2021-2022 Winds Up Live & In Person!


Retiring JCSS Director Arty Dorman       New JCSS Director Molly Phipps

Our last Jewish Cultural Sunday School session of the school year was held on June 5, 2022, in-person, with a warm, slightly overcast sky that allowed for a lot of outdoor time.

Wary of covid, we held 8 of our 10 sessions masked but in-person this year – September and October being completely outdoors – and reverted to Zoom in January and February when the Omicron variant was most threatening.  Over the course of the past year, we brought a terrific new teacher, Amy Leavitt, on board, were able to hold all of our usual special events and added several new students.  This summer will see five of our students celebrate the capstone of their JCSS experience with B Mitzvahs.

June 5 was my last session as head of our JCSS.  It has been a distinct honor and total joy to lead this program, get to know all of our students and their parents, work with dedicated teachers Eva Cohen, Renee Dorman, Josh Kaplan, Amy Leavitt, Colline Roland and Sarah Berman Young and have the full support of Or Emet’s executive committee and membership.

Above, you can see one last photo of me, receiving an appreciation graphic that highlights words JCSS parents, and teachers used to describe me.  I could not be prouder that the word that stands out the most – meaning it was stated most often – is “kind”.

You also see a photo of our new JCSS Director, Molly Phipps.  Molly has wonderful experiences to bring to this position, including a PhD in Education, focusing on out-of-school learning, experience teaching Jewish history, and her own Jewish upbringing.   Molly’s two children currently attend the JCSS.  You can look forward to hearing more from her and to all the ways she no doubt will continue to grow and energize our program.

Here are our teachers’ summaries of what each class did this month at JCSS.

The Littles Group, PreK- Kindergarten – teacher Amy Leavitt 

        and the Middles Group, grades 1-2 – teacher Colline Roland

This month the Littles and Middles joined for one last school session. We learned about Tikun Olam in the book “A Hen for Izzy Pippik”. Our good deed to repair the world for the day was to plant flowers for our pollinators. We decorated little pots and read “Flight of the Honey Bee” and took a trip on the “Magic School Bus”

We are so grateful for our snacks: mangoes, berries, apples, peppers, and nuts and more importantly for pollinators!


The Juniors Group, grades 3-5 – teacher Renee Dorman

The Juniors group ended the year with a scavenger hunt that helped us review all the major Jewish holidays.

First, they had to solve a clue to figure out which holiday it referred to. Then, when they found the holiday (written on a posted somewhere on the playground) they had to solve a new clue about that holiday to find the code word. One letter from each code word combined to spell out the final answer: the Hebrew word for “happy”, sameach. We reviewed eight different holidays.

We also enjoyed a Star of David watercolor craft,

         Thanks for a great year!


B’Mitzvah Group, grades 6-7 – (teacher Eva Cohen) guest teacher Ian Zukor

We began class by comparing the traditional Sh’ma prayer with a humanistic version. Then we created our own mezuzahs out of model magic clay, which was filled with the humanistic Sh’ma.

Next, we discussed the prophets and how their words still persist today largely through examination of the prophets’ quotes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech.  Lastly, we practiced Hebrew by transliterating the first two lines to Lo Yisa Goy and discussing the importance of the lyrics


An ancient mezuzah                   “Swords into Ploughshares” sculpture at the                                                             north garden of United Nations headquarters                                                            in New York City

A beautiful day in May for JCSS

The weather was perfect for our May 15 session of Jewish Cultural Sunday School, allowing our students to spend time outdoors.  In fact, our Littles and Middles groups, who combined to hold most of their class outdoors in the courtyard playground.

Parents were given a year end survey to complete.  If you were not present and did not receive the survey via a follow-up email, please contact me at arty@oremet and I will send it to you.  Results will be reported at our Or Emet annual meeting on June 5 and will be a helpful guide for our incoming JCSS director.

And now, on to the fun (and learning) each group enjoyed:

The Littles (PreK-Kindergarten, teacher Amy Levitt) & Middles (grades 1-2, teacher Colline Roland):

What a beautiful day to be together outside! We had lots of new friends joining us, so we played a name game before Sarah came to join us for music. She taught us the names of body parts in Hebrew (af-nose, peh-mouth, ozen-ear, regel-leg, yad-hand, rosh-head).


