Kids Celebrate Bravery of Maccabees and Religious Freedom.
Hanukkah, Hanukkah, Hanukkah! All classes addressed the Festival of Lights and the story of the Maccabees in their own ways this month. The Kesef (K/1) class learned about the foods and symbols of Hanukkah. The Zahav (2/3) class discussed the Hanukkah story with the idea that there are many versions of history that often change. Religious and cultural freedom is the constant them of the Hanukkah story, however. Connecting this theme to American history, the class read a book about a Jewish soldier during the Revolutionary War who tells General Washington about his observance of Hanukkah and why he came to America for religious freedom. The Zhahav kids also discussed the most frequent holiday, Shabbat and its closing ritual Havdalah.
The Pre-Mitzvah (4/5) kids expressed their feeling about Hanukkah in a poem they wrote together. The Mitzvah class (6/7) used the holiday to examine religious freedom generally and took a gruesome look at the Spanish Inquisition in particular. The kids wondered if a public school like Bedford Middle School, open to all religions and cultures, should be renting space to our own CHJ, which promotes primarily one religion and culture. The themes that emerged in all classes were that Humanistic Jews focus on the bravery and ingenuity of the Maccabees as opposed to the divine miracle of the oil and that the holiday celebrates the freedom of individuals to practice their religions and cultures.
Scroll down to read more in the teachers’ own words.
School-Wide Gatherings Feature Hanukkah Jeopardy, Dreidel-a-thon and Annual Party.
Kids of all ages got together three times this month, first for a game of Hanukkah Jeopardy, then for a Dreidel-a-thon and finally for the annual Hanukkah party. Competing in Hanukkah Jeopardy, the kids formed groups of four or five, each with a member of the Mitzvah class coaching the younger kids. The Mitzvah coaches helped decide how many points to play for and how to phrase questions given the answers. Becca Goldblatt invented CHJ’s First Annual Deidel-athon, inspired by The University of Maryland Hillel’s world record of 603 dreidels spinning simultaneously for at least ten seconds. With Harris Goldblatt as judge, kids and parents alike took advantage of all hard surfaces in the cafeteria to spin as many dreidels as possible. After our Shalom session, CHJ’s record stands at 95. Will we beat it next year?
We closed the darkest month of the year with the lights, music and food of the Hanukkah Party. Several guests attended our annual children’s service, which explains the importance of Hanukkah from an Humanistic perspective. The story of the courage and perseverance of the Maccabees was told as the children lit the eight candles of the menorah. The other important them was that of lighting the darkness of the season. The service was punctuated with singing led by Abby Ulmans’s voice and G Rockwell on guitar.
An amusing highlight was the performance of “Through My Window,” a movement song usually done by Taffy’s K/1 class. This year, however, everyone who had been in Taffy’s class in past years (and there are a lot of kids who qualify, since Taffy has been teaching in our Sunday School for a long time!) was invited to participate. Graduates and little kids sang and danced together. We will post pictures!
The audience was then entertained by Batia’s 2/3 class, who, wearing handcrafted paper flame hats, performed a Hanukkah poem about lighting candles. Marni’s 4th graders then performed an original poem about the holiday, wowing us with their writing and oratory skills.
Latke Man Allan Hoving, despite the fact that his children have both graduated from Sunday School, reprised his critical role of providing latkes for the large crowd. Lisa Sullivan and her crew laid out a delicious spread of bagels, salads, and desserts to go along with the latkes. The craft tables were full on the other end of the room and many children celebrated the holiday by playing dreidel.
Kesef (Taffy - K/1)
We have been reviewing the meaning and symbols of Chanukah. We have been reading stories, talking about food and generally getting ready for the Sunday school holiday party, and whatever celebrations the kids attend with the family. We will continue to read about Chanukah in preparation for our party. Ask your children questions about how many nights the holiday lasts, and why. I hope they will remember!
Zahav (Batia - 2/3)
12/2 - Today we finished reading the book The Sabbath Lion, based on a North African Jewish folktale. We discussed what a folktale means (that it is not a "true" story) and talked about Shabbat customs. After reviewing the difference between traditional Jewish and Humanistic blessings for Shabbat, we discussed Havdalah, the ceremony that signifies the end of Shabbat. We read a Humanistic Havdalah service and discussed the symbolism of the overflowing Kiddush cup, the spice box, and the three-wick candle which were passed around. Over snack, we did two crosswords as a group, one as a Shabbat review and another for a Chanukah intro (and to prepare for our Shalom session Chanukah Jeopardy game run by Becca Goldblat). The boys practiced reading the words to the song "Shabbat Shalom" in Hebrew with Laura Snow. And during Music they sang Chanukah songs led by Abby Ulman and G Rockwell on guitar.
