Class Summary - Juniors December 4, 2011

The December Jewish Cultural School Juniors’ class session was largely given over to preparations for the Hanukkah play. Noting that they were speeding forward in history, moving to a much later portion of the Jewish biblical/ancient historical narrative, students prepared to consider the Hanukkah story from a historical perspective. After reading through play-scripts, choosing roles, and completing short auditions for in-demand parts, students began rehearsing the latest Hanukkah play (which focuses on Antiochus IV’s repression of the Jewish people, the conflict between Orthodox and Hellenized Jews of the era, and the story of the Maccabean revolt). The class worked to understand new concepts and vocabulary introduced in the play, as well as to bring lots of energy and expression to their performance. The lesson concluded with a prop-making activity; students studied pictures of swords, crowns, and other objects from the Maccabean era unearthed by archaeologists, and used these pictures for guidance and inspiration as they created props for the play out of cardboard and other materials.

Class Summary - Juniors 11/13/2011

At the November session of the Jewish Cultural School, the Juniors’ class continued with their biblical survey, returning to the Exodus story and then moving forward with their Torah study. Students performed another read-through of a play (introduced at the October session) that tells the story of Moses and Exodus, and then engaged in a lively discussion of the story. The class debated who they considered to be the heroes of the Exodus narrative, talked about what it would feel like to be a slave, and brainstormed other struggles for freedom where people have or could have used the words “Let my people go!” as a rallying cry. Then students continued with their Torah learning by reading a summary of how the biblical account progresses after the Jewish people cross the Red Sea, ending with the description of Moses’s receipt of the Ten Commandments on top of Mount Sinai. After a short break, the class returned to read and debate the validity of these Ten Commandments for Humanistic Jews/people in general. Students then had the opportunity to write their own lists of ten commandments/rules for all people to live by and share them with the group. To close the day, we discussed how the Torah actually contains more specific rules of behavior beyond the Ten Commandments, many of which are included in Leviticus/Vayikra, the third book of the Torah. Students split into teams and played a trivia game, answering trivia questions about these rules/mitzvot.

Class Summary - Juniors January 23, 2011

The January juniors’ class session was focused on Tu B’Shevat. Students began the lesson by learning the Hebrew and Yiddish words for tree, taking time to practice saying each term and then writing them in hand-folded Tu B’Shevat books. Next, the class discussed the concept of a ‘New Year for the Trees’ and made drawings of the seven species of agricultural products associated with spring and new growth in [ancient] Israel. The students then moved on to brainstorming a list of ways trees and plants are important in our lives today, afterward generating a list of ways trees and plants were important in the lives of our Jewish ancestors and comparing/contrasting the two lists. From here the class turned to reading and discussing three nature-/Tu B’Shevat-focused poems by Jewish poets (one from Shin Shalom, a modern Israeli poet who explores traditionally religious Jewish themes, one from Rachel Blustein, an early Zionist poet, and one from Yehoash, a secular Yiddish poet whose style was influenced by the work of American poet Walt Whitman). At the end of their discussion, students wrote their own poetry about their feelings of joy in and connectedness with the natural world, sharing them with the group before heading downstairs to take part in the congregation’s Tu B’Shevat seder.

Class Summary - Juniors Jan. 9th, 2011

The juniors’ class spent the December make-up session gaining new perspective on Hanukkah, its central symbols and mythology, and the ways that members of different Jewish communities celebrate the holiday through cooking and eating. After reviewing the Hebrew letters on the dreidel and their meaning for game-play, and learning the Yiddish commands that the letters signify (for example, nun stands for “nisht,” which means nothing), students played a rousing game of dreidel and enjoyed their gelt winnings. At the game’s end, the class learned about the other holiday meaning often assigned to the letters on the dreidel–the idea that nun, gimel, hey, and shin together stand for the Hebrew phrase “Nes gadol hayah sham” or “a great miracle happened there.” Students discussed the significance of the phrase in relation to the Hanukkah narrative, learning how the story of the oil that miraculously burned for eight days instead of one was added to accounts of the ancient holiday hundreds of years after the Maccabees’ victory. This led into a great conversation about why the story might have been added and how this new information did or didn’t change students’ feelings about the holiday. One student remarked that even though the story of the miracle of the oil probably wasn’t true, it is a part of our tradition and so still an important thing to celebrate.