We read A Sack Full of Feathers by Debby Waldman and Cindy Revell, a Jewish folktale where the rabbi teaches the hidden power of our actions and words. To further understand the moral of our book, we played telephone to show how words can get lost in translation.


After working on our own books and stories, we played on the playground, and read another Jewish folktale, The Wooden Sword by Ann Redisch Stampler.

       Book Cover: A Sack Full of Feathers             


The Juniors Group – grades 3-5, teacher Renee Dorman

In May the Juniors group learned about the holiday of Shavuot. We talked about what makes a text sacred, and shared what books are most important to us. Then we practiced PaRDeS *, a traditional Jewish reading practice for Torah study, using Genesis 11 (The Tower of Babel) and a text of our choice. Some of our choice texts were Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

We tried to find a seed of wisdom in our reading. Then we created tye-dye flower pictures with our seed of wisdom at the bottom. We also practiced Hebrew words for body parts with Sarah.




B’Mitzvah Prep Group – grades 6-7, teacher Eva Cohen

During our May class, we looked closer at famous stories about King David and King Solomon, legendary rulers of the united Israelite kingdom. After our regular icebreaker and Hebrew conversation warm-up (including learning how to wish someone “happy birthday” in Hebrew–“yom huledet sameach”), we reviewed the following points: (1) that the Tel Dan Stele suggests that David was a real king or chief, but other evidence suggests he ruled over a much smaller area than the legends describe, and (2) that Hebrew Bible stories are a complicated mix of pure fiction, legend, and real history.
Next, Sarah joined us for a music lesson, teaching our class to sing the chorus of “BaShanah HaBa’ah.” Then we dived into reading English translations of 1 Samuel 17–the story of David and Goliath–and 1 Kings 3–the “splitting the baby” story of the judgement of Solomon. After reading each story, students worked in groups to create and perform short skits conveying essential story details. These performances set us up for discussion, and students shared their thoughts on topics including the religious versus humanistic messages of the David and Goliath story and the cultural influence of the David and Goliath “triumph of the underdog” metaphor.
              David and Goliath                         David & Goliath by a
              by Marc Chagall                            B’Mitzvah Prep Student  
Class wrapped up with more biblical literary exploration through art; students looked at Marc Chagall’s famous illustrations of David and Solomon stories and then created their own Chagall-inspired paintings of the stories we studied together.
Regarding the Juniors Group activity, for those interested, here is an explanation of PaRDes, courtesy of Wikipedia:

“The term is an acronym formed from the initials of the  following four approaches:

  • Peshat (פְּשָׁט‎) – “surface” (“straight”) or the literal (direct) meaning.[1]
  • Remez (רֶמֶז‎) – “hints” or the deep (allegoric: hidden or symbolic) meaning beyond just the literal sense.
  • Derash (דְּרַשׁ‎) – from Hebrew darash: “inquire” (“seek”) – the comparative meaning, as given through similar occurrences.
  • Sod (סוֹד‎) (pronounced with a long O as in ‘lore’) – “secret” (“mystery”) or the esoteric/mystical meaning, as given through inspiration or revelation.”

There!  Now you too can practice your PaRDeS reading!  

The Sun Shines on April JCSS

On April 10, our Jewish Cultural Sunday School met, with a warm and sunny day allowing our groups to have some break time outdoors.  Indoors, each class had a busy morning.  We had two marvelous guest teachers this month – Sam Wegner and Molly Phipps.

With just two more JCSS sessions this year, be sure to let neighbors, friends, co-workers and family members who may have an interest in our program know about us, to plan for fall registration.  Feel free have them contact me at arty.oremet.org, or send me their contact info and I will reach out if they are interested in visiting before our year ends.

The Littles Group, PreK – Kindergarten,  guest teacher Sam Wegner

With Passover almost upon us, the Littles class spent Sunday learning all about the holiday! We began by reading Sammy Spider’s First Passover. Then, we made our very own decoupage Seder plates to take home!
After snack, we read Afikomen Mambo and went on a scavenger hunt to find the letters of the word a-f-i-k-o-m-e-n. With everybody’s help, we found the afikomen, and learned how to spell a long word in the process!
We also made time to enjoy a sunny spring morning, learned how to sing the first of the four questions in Hebrew during song time with Sarah, and wrapped up our class by reading Max’s Four Questions. We each left JCS with a lot to look forward to for this upcoming Passover!”

The Middles Group, Grades 1 – 2, guest teacher Molly Phipps.

