During the February session, the Juniors class turned its focus to the Spanish Inquisition and its connections to the holiday of Purim. Students listened to a brief talk about the history of the Inquisition, learning how, just as Haman tried to get rid of the Jews in Persia in the ancient Purim story, during the late 1400s and early 1500s CE powerful people sought to eliminate the Jewish presence in Spain. The class also learned that just as Esther conceals her Jewishness in the Purim story, during the Inquisition many Jews hid their Jewishness and pretended to be Catholic in order to save their lives, while many Jewish people also acted as bravely and courageously as Esther and her uncle Mordechai to save the lives of other Jews. After playing a quick warm-up game of “The Big Wind Blows,” students selected partners and split into pairs to read The Cardinal’s Snuffbox, a choose-your-own-adventure story set during the Spanish Inquisition. Partners worked together to read and make choices about what the story’s main character, a Sephardic Jewish young person, ought to do when faced with all kinds of dangers and difficult decisions. After partners had the chance to read through a couple of different storylines, the class regrouped and discussed the different things, good and bad, that had befallen their character based on the choices that they made. Students reflected on what it would have been like to live during this difficult time in history, and shared the kinds of choices that they, as Jewish people, would have made. The discussion closed with a chance for the class to reflect on the positive as well as the negative qualities that the Inquisition brought out in people, and students brainstormed ways that horrible events like it could be prevented in the future. Finally, students listened to a recording of a Purim song called “El testamento de Aman” (“Haman’s Will”) from a Sephardic Jewish community in Morocco, following the lyrics in Ladino and translation and briefly discussing the song’s connection to the Purim story and the Sephardic Jewish experience. The lesson concluded, the Juniors headed downstairs to have lots of fun at the Purim carnival!
In February, the Middles class learned about Purim. Class started on a light note, as each student was asked to share a favorite joke in honor of this fun celebration. Then, after sharing what they already knew about Purim, students compared Esther to another strong Jewish woman, Donna Gracia. Donna Gracia rescued many people from the Inquisition. Students made their own groggers to take home. They also used their groggers while they listened to the Megillah. Class ended early, so that everyone could enjoy JCS’s annual Purim Carnival. It was so much fun this year, with new games created by staff, parents, and students.
This week at Or Emet JCS we learned the Purim story. We stomped our feet, shouted, and made noise every time we heard the name “Haman.” We got to make fun noise-makers out of paper plates and beans, and we learned an awesome Purim song. Afterwards, we all had fun at our Purim carnival with all of the JCS students!
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.