The January session of the Juniors class focused on exploring the three main philosophies/ways of thinking about life and religion that Jewish people in the Sephardi and Mizrahi world developed during the Middle Ages. After opening with a brief opportunity for students to reflect on Tu B’Shevat and their own concerns about the environment, the class listened to a short talk that outlined these three primary philosophies–traditionalist, rationalist, and Kabbalist–and reinforced their connection to the holiday of Tu B’Shevat (which, with its focus on Israeli fruits and a “New Year for the Trees” that happens at a time when places like Minnesota are covered in snow, is very much connected to the Middle Eastern Jewish experience). Then Sarah came in to lead the regular Hebrew and music lesson, and students learned some Tu B’Shevat-appropriate Hebrew vocabulary for fruits, grains, etc (like “rimon,” meaning pomegranate) and sang the Israeli pioneer-farmer song “Zum Gali Gali” in rounds. Students returned then to their earlier discussion, and to learn more about traditional Jewish philosophy, they took part in a Talmudic-style debate about a real question from the Talmud–is it right for someone to remove rocks from their field and pile them on public land? Students debated the question in teams, and then reflected on how traditional Jewish philosophy agreed with their own judgement that public land must be protected and respected for the good of all. Next, after considering some ways that they didn’t agree with traditional Jewish philosophy, the class moved to consider the rationalist philosophy–exemplified by Maimonides–that grew out of medieval Jewish interest in science. However, instead of using rationalism to support religious ideas, students took turns coming up with rational explanations for ‘miraculous’ events described in the Torah. Finally, to learn more about Kabbalah, or Jewish mystical philosophy, students collaborated on a creative fill-in-the-blanks activity that required them to draw or act out missing words in a short reading about the kabbalist origins of the Tu B’Shevat seder and kabbalist ideas about spheres of energy, divinity, and tikkun olam. Students closed the day by joining in the Or Emet Tu B’Shevat seder.
In January, the Middles class prepared for Or Emet’s annual Tu B’Shevat seder by learning about nature and how we can respect the earth. We read A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry, and talked about why we love trees. Then we made our own Tu B’Shevat trees, and each student decorated their tree by writing about how we can respect nature on the different leaves. Ms. Sarah taught the class a great song to share at the seder, and then we planted parsley seeds to celebrate growth and nature. With careful care, students may be able to use their parsley on their family’s Passover seder plates.
It was a very fun and enlightening Sunday at Or Emet this week. We learned about trees, including the astonishing fact that they provide us with much of the oxygen that we breathe! We also read one of my all time favorite books: The Giving Tree. We sang, we colored, and we ate some really great snacks at our Seder!
The Juniors class spent the December session focused mostly on Hanukkah. Students opened the class by sharing sentences that included Yiddish terms like “gelt” and “shvitsn” that they learned at the previous session. Then, after briefly reviewing the history of the Ashkenazi Jewish diaspora, they listened to a short talk on the subject of Ashkenazi Jewish folklore and folk heroes that introduced them to the character of Hershel of Ostropol–a famous prankster figure celebrated in Ashkenazi stories for his skill in outwitting the rich and powerful, and whose exploits are based on those of a real person who lived in 18th century Ukraine. Students took turns reading aloud the story Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, breaking in the middle for a lesson with Sarah where they learned to sing the classic Yiddish song “Oy, Chanukah.” After returning to the book and finishing their reading, students took a snack break and then turned their attention to a short play script based on the Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins story, choosing roles and, after a brief round of auditions, voting to select the play’s lead. Once all roles were assigned, the class rehearsed the short play twice and brainstormed simple costuming ideas. The lesson closed with a class discussion that touched on the ways that Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins can be read as an allegory for the Ashkenazi Jewish struggle against antisemitism, and students shared their knowledge about antisemitism, their experiences with it, and thoughts about how best to respond to it. After a morning by turns joyously lively and more thoughtful, the Juniors left the classroom prepared to sing “Oy, Chanukah” and perform their play at the upcoming Or Emet Hanukkah party.
In December, the Middles group learned about Hanukkah and Jews in early America, tying the two ideas together with the themes of hope and optimism. After our warm-up activity, students took turns reading facts about how and why Jews came to the English colonies, as well as Jewish involvement in the American Revolution. We talked about what it’s like to go somewhere you’ve never been before, and made drawings to show our thoughts. After learning Hanukkah-related Hebrew words and music with Sarah, we read an interesting story called Hanukkah at Valley Forge. This book tells how George Washington was inspired when he learned the story of Hanukkah from a Jewish soldier. Believe it or not, it is based on true events! We talked about lighting the menorah, and how at the time of the American Revolution, people might have used oil lamps just like the Maccabees do in the story of Hanukkah. Then we got to work making clay oil lamps – that really work! At the end of class, students got to choose between playing dreidel and completing a Hanukkah coloring page. Note that the oil lamps have now been baked. Students can pick them up at the Hanukkah party, or at the January JCS lesson.