In the Middles, we had a Passover-filled morning with books, podcasts, crafts, and singing! We practiced the beginning of the Four Questions in Hebrew with Sarah and listened to them along with other Passover music as we made seder plates and foods out of paper. We also read books, serious and silly, about Passover and shared our families’ Passover traditions. 






The Juniors Group, Grades 3-5, teacher Renee Dorman

In April, the Juniors class learned about the symbolism of the Seder plate. Then we read the story try of Passover and asked the question “Is violence ever the answer?” Teacher Sarah taught us the four questions in Hebrew. We finished by making a dove to hang in the window as a symbol of peace. 

The B’Mitzvah Prep Group, Grades 6-7, teacher Eva Cohen

Our April class was a critical exploration of the laws, legends, and leadership of ancient Israel and Judah. After our usual icebreakers and Hebrew warm-up, students read and discussed a mix of laws from Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. They evaluated whether or not each law was ethical from a Humanistic Jewish perspective, and considered how laws reflect the culture and value system of the society that produces them.

Then we stepped back to verbally and visually review the Torah’s narrative arc. After this review, students learned how the story of the Israelites continues in Nevi’im (the Book of Prophets)–from the conquest of Canaan to the period of judges to rule under the kings Saul, David, and Solomon to the period of divided monarchies (Israel in the north and Judah in the south) to Israel’s destruction by the Assyrians and Judah’s conquest by Babylonia. We discussed the relationship between this narrative and real history, including how the archaeological evidence suggests that the Israelites developed as an ethnic group inside Canaan instead of coming from outside and conquering it.

The Tel Dan Steele “

We also talked about how the evidence suggests that David was a real king or chief who ruled over a much smaller area than the legends describe. This segued to our final activity–looking at the Tel Dan inscription, a real piece of Canaanite archaeological evidence. Students used Paleo-Hebrew guides to decode part of the ancient (~800 BCE) inscription, discovering that it describes a victory over a king from “beit David”–“the house of David.” Inspired by this ancient inscription, students formed their own clay tablets and inscribed them in Paleo-Hebrew. It was a messy but fun finish to our lesson!

March JCSS and Purim Carnival!!

We were delighted to back in person for our Jewish Cultural Sunday School Session on March 13 which included our first full-out, in person Purim Carnival in there years!

During this month’s class time, Song Teacher Sarah Berman Young visited each group, singing together again in person!   We also welcomed back Ian Zukor, a JCSS alumnus and our former classroom aide, who helped in our Littles Group and during the carnival.  Ian’s B’Mitzvah was August 2015!

Next month’s JCSS class is just a week before the Or Emet Passover Seder, or any other Seder you may attend.  Don’t miss having your children be there to practice the Four Questions with Song Teacher Sarah and other Passover songs.

Here’s the lowdown on what happened in each classroom:

The Littles Group – Age 3 -Kindergarten, teacher Amy Leavitt

Happy Purim! We had a great time learning about Purim, as well as meeting 3 new friends! Welcome Frieda, Grant and Quasi! We read Sammy Spider’s First Purim, and had a visit from Sarah where we learned the story of Purim and sang about Haman’s 3 cornered hat. We made paper plate hamantaschen and masks, played Purim Bingo, and read The Better Than Best Purim by Naomi Howland (thanks to Rebekah for sharing it!). It was great seeing all of you participating and having fun at the Purim carnival after class.


The Middles Group – grades 1-2, teacher Colline Roland

Today we made a woven Mishlaoch Manot! We started with our basket, as we didn’t know how long it would take and it ended up taking most of the time! Then we read a Purim book where we learned the story of the Jewish people. At the end, we also had a great discussion about who the real hero of the story was. Esther is usually considered to be the hero in the story, but we talked about how it might be Mordecai!  Who would you choose?

The Juniors Group – grades 3-5, teacher Renee Dorman

In March the Juniors group continued learning our family histories and looked at photos of the Lower East Side. We also read the Megillah and discussed the choices characters make in the story. We played alef-bet bingo before heading to the Purim carnival.