12/9 - We started class by looking at two dreidels. One had the letters nun, gimmel, hey, shin. The other had the letters nun, gimmel, hey, pey. After explaining to the class that the first one's letters stand for "a Great Miracle Happened There", I asked them what they thought the other dreidel's letters stood for. We talked about why Israeli dreidels are made with the pey (for here or 'po').
Then we watched a cartoon about the "Story of Chanuka" on Youtube. We talked about the "history" that you read in books or see in movies and about how it is not always the real true story. Sometimes history changes over time, and it is alright to question it. Next I read a version of the Chanuka story written by Rabbi Sherwin Wine, the founder of Humanistic Judaism. In this version of the Chanukah story, the part about the tiny drop of oil lasting eight days is told as a legend from the Talmud added by rabbis hundreds of years after the Maccabees' victory. The true miracle of Chanuka that we can celebrate as Humanistic Jews is that the smaller group of Maccabees overcame the Greek army in order to be free and keep their identity. I compared this to the freedom we have as Americans after we looked at a few pages from the book Hanukkah at Valley Forge (by S. Krensky, illus. G. Harlin) about a Jewish soldier during the Revolutionary War who tells general Washington about his observance of Chanuka (and why he came to America for religious freedom). In that picture book, the narrator tells of the miracle of the oil as if it were a fact of history. Yet the book Hanukkah at Valley Forge is itself a piece of historical fiction, based on fact yet embellished and changed around.
We looked at a Hanukkiah and talked about the menorah in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem (and about how synagogues have a 'ner tamid', a light that stays on always--except to change the bulb!). We also talked about the time of the winter solstice, how days are the shortest this time of year. Historians have written that in ancient times, before Chanuka (or Christmas), people would celebrate the darkest time of the year by brightening up the night with candles (or oil lamps). They called the festival of lights before Chanukah, "Neyrot" (candles).
Pre-Mitzvah (Marnie - 4/5)
12/2 - We read 2 books telling the story of Chanukah. We discussed how the story of the Maccabees comes from oral stories based on history. The class also made decisions about what they want to share at the Chanukah party. They decided they want to share a poem that they are writing about the story of the Maccabees. So we began writing the poem.
12/9 - We finished writing our Chanukah play/poem. We also began practicing all our different parts for the Chanukah party next week week. Since we had time before everyone was ready for us, we played a quick game of dreidel for chocolate gelt. (To warm up for the world record dreidel attempt planned for Shalom session). Finally, we wrapped up with some Chanukah riddles and a quick folktale.
Mitzvah (Rachel -6/7)
12/2 - This week we began our unit on religious freedom. For the first half of class students reached into the corners of their memory and reconstructed the story of Chanukah. We watched Matisyahu's video "Miracle on Ice" and interpretted the meaning of the video. Multiple layers of meaning were found. Eli brought up the relationship between the USA being the underdog in the famous hockey game (there is a hockey element to the video), while the Maccabees were the underdog in our Chanukah story. The students also realized that Matisyahu in a cage wearing Santa clothes was a metaphor for the Jews being forced to worship Greek gods. Also discussed was the meaning of a miracle, and how as Humanistic Jews we can celebrate Chanukah for it's lessons about religious freedom; even if we don't believe in miracles that come from God.
In the second half of class we discussed the Spanish Inquisition. Along with our discussion and Power Point slides of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, we watched a few videos about the Inquisition. We began with an Introduction by Monty Python, followed by an in depth piece from PBS and then we watched half of the Discovery Channel's documentary on the strappatto. The latter really impacted the students as to the severity of the actions taken by the Inquisition. (all videos are listed below)
Next week we will discuss Freedom of Religion in the US and Israel today.
http://www.pbs.org/kcet/when-worlds-collide/people/queen-isabella-and-king-ferdinand-i.html (PBS Isabella and Ferdinand)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bci-cAGMwts&feature=related (Discovery Channel-machines of malice)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vt0Y39eMvpI (Monty Python)
12/9 - On Sunday we continued our discussions on religious freedom by taking a look at the US and Israel. We discussed legal documents and the language used, including the Declaration of Independence; which refers to one's "Creator". We explored topics related to the separation of church and state. These included the Pledge of Allegiance and some current political issues in Israel. The students all had so much to contribute, from personal experiences in school to asking great questions.
A couple of these questions and comments included:
Next week we will practice for the Chanukah service and spin the dreidel until the party begins.
Kids Learn About Folk and Biblical Tales, Jewish Heroes, Practicing Judaism Humanistically, World Jewry and Religious Freedom.
