March JCS News

In March, our Jewish Cultural School classes all had Passover on their minds, with our Or Emet Seder scheduled for the following Sunday.


Here’s the scoop:

Littles Group: PreK – Kindergarten, teacher Josh Kaplan

Our focus at JCS this week was Passover. We learned about some of the customs we participate in, and the foods that we eat, on this special holiday. We read a book about Passover and we made matzah covers! We also learned to sing the very first part of the four questions.


Rebecca and her matzah cover


Middles Group: Grades 1 and 2, teacher Colline Roland

Today in class we practiced our Passover song with teacher Sarah. Then we reviewed the upcoming Passover holiday, talked about the plagues, and what/why we eat certain foods during Seder. Then, because we couldn’t decide what book to read, we read two books: The Great Passover Escape and Engineer Ari and the Great Passover Rush. To end, we completed a crossword and word search!


by Pamela Moritz                                        by Debra Bodin Cohen


Juniors Group: grades 3-5, teacher Renee Dorman

In March, the Juniors group reviewed the story of Passover, did an art project to experience to contrast between constraint and freedom, and had a discussion about when we need to have faith (and what that means for Humanists) and when we need to take action.  We also practiced a Passover song with Teacher Sarah.

A rendition of “freedom” by Ilsa


B’Mitzvah Prep Group: grades 6-8, teacher Eva Cohen

During class this month we:
  • learned about Jewish immigration to the US
  • learned from JCS parent Sergei Rakhmanov as he shared his immigration experience with us
  • sang Passover songs with Sarah
  • made art to be shared during Or Emet’s Passover Seder
  • started playing a Yiddish word game – to be continued next month

February JCS

February 21, 2021 found us gathering once again on Zoom for our monthly Jewish Cultural School classes.  After our whole group singing of Aleph Bet, the Hebrew Alphabet, reciting the Blessing for Children and singing together, our students divided into four breakout rooms for class.  Read on to find out what happened in each class.

Littles Group – PreK – Kindergarten,  teacher Josh Kaplan

This week at JCS we learned about Purim! We sang “My Hat Has Three Corners”, drew pictures of our dream costumes, and read TWO books.  Teacher Sarah stopped in to teach us a Purim song.  We topped the morning off with our first ever VIRTUAL Purim carnival. It was so great to see everyone’s faces!

         Haman’s Three-Cornered Hat

Middles Group – grades 1 – 3, teacher Colline Roland
Today we read “Talia and the Hamam-Tushis” and Rosalie shared her book “Queen Vashti’s Comfy Pants”. In between our readings and video we had 4 directed drawings: our favorite Hamamtashen, Queen Esther, King A., and Haman. It was also decided by the class that while Haman is the main villain in Purim, King A. wasn’t really all that great either because he ordered Queen Vashti around!   We also had a visit from Sarah who taught us a song for Purim.
Juniors Group – Grades 3-5, teacher Renee Dorman
In February, the Juniors group reviewed our knowledge of Purim.  Sarah joined the group to teach us a  Purim song, in preparation for the carnival.  Then we departed from the holiday – and the country – on a virtual escape room journey through Israel. It was tough, but our group solved many of the puzzles! If you would like to try it out for yourself, it is available at
B’Mitzvah Prep Group – grades 6-8, teacher Eva Cohen
During our lesson this session, students continued learning about Sephardic contributions to Jewish culture and ideas. After our Hebrew conversation warm-up, the class listened to a short talk about Maimonides and his concept of the “Ladder of Tzedakah.” We looked at a diagram of this ladder and discussed “lower” versus “higher” forms of “charity” or righteous giving. Then students completed a web poll where they indicated the levels of giving that they had engaged in before (ranging from [8] small donations given grudgingly after being asked to [1] helping another person become self-sufficient). We looked at poll results for the class, and students reflected on these results while sharing personal stories about giving tzedakah.
Sarah joined our class to teach a Purim song, and afterward we pivoted to learning about Baruch Spinoza and his radical ideas. Students looked at pictures and listened to some information about Spinoza’s life, his challenges to religious orthodoxy, and his excommunication from the Jewish community in Amsterdam in 1656. Then each student read a piece of Spinoza’s philosophy in paraphrase and critically evaluated his ideas, coming up with examples to support or disprove his arguments. Next, the class learned about kabbalah and kabbalists’ belief in ‘tikkun’ as a way to mend the damage caused by “shevirat ha-kelim.”
                           Maimonides                                                                  Baruch Spinoza
Finally, we looked at images of postage stamps from Israel, the US, and elsewhere that celebrate Sephardic and other Jewish historical figures and cultural contributions. Inspired by these stamps, students began designing their own postage stamps to celebrate the contributions made by Maimonides, Spinoza, or kabbalah to Jewish culture and ideas.