Lower East Side of New York, 1910


The B’Mitzvah Prep Group, grades 6-7, teacher Eva Cohen

The B Mitzvah Prep class spent their lesson thinking critically about Torah law and helping out with the Purim carnival. Students learned about kosher laws and their description in Torah source texts, and then they played the “Kosher or Treyf” game in teams, identifying which foods and animals in pictures are “kosher” and which are “treyf” (Yiddish for non-kosher) according to the traditional dietary laws.
We discussed scholarly theories about why these laws developed, including as a way of enforcing Jewish “holiness” and separation from other ethnic groups, as an expression of cultural/religious values sanctifying life, and as a reflection of cultural discomfort with animals that don’t fit into binary categories.
After a short Purim-themed music and Hebrew lesson with Sarah, the class transitioned to looking at laws from Exodus and Leviticus and from the ~a thousand years older Hammurabi’s Code. Students contrasted how the “eye for an eye” standard of punishment is imposed unequally in the Code, reinforcing class hierarchies, while it is imposed more equally in the Torah.
We rounded out the morning with a snack break, and then headed over to the Purim carnival. Students had a great time running carnival games and enjoying the holiday energy!
A segment of the Code of Hammurabi

February JCSS

Continuing concerns about high Covid case rates and the fact that we still have no approved vaccine for our youngest students, led us to meet once again over Zoom.  Though we would always rather be together in person, our teachers all did a wonderful job of creating engaging online lessons, as you will read below.

You may have noted that we are no longer JCS, but JCSS – Jewish Cultural Sunday School.  The “Sunday” has been added to help anyone finding us for the first time to understand we are not a day school, nor an adult learning program, but a Sunday school like others most folks are familiar with, except with our focus on Jewish culture (embracing history, arts, and values) rather than on religiosity.

We are hopeful that next month we will be able to meet again in person, not only for JCSS classes but also for a joyful Purim Carnival.

Littles Group:  Age 3 – Kindergarten, teacher Amy Leavitt

For hopefully our last Zoom meeting this year, we talked all about kindness, or the Jewish value of Chesed! We read If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson and A Little Spot of Kindness by Diane Alber.


We talked about different ways we can be kind, how it feels when others are kind to us, and listened to “Kindness is a Muscle” by Universal Kids.

The littles were given the challenge to fill in 100 kindness hearts for acts of kindness at home, in the community, and at school.  Thanks for sticking around despite some technical difficulties; I can’t wait to hear all about their acts of kindness next month, hopefully in person!

Middles Group:  Grades 1-2, teacher Colline Roland

On Sunday the Middles were beyond patient with their teacher. For much of the lesson we were unintentionally playing charades as the computer microphone cut in and out throughout the morning. We read “Sammy Spider goes to Israel” and virtually traveled to the same locations as Sammy while mapping it out on paper! We visited the Kottel (Western Wall) in live time, we learned about the salinity of the Dead Sea, and learned about the Bedouin people in the Negev. We also learned to count to 5 in Hebrew!


Kottel (Western Wall)             Dead Sea                           Negev 


Juniors Group: grades 3-5, teacher Renee Dorman

This month, the Juniors class learned about a shared history of Jewish and Black Americans: redlining. We started with a rigged game of Monopoly that helped us understand the concept. Then we looked at the HOLM map of the Twin Cities and located our own houses on the map. None of us could have lived in our neighborhoods back in the 1930s. We also watched a video about how the construction of I-94 hurt the Rondo neighborhood and the current land bridge proposal.


   Food Co-op in Rondo, 1950         I-94 Construction through Rondo

We drew our own perfect neighborhoods with the things a community needs to be safe and happy.

Ilsa’s ideal neighborhood

This lesson was coincidentally (but happily!) closely related to the morning’s adult program. If you attended the adult session, I encourage you to talk about the history of Rondo and redlining with your child!


B’Mitzvah Prep Group: Grades 6-7, teacher Eva Cohen

The B Mitzvah Prep class spent this session learning more about the Exodus story and thinking critically about biblical law. We watched and discussed three additional film clips that retell or riff on the Exodus story, and then I (Teacher Eva) recapped what scholars think is the “historical truth” behind the story. Students read Exodus 20 aloud together (the first place that the “Ten Commandments” appear in the Torah, though without being given that name/title in the chapter), and we talked about the meaning of these commandments in their original ancient Near Eastern context. Then we evaluated the commandments from a modern Humanistic Jewish perspective. Students considered their ethical pros and cons and reflected on the First Amendment implications of setting up Ten Commandments statues in front of state capitals and other public buildings. We wrapped up the morning by folding some Ten Commandments origami and reflecting on Humanistic Jewish Ten Commandments we might write.