Starting with Simchat Torah, the Kesef class learned about the importance of books in Jewish culture and will continue reading Jewish folk tales throughout the year. The Zahav class considered creation myths, the Big Bang theory and the emergence of science to explain the world around us. The discussion turned to the philosophy of Humanistic Judaism. Then the kids compared traditional Shabbat celebrations to Humanistic ones. The Pre-Mitzvah class discussed, “What makes us Jewish?” and the different branches of Judaism. The kids studied the biblical heroes, Ruth and King David, combining familiarity with the Bible and the Humanistic emphasis on Jewish heroes. Starting with the myth of the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel, the Mitzvah class explored communities possibly related to the lost tribes, including the Lemba of South Africa, the Bnai Menashe of India, the Ethiopian Jews and the Pathani tribesmen of Afghanistan. Study focused on Ethopian Jewry. Subsequent classes will address the question of religious freedom, starting with the Hanukkah story, progressing to the Spanish Inquisition, and ending with Soviet Jewry.
Shalom Sessions Celebrate Sukkot, Build Community and Explore Klezmer
SUKKOT - SEPT. 30
Wakeman Town Farm was the venue for the Sunday School celebration of Sukkot on Sept.30. The Farm, located just down the driveway from Bedford Middle School, next to the soccer fields, is a model facility created to educate the community with local healthy food production, responsible land stewardship, sustainable practices and community service orientation. It is supported by the Town of Westport and donations. Check it out at wakemantownfarm.org.
Our gracious host, Carrie Aitkenhead, provided a tour of the demonstration farm, which included plantings, animals, and a compost pile, among other things. She showed the kids beehives and allowed them to pet the rabbits. Then the kids went into the gardens to pick produce to hang in the Sukkah. The Farm allowed us to build our Sukkah right on its grounds, so we went directly from field to Sukkah to hang our decorations. (Just like the ancient Jews!) We also hung cards and paper chains made by our kids in Sunday School.
The Sukkah was beautiful to look at as we had our annual service (see our photos!). Abby led us in singing “The Garden Song,” accompanied by G on the guitar. After the service, we continued to enjoy the outdoors as we ate some snacks and the kids played at the Farm.
CREATING COMMUNITY - OCTOBER 14 & 28
October Shalom Sessions were dedicated to creating community in our Sunday School. Using a Harry Potter-like “sorting kippah,” parent Becca Goldblat followed the kippah’s directions and sorted all the kids into “teams.” The intention for these mixed-age groups is for the kids to get to know each other better outside their classrooms. After the sorting, the kids made posters for their teams and decorated tzedakah boxes to use throughout the year. At the end of the year, we will see how much each team collected, and each team will decide what to do with its tzedakah money.
For the Oct. 28 Shalom Session, the kids once again joined their teams for a “Getting to Know You Game.” Each child was given a “bingo card” with different attributes in each square. The kids then had to find someone in the room who fit each attribute, such as “plays soccer” or “has been to Israel.” The result was that the kids talked to each other and the adults in the room to complete their cards, and older kids helped younger kids who couldn’t read. It was a beautiful process to watch! Many thanks to Becca Goldblat, who has organized a year’s worth of original activities for our Shalom Sessions.
KLEZMER – NOVEMBER 18
The Adult Ed organizers were kind enough to save a half hour at the end of the Klezmer presentation for our kids to enjoy the musician and her music. For our Shalom Session, the entire Sunday School went to the auditorium for a kid-friendly Klezmer program. Adrienne Greenbaum was terrific with them, alternating between playing her flute, acting out roles, and engaging the kids with questions. Her setting was a traditional European Jewish wedding. There was much consternation from most of the family members, none of whom, it seemed, wanted the wedding to happen! Sad music and angry faces began the proceedings, but acceptance and forgiveness by both sides of the family triumphed in the end, resulting in happy music and dancing. Julian Zeppetello did a convincing job as the groom, while Julia Bale played his young wife. The rest of our Sunday Schoolers were family members and villagers who attended the wedding and acted out different parts. Everyone was smiling, so it seems a good time was had by all!.
10/14 - Last session we discussed the importance of books and reading/studying in Jewish culture. I read a little about Simchat Torah to them. We also read an old Jewish folktale. The moral of the tale is to be grateful for all that we have. I will be exploring folktales throughout the year.