                                                                   Israeli postage stamps

Purim Carnival Brings the Fun to Zoom

On  Sunday, February 21, following Jewish Cultural School classes, we held our annual Purim Carnival.  Due to Covid-19, this had to be an online event at at first we thought that a carnival is one thing that can’t be done on line.  Wrong!  Our carnival was fun for all, starting with students (and some adults too) showing off their Purim costumes.


After that Eva Cohen, our ritual leader and rabbinic candidate, read the children’s book “The Queen Who Saved Her People,” by Tilda Balsley, an illustrated telling of the book of Esther.  For once, instead of telling everyone to have their speakers on mute, all were encouraged to turn on their sound to boo loudly every time the name Haman was read.  We followed that up singing along to a recording of “Hag Purim” led by song-leader Sarah Berman Young.


Then came the games.  Everyone divided into four Zoom breakout rooms, with a different game in each one.  Teachers hosted the games and rotated among all four rooms so every participant had a chance to play each of the games:  Esther Says (Simon Says modified for Purim),  Scattergories,  Quick Change Costumes, and  Tricky Book Balancing.

To top it off, every student who participated will have a gift bag containing homemade hamantashen and another surprise dropped of at their home in time to celebrate Purim when later this week.

Thanks to Anne Handley and Coleen Dorman , our superb Hamantashen bakers. 



January JCS & Tu B’Shevat Seder



The winter holiday season is behind us and the calendar turned to 2021, but Jewish Cultural School continues to be held on Zoom.   What we miss in the warmth of an in-person presence, we are making up with great attendance.

Here’s what went on in each of our groups.

The Littles – PreK – Kindergarten,  teacher Josh Kaplan

Our topic at JCS this month was Tu B’Shevat. We learned about all of the great things trees do for us, all of the different types of trees around us, and how trees change from season to season. We read a great book about celebrating Tu B’Shevat in winter, and ended with our annual Tu B’Shevat Seder.      


The Middles – Grades 1- 2, teacher Colline Roland

coming soon

The Juniors, Grades 3 – 5, teacher Renee Dorman

In January the Juniors each learned about a famous Jewish person who interested them and shared what they learned. We had a range of people represented, ranging from Steven Spielberg to a young climate activist named Isha Clarke. We also practiced sounding out words in Hebrew with a Tu B’Shevat decoding activity.


   Environmental activist Isha Clarke                         Film maker Steven Spielberg


B’Mitzvah Prep Group, Grades 6-8, teacher Eva Cohen

The B Mitzvah Prep class spent their lesson learning about Sephardic Jewish culture and history and preparing for the Tu B’Shevat Seder. After opening conversation in English and Hebrew, students learned some Hebrew vocabulary words connected to trees and nature. Everyone practiced writing one of these words in Hebrew (such as “אץ” — “etz” — meaning “tree”), drawing a picture to represent the word, and saying the word aloud.

Then the class shifted gears, and students listened to a recording of “El Diya De Purim,” a Sephardic Jewish folk song sung in Ladino, while following along with the lyrics. Students recognized the language’s similarity to Spanish along with Jewish themes in the song. We discussed how Ladino developed as a mix of medieval Spanish and Hebrew and became a Sephardic Jewish language. Next, students listened to a short talk focused on the history of Sephardic Jews from the “Golden Age” under Muslim rule in Spain through the Inquisition and expulsion in 1492.

