scroll down to read more in the teachers’ own words.
Our first Shalom Session of the year took place during Yamim Noraim, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The students heard Dave Shafer explain the significance of the shofar and enlist Hannah Ulman to simulate communication with shofars between two towns thousands of years ago. In our last Shalom session Gail Ostrow helped the kids celebrate International Peace Day by making Peace Cranes signing, “May Peace Prevail on Earth”, saying the Peace Pledge and discussing and drawing what peace means to them.
Zahav (Batia - 2/3)
9/8: In our 2nd/3rd grade class today were Ben and Joshua (both returning from last year), joined by Zoe, Ruby, and Nate. We started off by meeting in the “pod” for a snack of apples and honey. We discussed the symbolism of apples and honey (for a sweet New Year, the kids explained). We also talked about other Rosh Hashana symbols, such as the sweet round challah that represents the yearly calendar that keeps coming around again. Everyone shared something about what they did during the past week for the holiday.
As they dipped apples in honey, the children listened to an unusual story for the high holidays called “Running for the Mona Lisa” (http://ourjewishcommunity.org/wp-content/pdfs/yom_kippur_mona_lisa.pdf). The children in the story learn a lesson about slowing down and taking the time to think about and appreciate things. We discussed why and how it relates to the High Holidays; during this time of year in the Jewish calendar, Jewish people take time to think about how they have behaved, how they have done well, or how they could have done better.
Back in our classroom, we did a “Meet & Greet” activity. Partners interviewed each other. On the interview sheet, the last questions they asked were more personal: “Something you are proud of doing this year” and “Something you could have done better/are not proud of.” Each child then introduced their partner to the group.
Mrs. Snow, our Hebrew teacher, came in and taught us a couple of songs for Rosh Hashanah. In “Tapuchim U’dvash” (apples and honey) we learned some vocabulary words: Shana= year; Tova=good; metuka=sweet. When we finished class by making New Year’s cards, they had the phrases to write in the cards. We will hang our cards in the sukkah at the end of the month.
9/22: For our second meeting of Sunday school, James and Sarah joined our class of Ben, Joshua, Ruby, and Zoe. Today is James’s birthday, so we started class by celebrating with snack and Munchkins. Thanks to you for providing the snacks this year. As we try to keep a policy of nut-free snacks, this year it's especially important to be mindful of that policy since there is a nut allergy in my class.
As they munched, I read the picture book Hillel Builds a House (Lepon/Barr). The book follows a boy named Hillel through a year of Jewish holidays, from winter with Hannukah and all the way back to fall with Sukkot--when he finally gets to build a "house". It gave us a chance to discuss a bit about each of the major holidays and what we usually do to celebrate.
In our room we "read" a song (my CD player wouldn't work) called "The Gifts of the Year" by Joanie Calem (http://www.joaniecalem.com/Joanie-booklet-VIEW.pdf). The song teaches the names of the months in Hebrew and describes what each months brings in Israel or what holiday comes then. One of the lines goes "and each moon brings us its own special song" so I showed the group a poster of the Jewish Lunar Year which shows how each Hebrew month begins with a new/"no" moon. From the poster diagram, they were able to guess about what phase the moon would be in for some of our major holidays. For example, Rosh Hashanah was new moon, and Tu Bishvat (the 15th of Shevat) is a full moon. We also talked about how this year we will have a Jewish leap-year and add Adar II to the calendar in order to fix our lunar calendar that would otherwise get out of sync over time.
Mrs. Snow taught about the letter samech using playdough, and Kate Schwartz made leaf sun-catchers with the group--they are welcome to bring them to Wakeman farm next Sunday to decorate the sukkah. Looking forward to seeing you then!
Pre-Mitzvah (Marnie - 4/5)
9/8: Welcome back. Today the 4/5 class returned eagerly to CHJ Sunday school. There were new faces, old friends and a whole new dynamic.
We began by getting to know each other. Everyone introduced themself by stating their name, nickname, school, grade, favorite color and family background. I wanted students to share where their family comes from because part of this year we will focus on where Jews come from. For homework I asked the class to find out where their families come from. (With a few exceptions, most students think their families are from the Tri States). I did a quick "scavenger hunt" to see who learned more about their new class, by having students "find" the person who's favorite color was... Or who's family came from where. We even had time to read two folktales & have our first Hebrew lesson. I can't wait to see what this class shares next.