10/14 - We started with a review of the Hebrew calendar by looking at a word search of the Hebrew months, reflecting on the month of Tishrei 5773 calendar we worked on a couple of classes ago, and took a peek at the lunar calendar. We saw that, since Sukkot starts in the middle of the lunar month (Tishrei 15), it must be when the moon is just about full. This was a good segue to the picture book Night Lights by Barbara D. Goldin (illus. Louise August) about a family that "dwells" in their sukkah during the holiday and can see the lights of the moon and stars through the sukkah's roof of branches. The children in the story learn about the sukkot (temporary huts) of bible times that our ancestors stayed in for the forty years of wandering through the wilderness, between their escape from Egypt until their settlement in the land of Israel. And they learn about the sukkot of the ancient Jewish famers, used during the fall harvest times.
Afterwards we had a discussion about class behavior and came up with a list of positive rules for our group:
· Do be nice and respect others and treat them the way you would want to be treated
· Use an "indoor" voice
· Raise your hand
· Let others finish their sentence
· Use kind words
Then we had a discussion about the philosophy of Humanistic Judaism. The children who had been in my class last year helped explain to the newer ones what Humanistic Jews believe: that it is important to learn about and preserve our culture and history; and that what we as humans can do to help the world is what's important (independent from a god).
This discussion led to a talk about religion in general, and I brought up the fact that many people in ancient times did not know how to explain mysterious phenomena. Such as, how did the world begin? One child then gave a detailed summary of the Big Bang theory, so I asked him how we know about it now, and he replied, "science". So, since science did not exist in the ancient times, people came up with various explanations of one God or many gods that created and controlled things (the students compared the Jews' monotheism to the Greeks' polytheism--boy, they're smart!). Next class we will continue to read and compare the Creation stories from different cultures.
10/28 - Since Batia had an important outside commitment today, I had the pleasure of being the teacher for the morning. As you know, last week, the class began to discuss Creation. This week we continued that theme. I created an oversized puzzle for the class to solve, which would require them first to listen to and analyze three different creation stories from various cultures: the Biblical story, an Egyptian story, and a Native American story. We were really surprised by how many similarities we found between the three stories. The boys were especially taken with the Native American story, which suggests that a coyote was the first being who created the Earth and its people. They had lots of opinions on the likelihood of that and surmised, if that was true, what coyotes we sometimes see in our backyards might be thinking about us!
After we read each story, to get a little movement in and keep our minds fresh, we lined up and took two shots each into a Nerf basketball net. For each basket a classmate dunked, we gave ourselves a minute in which to complete our giant puzzle. We were a little bit worried at the end of the third story, because we had only accrued five minutes, but then Bradley saved the day because he wanted to share one more story he had heard about: the Big Bang theory. We had a lot of luck at the hoop after that one, and we came up with a total of twelve minutes. We completed the puzzle as a team, using what we had learned from the stories we read, and came in well under our goal of twelve minutes. It was an exciting moment when we solved the puzzle in time!
To round out the session, Laura Snow came in to work with us on some reading and writing in the new Hebrew workbooks. Highlights for the boys were writing the word "Shabbat" in Hebrew letters using wikki sticks and solving the clever riddles from ancient Jews which Laura posed to the group. The class also worked on a word search which incorporated the key ideas and terms we read about in the creation stories. Finally, we made up our own creation story which took both plausible ("In the beginning there was nothing but darkness") and humorous ("...and then a skunk came out of nowhere and sprayed the Earth and that became the ground") twists and turns as each boy added on their own ideas.
11/18 - The class before last (Oct. 28), Rebecca Goldblat (Sam's mother) had subbed for me. That lesson they read the Jewish Creation story and compared and contrasted it to a Native American and an Egyptian one (all while playing a basketball game!). Last week when I asked the boys to tell me about the Jewish version, they were not forthcoming. So we watched a Lego animation video of it on Youtube. This was a good introduction for our next lesson topic, Shabbat. We watched another short video clip of an interview with a Humanistic rabbi who was asked "what does Shabbat mean to Humanistic Jews?" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgo41eFOwn0&list=PL7B2B2860C3690CAE&index=1&feature=plpp_video
The rabbi in the video had mentioned that people and animals needed a special day to rest and gather. This led to some discussion about rabbis (the boys thought she did not look like a rabbi--not an older man with a beard but a woman with blond hair), about 'olden times' when animals did much of the work in agriculture, and about work and the need for a day of rest.
After Hebrew with Mrs. Snow (they read 'Shabbat' in Hebrew), we had a special Shabbat snack. The table was set with a white cloth, candles, challah, and a Kiddush cup. We looked at both the traditional blessings and the Humanistic Jewish blessings for the candles, "wine", and challah to compare them. The main difference they found was that the traditional blessings were about God and the Humanistic blessings were about people. I had found some traditional blessings that were made into a visual aid for helping children learn them. I asked the boys if they preferred to make a visual aid for learning the Humanistic blessings (by drawing them) or if they preferred to listen to a story. The story was unanimous. So we began the book The Sabbath Lion, a traditional folktale about a boy who goes on a caravan adventure in North Africa and insists on resting on Shabbat. We will finish it next Sunday.