From here, the class moved downstairs to the kitchen and transitioned to a cooking activity. Learning about how Jewish cuisine has always varied greatly from place to place in line with regional/national variation in food-ways, climate, available ingredients, et cetera, as well as how it has always retained continuities across great distances in the way that it is shaped by kosher laws and holiday traditions, students began to prepare two different kinds of Hanukkah pancakes–latkes and keftes de prasa. Latkes, the Ashkenazi Jewish Hanukkah pancake familiar to students already, were prepared with a classic potato, egg, and onion-based recipe from a cook with roots in Jewish Eastern Europe–where potatoes and onions thrived in the cool climate. Keftes de prasa, Sephardic Jewish Hanukkah pancakes made with leeks, came from a recipe from a cook with roots in Jewish Galicia and the Middle East, where leeks are a popular savory ingredient and the spices–cinnamon, dried chili pepper–that delicately flavor the batter were historically more readily available. Students chopped, grated, measured, mixed and sauteed, and especially enjoyed frying the latkes and keftes in lots of oil to celebrate the miracle of the oil we discussed earlier in class. After diligent work the class sampled their creations, and then tried their luck at some Jewish food trivia, defining “treif,” guessing the most popular Israeli street-foods, et cetera. It was a great end to a really fun, busy lesson!

Class Update - Juniors Oct. 2010

Or Emet Juniors’ Class Summary–October

At the October session, the juniors’ class learned about Yiddish literature and Yiddish writer Sholom Aleichem. After some opening games/icebreakers, students watched an excerpt from a documentary focusing on the history of Jewish life in Eastern Europe–the milieu in which both modern Yiddish literature was born and the majority of its stories are set. They learned about Jewish shtetls in Russia, the restriction of Jewish settlement to “the Pale,” and the other restrictive laws and periodic pogroms that made 19th and early 20th century life so difficult for Jewish people in Russia. After discussing what they learned from the film, students listened to a presentation with accompanying PowerPoint that provided a short history of Yiddish literature and more background regarding Sholom Aleichem’s biography and writings.

Returning from break, the class split into small groups and began to discuss “Kaporos,” one of the Sholom Aleichem stories students had read in preparation for the session. One group drew pictures of story characters and diagramed their characteristics, while another group mapped out the story’s plot using string and descriptive markers and discussed story themes. Students were struck by the story’s humor, laughing at the narrative of a group of chickens that rise in revolt against a shtetl’s human residents because of their barbaric Kaporos practices–and ultimately carry the day. Segueing from here into a discussion of how many modern Yiddish stories provided the narrative basis for Yiddish theater classics, students participated in a series of theater games and improv exercises. The day closed with an extended improv sequence; students performed an improvised version of “Kaporos” and another Aleichem story they had read–“The Simchas Torah Flag”–with guidance from a student director.

Class Update - Juniors Class Sept. 12

The juniors class spent the September session getting reacquainted, welcoming some new classmates, and learning about the High Holidays. After a few icebreakers, the class played a High Holidays trivia game and learned about teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah, three concepts that are central to the observance of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Students had the opportunity to guess the Hebrew spelling of each word using phonetic Hebrew alphabets, and then to guess the meaning of each word. This led into a discussion of how Humanistic Jews can approach teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah at the new year, thinking about their important values and rededicating themselves to these values, spending time reflecting on their behavior in the past year, and working to act as righteous people–giving of their time, money, et cetera to help others. Students brainstormed a list of their important values, thought about techniques they could use to self-reflect, and came up with a list of different ways that they could help others.
After our break, students gathered outside to learn about tashlich and create a tashlich art project. Because we were far away from a real body of water, the class made a watercolor-resist mural of a river with fish swimming in it, and performed tashlich by throwing crumbs onto our symbolic ‘body of water.’
Back inside, the class rounded out the lesson with some rapping and reading. Students listened to a Rosh Hashana rap written by a yeshiva student that focused on the Jewish New Year as a time for self-reflection and self-improvement, and then wrote their own Rosh Hashana raps–both individually and as a group–and took turns performing them to a beat. Class wrapped up with a discussion about plans for the Or Emet school year, and students agreed to participate in a book-club type class format. Three weeks before each month’s class, reading will be posted for students on the Or Emet wordpress site; they should do this reading before the upcoming class. (Reminder emails will also be sent out to parents.) Getting into the spirit of this focus on Jewish writing and storytelling, the class read the Yiddish short-story “If Not Still Higher” (by I. L. Peretz) aloud, learning about a mysterious rabbi and the ways that he performs tzedakah in the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
%22Kaporos,%22 by Sholom Aleichem
%22The Simchas Torah Flag,%22 by Sholom Aleichem