9/22: Here's what we learned at CHJ today. It was a very productive session filled with lots of activities. We began with a craft lesson with Kate. The class took felt pieces and "sewed" them together to make garlands to decorate the sukkah next week.
When we finished that I read a story from Wise and Not so Wise - ten tales from the rabbis. The story today was called “Figs for Gold”. It's about an old man who is rewarded by the Emperor Hadrian for his wisdom. With the reward the old man buys and plants a fig tree. Years later when the tree bears fruit he gives the figs to the Emperor. He is once again rewarded. A greedy neighbor seeing this steals the figs. He brings them to the Emperor, and he lies and says he grew the figs. The Emperor realizes they are from the old man's tree and has his men throw the figs at the neighbor. The end of the story the neighbor then is glad he didn't steal the pomegranates because they are like stones when thrown. We discussed the moral of this tale — the class felt it was not to take, "steal" others ideas, work, etc. It was also about taking time to earn rewards like fruit from a tree.
The class also colored maps of Persia with Mrs. Snow and made paper cranes for International Peace day at Shalom Session.
Mitzvah (Rachel - 6/7)
9/8: Welcome back Sunday School families! I hope you all had a wonderful and restful summer.
Our mitzvah class consists of 5 veteran students this year. Hannah, G, Jessica, Eli and Jonah. This small group will allow for a lot of student input, intense discussion and debate. Today was no exception. In keeping with my goal of always making our content relevant to the students' lives while connected to our curriculum, the majority of our discussion revolved around the current crisis in Syria. As we learn about the Holocaust the fall and how both individuals and governments act in times of war, the connection to current events will be extremely evident.
As always, this group of bright young minds amazed me with their debate of when a government should intervene, their connection between school yard bullies and governments, and questioning when the bystander must stand-in and what are the potential consequences. Discussion about basic human rights evolved and we asked ourselves, as humanists what rights do we believe all people have. The students made connections to our Constitution, the civil rights history in the US and the current issues with our right to bear arms.
Based on this opening day, I can see we are going to have an incredibly interesting year!
9/22: (Steve Ulman, subbing for Rachel Rockwell) Last Sunday morning, Eli, Jessica and I as Rachel's sub, had a thoughtful discussion about what makes us Jewish and what it means to be a Humanistic Jew. Eli and Jessica brainstormed and came up with the following factors that make someone Jewish: heritage, parents, beliefs, holidays, traditions and history. Jessica asked, “If you celebrate the holidays, but don’t go to Sunday School, can you still be Jewish?” Eli responded, “Yes, but you can’t have a Bar Mitzvah.” We noted that according to Humanistic Judaism, you are Jewish if you consider yourself to be Jewish and celebrate the holidays and the heritage of the Jewish people.
Eli and Jessica then shared things from home that made them feel Jewish. Eli explained that his wax encrusted menorah made him feel Jewish because he used it to celebrate Hanukkah with his family. Jessica showed use documents certifying that one of her ancestors had learned English when she came to America. We discussed the importance of learning English as an immigrant and how the majority of our Jewish ancestors shared the the experience of coming to America and having to learn the language.
Eli wondered about the significance of the document itself. “Was it like a document that said you were a U.S. citizen? Was it more important to speak English or have citizenship papers?” We speculated that it was more important to speak English because people wouldn’t necessarily know if you were a citizen, but it was very difficult to function in America if you couldn’t speak English. We noted that millions of people are facing these issues today just as our Jewish ancestors did en mass a century ago.
Strictly speaking, each branch of Judaism has rules about what makes us Jewish, so we touched on those and the range of beliefs behind them. We talked about the Orthodox belief that your mother must be Jewish and that all rules in the Torah must be followed literally because they were handed down by God. We noted that Conservative beliefs are similar, except that the rules don’t have to be followed literally. In contrast, we noted that Reform Jews may accept people as Jewish, even if their parents weren’t Jewish, as long as they believe in God, the Torah and Israel. Finally, we touched on the Reconstructionist belief that God is a force in the universe that does not take on a human form.