10/14 - In class last Sunday we discussed what makes us Jewish and the different "classes/types" of Jews. We started by brainstorming/naming different religions. Then I asked them "what makes us Jewish?" followed up with what makes us Humanistic Jews. The class seemed to agree that your parents make a person Jewish. Then they explained what it means to be a Humanistic Jew - that we are open to different beliefs and are focused on our community & traditions. After that, we discussed what makes someone Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. We also touched on Chassidic & Reconstructionist Judiasm. The kids were excited to share what they learned in a quick quiz game. Somehow, they managed to keep the score almost tied so everyone won.
10/28 - The class read the story of Ruth and Naomi by Jean Marzollo. The story is about Ruth, a Moabite who follows her Mother in Law, Naomi to Bethlehem. The story tells how Ruth takes care of Naomi by gleaning barley from a kind farmer, Boaz. The story ends when Ruth marries Boaz and they have a son, who is an ancestor of King David.
The kids then went and wrote questions (and answers) to "stump" the other team. The girls ended up with more correct answers; but I believe everyone won because the questions were amazing.
11/18 - We began the class with Beth who introduced us to the CHJ pen pal program. The kids all received a permission slip that needs to be filled out, signed and returned so they can participate. Please make sure you ask for the form and send it back next class. After that we continued with our study of Jewish heroes from the bible. Last class the kids learned about Ruth, so this class we learned about her grandson King David. We read Jean Marzollo's book David and Goliath. We discussed how David was a hero focusing on the importance of heroes as part of humanistic studies. I also showed them a map of Israel so they could see the places we have been discussing the last few weeks were. Zoey mentioned that there is fighting going on in today's Israel. We were able to see from maps that the borders have changed through history. Alas, current events are another topic for another day so we went back to the story. We finished the day with Hebrew and Klezmer musicians.
10/14 - The myth of the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel was the subject for last Sunday's class. First, we discussed the biblical origin of the lost tribes story. Then students broke into five small groups. They went from digital learning station to digital learning station where they answered questions by reading articles, watching videos and playing a game where one practices comparing DNA codes. All the sites related to communities possibly related to the lost tribes. Included were, the Lemba of South Africa, the Bnai Menashe of India, the Ethiopian Jews and the Pathani tribesmen of Afghanistan.
One question on every groups mind was, "What have they (the Ethiopian Jews) got on their heads?" "Are they robots?" "Is it curing a brain disease?"-Tefillin
Thank you again to those who made our digital learning stations possible by loaning your laptops and iPads.
Missing from class were Jonah, Abey, Luke and Gaia.
If they are interested in browsing the websites the students visited, they are listed below:
On the Pathani tribe:
Bnai Menashe of India:
build a DNA family tree:
10/28 - A parent mentioned that it would be helpful to have the information about an upcoming class before I teach it, so that they are better prepared to discuss the lesson with their student. I thought this was a great idea.
So, in following the introduction to the Lost Tribes of Israel lesson; my next lesson will focus on Ethiopian Jews, their history and life in Israel today. Some of the lesson has been taken from the North American Council on Ethiopian Jewry website. You can find the link to their complete lesson plan below. In addition, I will add information and articles about Ethiopian Jewish life in Israel today.
As always, your questions, comments and concerns are always welcome.
11/18 - On Sunday, Jessica, Hannah, Elise, Bekkah, Gaia, Sophie, Jonah, Jackson, Abey, Nate and G all attended the Klezmer music performance with the Adult Ed group. At the end of the Adult Ed portion, the younger students joined us and the students all took part in a mock wedding; learning the types of Klezmer songs that were played at a traditional Eastern European wedding.
During the next three sessions our topic will be struggles for religious freedom. For historic freedom struggles we will discuss Chanukah, as well as the Spanish Inquisition, and Soviet Jewry. In considering religious freedom today we will consider the US and Israel. The Essential Questions of the unit are "What is religious freedom?" and in terms of the US, "What is a separation of church and state ?"
For the Chanukah celebration in December, students have been invited to perform for the rest of the congregation. If they are interested, they need to contact me with information about what they will be doing. If any of your students are interested in singing, G is planning to play guitar and is looking for partners.
Sunday, Beth discussed an SHJ pen pal program. If your student is interested in participating, the permission slip (attached file) must be filled out and returned to me.
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.