Class Update - Juniors, April 2010

The April session of the Or Emet juniors’ class was devoted to learning–as per student request–about notable Jewish people throughout history, from the ancient to the modern. The class split into two teams and engaged in an in-depth trivia game, answering questions about everything from Hillel the Elder’s observations on the Torah (“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn”) to the poems of crypto-Jewish writer M. Miriam Herrera to the role of Jewish-Americans in the Civil Rights Movement. Other questions touched on topics ranging from Jewish-American gangsters to Sholom Aleichem to modern pop singer Regina Spektor and her Jewish family’s emigration from the USSR during the Perestroika period. After the game’s end, the class discussed characteristics of these notable Jewish personalities and responded to the question of who among them they would consider to be Jewish heroes. We debated whether someone could be both a hero and a villain, talked about the difference between heroes and specifically Jewish heroes (is there any?), and concluded the lesson with a discussion of our own Jewish heroes.

Class update - Juniors, March 2010

The juniors’ class spent March’s lesson learning about the Ethiopian Jewish community and Ethiopian Jewish observance of Passover. Because Ethiopian Jews, or Beta Israel, practice a pre-Talmudic form of Judaism, they celebrate Passover and other holidays in some ways that are different from other Jews. Students participated in a role-playing activity where they acted the parts of Beta Israel people living in a village in Ethiopia in the 1970s. The activity walked students through the different stages of a Beta Israel Passover celebration, from the cleaning and inspection of homes for chometz to the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb to the Kes’s (rabbi’s) oral retelling of the Passover story. Students ‘broke the fast’ in character afterward, eating pieces of injera spread with hot pepper sauce just as Beta Israel people would to enjoy their first taste of leavened bread at the holiday’s end. Through the role-playing, students also learned about the challenges and discrimination Beta Israel people faced in Ethiopia, and discovered how tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews were rescued from civil war and famine and brought to Israel by airlift in the ’80s and ’90s. Acting the parts of Beta Israel people, students learned, additionally, how these Ethiopian Jews see strong parallels between the ancient Jewish exodus from Egypt celebrated in the Passover story and their own exodus from Ethiopia to Israel. The lesson concluded with an opportunity for the class to write a final act for their characters, in which these characters reflected on the opportunities and challenges presented by their new lives in Israel. We wrapped up the morning with some time outside; the class played some games and reflected on the things they had learned so far as well as the things that they wanted to do in the remaining time this year.

Class update - Juniors, February 2010

The February lesson for the juniors’ class focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We began the morning with a short history lesson, and students learned about the conflict’s origins in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that paved the way for the founding of the state of Israel and made refugees out of the millions of Palestinians displaced by Zionist forces. Students wrote and performed short skits about this history, and then did some more in-depth thinking about the effects/consequences for Israelis and Palestinians of different developments stemming from expanding occupation of the territories. After this, the class watched selections from a 2001 documentary film called “Promises,” which looks at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the perspective of seven children—Jewish and Palestinian—who live in Jerusalem and on the West Bank. Students discussed the clips, their feelings about the Jewish and Palestinian children’s experiences, and their thoughts about what could help achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. After the film discussion, we shifted gears, and students split into teams and wrote some Jewish trivia questions; then teams posed questions to each other Or Emet-quiz-bowl style! Class wrapped up with a visit from Miriam Jerris, and students had the opportunity to share some thoughts about Humanistic Judaism and the day’s lesson with the rabbi.

Class Update - Juniors, January 2010

At the January juniors class session, students learned about Yiddish and the persistence of many Yiddish terms in contemporary English speech. Students received copies of these Yiddish words/terms commonly used in English–written out in standard Yiddish orthography–and transliterated them using a phonetic guide to the Yiddish alphabet. Then members of the class took turns sharing their work, reading aloud words like “schlep,” “shpiel,” “bagel,” and “mazel tov” to the group, and we played a large-group matching game to pair the Yiddish words with their definitions in English. Afterward, students wrote humorous short stories/monologues incorporating all of the Yiddish vocabulary discussed, and read completed work to the class. The morning wrapped up with more service-project discussion; the group voted on different project options and moved forward with plans to volunteer at a Twin Cities soup kitchen (details forthcoming–project is planned for April).