This discussion brought us back to what Humanistic Jews believe, not only about what makes us Jewish but about God and supernatural forces. Eli asked, “Can you be a Humanistic Jew and believe in God.” We said, “Yes,” but any belief in God is personal; Humanistic Jews do not celebrate it as a group. We also touched on the term “agnostic”, meaning that it doesn’t matter whether or not there is a God. Finally, we read passages from Helen Bennett’s book “Humanism, What’s That?” in which kids discuss the Humanistic belief that we must take of ourselves and each other because all we can count on is each other.
Hopefully, this long recap will help G, Hannah and Jonah keep up with what we’re doing. At home, please continue the conversation about what makes us Jewish and what Humanistic Jews believe. We meet again this Sunday at the Wakeman Town Farm down the road from Bedford Middle School to celebrate Sukkot.
Class of 2013
At the final meeting of the year on May 19, the Sunday School community bid a warm farewell to this year’s six graduates, Abey Levin, Elise Sullivan, Gaia Mistriel, Jackson Grin, Nate Ulman and Rebecca Tomarkin. According to custom, Sunday School Director Beth Ulman read a brief description of each graduate’s accomplishments in CHJ, school and the local community. Then parents thanked the teachers and Beth with token gifts. This year’s ceremony was intimate and relaxed thanks to Abey’s parents, Diane Keefe and John Levin, who hosted the event in their home, as opposed to Bedford Middle School’s cavernous cafeteria. Spirits were high with light-hearted banter like John’s comment that, “Abey is a committed atheist. However, with a name like ‘Abraham Levin’, he’s also going to be Jewish wherever he goes.”
Students End the Year with Discussions of Moses in the Desert, Kosher Laws and Jewish Immigration.
During the last two sessions of the year, all classes spent some time discussing Jewish immigration to America. Batia’s Zahav (2/3) class looked at a timeline; Marnie’s Pre-Mitvah (4/5) class watch clips of the PBS series “Jews in America,” noting the many Jewish heroes who emerged. Rachel’s Mitzvah (6/7) class discussed the portrayal of Jews leaving for America in the final scene of “Fiddler on the Roof.” This theme is compelling for our students, many of whom have a strong sense of the role Jewish immigration played in their own families’ histories.
The Zahav class also talked about the Ten Commandments and the Jews wandering in the desert for 40 years. Batia notes, “We discussed how when Moses arrives at Mt. Sinai there is thunder and lightning that makes the Israelites afraid; this led to some comments about how it's ‘just thunder...’ and how people then did not understand the science behind natural forces so they thought it was anger from God(s).” Sherwine Wine would be proud.
Kids Make Bracelets for Whole in the Wall Gang, then Distribute Tzedakah.
For our spring Mitzvah Day, instead of making sandwiches, we did a different service project. Emma Finn, a graduate of CHJ Sunday School, had the idea of making friendship bracelets for The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a special camp for kids with cancer. Emma planned and implemented the entire project with our Sunday School students. She provided the string and started bracelets for every student, then gave a demonstration on how to make a bracelet. The kids had a great time braiding and twisting the string, and Emma was happy to take home a bunch of bracelets to distribute at Camp. Thank you, Emma! May 5 was our last shalom session for the year. The kids broke up into their tzedakah groups and decided what to do with the money they had collected through the year. Each group was also given extra money from last year's collection, which we hadn't distributed. Referring back to a previous shalom session about different worthy charities, the kids discussed in their groups where they wanted their money to go. Here's where the Sunday School tzedakah money went: American Heart Association--$44 Hole in the Wall Gang Camp-$68 World Wildlife Fund-$27 Nothing But Nets-$78 Connecticut Food Bank (of which Monroe Food Pantry is a part)-$88.
