November was one of the rare months out of the year where we didn’t have a Jewish holiday to discuss. Instead, we learned about mitzvot, and how we can help one another. We also started learning the Aleph Bet song, and did some Hebrew alphabet yoga with Mrs. Sarah!
The October session of the Juniors class focused on the history of the so-called Jewish “Golden Age” in Spain and North Africa. After introducing themselves to the day’s visitor and sharing their Jewish New Year’s resolutions, students reviewed the history of the diaspora covered in the previous session and split into two groups. Each group read a short excerpt from A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People: From the Time of the Patriarchs to the Present that focused on an aspect of this “Golden Age”; one group’s reading described how Jewish people welcomed the advent of Muslim rule in the region in 711 CE because of the increased tolerance and freedom this rule afforded Jews, while the other group’s reading focused on the spiritual/philosophical and literary achievements made by Jewish people during this age of increased freedom and prosperity. Each group worked to summarize what they learned and then shared their summaries with the larger group. Next, students looked briefly at a poem by “Golden Age” poet Samuel bin Nagrela (aka Shmuel HaNagid) and, using it as inspiration, wrote original poems from the perspective of imaginary Jewish people alive during this historical era. Many of the poems touched on the idea of ‘convivencia,’ or coexistence, which is the term that people who study the “Golden Age” use to characterize relationships between Jews, Muslims, and Christians during this time-period. After some students shared their poems with the larger group, the class took a break to eat snack and help decorate the year’s sukkah panel.
When students returned to the classroom after their break, they learned about the important “Golden Age” Jewish thinker Maimonides and his ideas about tzedakah. They studied his “Ladder of Tzedakah” and discussed whether they had ever achieved its highest rung–helping a person to become self-sufficient. Students then selected prepared tzedakah boxes and began to paint them (using acrylic paint as well as matte medium to affix Maimonides’s Ladder of Tzedakah to each box), drawing inspiration from photos of the patterns found in “Golden Age” synagogue decorations. As they painted, students reflected on how they might fill their tzedakah boxes and where they would devote the money that they collected. Hebrew and music teacher Sarah Berman-Young popped in to play some Sephardic-style music while students worked. After class, many students and their families attended the Or Emet Sukkot party!
The JCS Middles group learned about Jewish ghettos and how, even though life in the ghetto was hard, the Jewish people kept up strong traditions and helped each other by being generous. We played charades to celebrate some of our own favorite traditions, read a story about Sukkot, and decorated panels for the sukkah. Sarah taught us some Hebrew words about Sukkot, and then we learned a song to celebrate the holiday. Many Middles students attended the Sukkot party that afternoon and helped to decorate the sukkah.
Our Littles class for the month of October was all about Sukkot. We read a story about a rooftop sukkah, learned a song about building a sukkah, and added to the Or Emet JCS sukkah panel. We also welcomed an new friend, Kai, to our class, which was extra exciting!
The Juniors class got off to a great start this session! Students introduced themselves to old friends and newer faces and played a game where they had the opportunity to guess fun Jewish facts (favorite traditions, Hebrew names, etc) about their classmates. Then, veteran JCS-ers explained to newcomers the things that make Or Emet and Humanistic Judaism unique.
Students next spent a short time reviewing the biblical/ancient Jewish historical topics that they studied last year, and then prepared to begin this year’s study of the Jewish diaspora unfolding from the fall of the Second Temple through the early 1800s. (Note–the history of Jewish diaspora from the late 1800s until the modern day will be the focus of inquiry next year.) To visualize this Jewish diaspora, students began by sharing snippets of family history and marking the places that their Jewish ancestors came from with stickers on a world map. They discussed the geographic patterns that emerged on the map, and then read an excerpt from a Jewish history book for YA readers that summarizes the history of the Jewish people and their movements/migrations through the late 18th century.
After break and a Hebrew and music lesson with Sarah (where students learned a song about eating apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah as well as the traditional melody “B’rosh Hashanah”), students returned to the reading that they completed before break. Focusing on different sections in small groups, they cut out arrows to describe different stages of movement in the Jewish diaspora and affixed them to the world map. After, students studied this map and discussed how their new understanding of Diaspora history helped them to make sense of the patterns that they saw in their classmates’ Jewish family origins. Class ended with a combination cake walk-trivia game which gave students the chance to explore High Holidays traditions from around the Jewish diaspora. Highlights included sampling teiglach, pastry nuggets cooked in honey that are a Lithuanian-Jewish Rosh Hashanah specialty, and listening to Kol Nidre sung in Moroccan-Jewish style.