From here students moved to independently reading The Cardinal’s Snuffbox, a choose-your-own-adventure novel set during the Spanish Inquisition. After reading time, we came together as a large group to discuss the different plotlines that students’ “adventures” followed. Students reflected on challenges that Sephardic Jews encountered during the Inquisition and whether good or bad outcomes were connected more to making “good” or “bad” choices or to luck.

Statue of Sephardic philosopher Maimonides in Cordoba, Spain

Finally, after learning that Sephardic Jewish mystics invented the Tu B’Shevat Seder, students reviewed their Seder readings and prepared to help lead the Or Emet Tu B’Shevat Seder. The class did a great job with their readings; thank you, students!


Tu B’Shevat Seder

Eva led our Seder for Tu B’Shevat, the “Birthday of the Trees”, with help from her students in the B’Mitzvah Prep Class and the other JCS Teachers, with Sarah Berman Young leading us in song.  Everyone sampled the fruits and nuts from their Seder plates at home, and mixed the red and white wines – or, grape juices – to represent the different stages in the life of trees.

   Tu B’Shevat Seder plate





December JCS News

Greetings.  The days are short but we will soon brighten the long nights with the glow of Hanukkah candles.  At our December 6 Jewish Cultural School sessions, each of our groups revisited the origins of Hanukkah and its meaning for us today, They also prepared performance pieces to share at our upcoming Or Emet Hanukkah party, which this year, like our classes, will be celebrated over Zoom.

Littles Group – PreK- Kindergarten – teacher Josh Kaplan

This month at JCS we learned about Hanukkah! We explored Hanukkah traditions, learned a song about potato latkes, and read Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. We even learned that Burger Kings in Israel made a sufganiyot Whopper for the holiday!







Middles Group – Grades 1 & 2 – teacher Colline Roland

This Sunday our class learned about the similarities and differences between Kwanza and Hanukkah! We compared and contrasted two books, one on Kwanza and one on Hanukkah. We found that the two celebrations are very similar… so similar the class thought they were lighting a Menorah for Kwanza!
After that we learned about the traditions and story behind why we celebrate Hanukkah. Before the end of class the kids shared their collections of dreidels and it was determined that the class has over 50 dreidels between them!
The pictures attached are from our craft, Menorah Hands, for the Hanukkah party!


A menorah (left) for Hanukkah, and a kinara (below) for Kwanza.


Juniors Group – Grades 3-5 – teacher Renee Dorman

In December, the Juniors created a movie based on the recently published book  The Ninth Night of Hanukkah by Erica S. Perl, to be shown at the Or Emet Hanukkah party. Don’t miss it! We also began research about different cultures within Judaism, specifically the basics of Askenazi, Sephardi, and Mizrahi Jews. We learned that all these groups have more similarities than differences, while also learning what makes each group unique.


B’Mitzvah Prep Group – Grades 6-8 – teacher Eva Cohen

Our class session focused on the Jewish diaspora and connecting this topic to Chanukah preparations. After our regular Hebrew conversation warm-up, we discussed the meaning of “diaspora” and the evolution of the Jewish diaspora over the last 2500 years. To relate their family histories to this diaspora history, students digitally mapped the places that their ancestors came from, marking their Jewish ancestral origins with blue pins, their non-Jewish ancestral origins with green pins, and their ancestry that they were unsure whether it was Jewish or not with reddish-brown pins. A screenshot of our class map accompanies this post. We discussed patterns that we saw in the map, noting that many of our Jewish ancestors came from places in Eastern Europe.  Students listened to a short talk describing how Jewish people–many of them merchants or traders–came from the Middle East to settle in Europe, and learned how these Ashkenazi (European) Jewish communities developed culturally over the Middle Ages and into the modern era.

After a short break, we had a music lesson with Sarah, singing “Sevivon, Sov, Sov, Sov” in honor of the upcoming holiday. After singing, we focused on our Chanukah play,   called “Hanukah Gelt”  based on a Sholem Aleichem story and set in a shtetl in Eastern Europe–part of the Ashkenazi diaspora.  The class is excited to perform the play at Or Emet’s upcoming Chanukah party!