4/28 - Today we watched the last half hour of the movie the "Ten Commandments" (animated 2007--http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ozmat2ChKvc). We reviewed a bit of the Torah stories we heard last class and discussed who the "Children of Israel" were and looked at the descendants of Jacob on the Jewish Family Tree. They identified Miriam and Aaron, siblings of Moses, and also Joshua, the next leader of the Israelites after Moses dies before being allowed to enter "the Promised Land". We talked about the covenant between God and the Israelites; they were to be given the Promised Land but their half of the bargain was to remember/have faith in the God who brought them out of Egypt. We discussed how when Moses arrives at Mt. Sinai there is thunder and lightening that makes the Israelites afraid; this led to some comments about how it's "just thunder..." and how people then did not understand the science behind natural forces so they thought it was anger from God(s). While Moses is up on the mountain the people continue to lose faith and complain and pressure Aaron into building a golden calf to pray to. Moses comes down forty days later with the tablets of the Ten Commandments, one of which forbids making "idols". After this point in the story, the remaining original Israelites who came out of Egypt get punished: because of their sins they will be condemned to wander in the wilderness for forty years until every one of them has passed. Only their descendants will enter the Promised Land. We looked briefly at the (movie's depiction of the) "Ark" where the tablets were kept safe by the Levite priests as the Israelites traveled in a camp. Julian mentioned he just watched an Indiana Jones movie about the Ark of the Covenant (!) Then we discussed the Ten Commandments themselves. What were they? Which ones were important?, Good?, Bad?, Odd?, Humanistic?, Still laws around the world?
5/5 - We had a busy year in our Zahav class, so today's class finally covered the section of our curriculum on Jewish American Immigration. To start we reviewed a timeline:
1492: Expulsion of Jews from Spain
1654: First community of Jewish settlers arrive in New Amsterdam (New York)
1600s-1700s: Wave of Sephardic Jewish immigrants to America. (In 1776 there were approximately 2,500 Jews living in America)
1820-1880: Wave of German Jews to America (In 1820s there were approximately 6,000 American Jews; by 1880 there were approximately 280,000)
1880-1929: Wave of Eastern European Jewish immigrants (By 1925 there were approx. 4,500,000 Jews in the U.S.)
2005:Estimate of current U.S. Jewish population is between 5 and 6 million.
We had a discussion about why Jews were expelled from Spain. Some remembered that Columbus came to the New World around the same time, so I mentioned that some people believe that there were Jews on his ships. We reviewed the meaning of Sephardic and Ashkenazi. We looked at the timeline from a mathematical perspective and noticed that most Jews came to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries from Germany and Eastern Europe. Many students in the class had family members that came from those areas. Two students and Sam's mother presented immigration stories. We noticed that Jews and others came to America due to economic or social/political problems. I read the poem by Sephardic American poetess Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus" (and sang the main line* remembered from my elementary school days chorus concert) until they guessed where these lines are inscribed--the Statue of Liberty.
* "Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Over snack I read part of the picture book Leaving for America (R. Bresnick-Perry), an autobiography of a girl who leaves her Russian shtetl in the 1920's for New York via Ellis Island.
4/28 - Here's what we learned on Sunday.... We recapped lessons from the year. We started by watching clips from PBS's series Jews in America. I picked clips focusing on Jewish heroes like Lillian Wald, a humanitarian who was a founding nurse at the Henry St. Settlement (the early beginning of NY visiting nurses that became the model/cornerstone of Maimonides hospital. I also picked clips discussing the early days of immigration and life in the lower East side of NY. The second half of class we read two Jewish folktales. To tie everyting together, we discussed how both the clips and the folk tales tied into Tikun Olom & being a hero. We finished up with a quick round of Rapid fire quiz questions before Hebrew with Mrs. Snow.
5/5 - Here's the recap for today, our last class. We discussed what it means when something is kosher. I explained the basics - not mixing meat and milk, I also gave examples of foods that aren't kosher like bacon, and shellfish. Then as a class we read Baxter the Pig who wanted to be Kosher. The class immediately recognized that Baxter, a pig could never be kosher. They thought it was funny that he would want to be kosher and eaten as part of Shabbat dinner. We ended with a game of kosher or not kosher - I named a food and the kids needed to decide if it the food is kosher or not while running to the correct side. I ended the class by showing them the symbols that mark prepared food items as kosher.
Mitzvah (Rachel -6/7)
5/5 - We finished watching Fiddler on the Roof. As the Jews were driven from their hometown Anatevka , Eli asked, "Did any of them go to America." Sure enough in the next scene Lazar Wolf tells Tevye he is going to Chicago. Tevye responds, "we are going to New York, so we'll be neighbors." In class we noted that this is the way many of our ancestors came to America, forced to leave their homeland but with little sense of what really lay ahead. After the end of the movie, the kids painted a banner for next's week's graduation while being needled with review questions, like, "On what day was Haman killed?" and “Who founded Humanistic Judaism?”
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.