Warming Up with January JCS

Greetings.  The weather is nippy but we keep ourselves warm, in body and spirit, at our monthly Jewish Cultural School sessions.  Here’s what happened in January.

The Littles Group – PreK – Kindergarten, teacher Josh Kaplan

This week at JCS we learned about mitzvot. We talked about how doing good one good deed can lead to more good deeds, and about all of the different actions that count as a mitzvah. We drew pictures of mitzvot we have done, or could do, and we read a story about helping others.


The Middles Group, grades 1 – 3, teacher Colline Roland

coming soon

The Juniors Group, grades 4-5, teacher Renee Dorman

In January, the Juniors group studied the history of redlining in the Twin Cities. This discriminatory practice effected Jews as well as people of color for much of the 20th century. You can check out the resource we used at the link below.  Here is some of the text from their site describing  a map prepared by the Home Owners Loan :

“As shown on this HOLC map, ‘Hazardous’ red areas were often comprised of people of color, immigrant groups and Jews, and in those places the government dissuaded the underwriting of loans. Yellow areas were also less favorable, deemed ‘Declining’, while blue ‘Desirable’ and especially green ‘Best’ areas became mostly likely to have loans underwritten. HOLC maps were made in most medium and large cities across the United States, and in 1934, like in other cities, this map was commissioned by local public and private officials.”

After discussing this issue, we made our own All Are Welcome Here signs in English and Hebrew to fight against xenophobic attitudes. We also practiced writing in Hebrew, including both vowels and consonants.



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

Our January lesson focused on thinking critically about biblical law. After our usual Hebrew conversation warm-up and an introduction to how the Torah transitions from the narrative of escape from Egypt to God’s transmission of many laws to Moses on Mount Sinai, students read most of Exodus 20, the first chapter in the Torah that details the commands that later tradition comes to understand as the Ten Commandments. They compared this chapter with a list of the Ten Commandments, marking the Exodus 20 text to show where each commandment was extracted. Then we had a discussion about the differences between the meanings that these ‘commandments’ held for their ancient authors and the meanings that they acquired in later tradition (the second commandment, for example, “You shall have no other gods before me,” assumes that other gods exist but that only one should be worshipped; monotheism–belief in the existence of only one God–developed later on in Judaism). After this discussion, students took part in an activity where they walked to one side of the room or the other depending on whether they thought each commandment should or should not apply broadly to people today. This activity prompted interesting ethical conversation about the importance of not dictating whether people should or should not believe in a specific deity, about whether abusive parents should be honored, and a range of other topics. We took a snack break, and after coming together again as a group, students folded origami versions of the ‘Tablets of the Law,’ decorated them, and then brainstormed and shared their own lists of Humanistic Jewish Ten Commandments. We closed the lesson by looking at some laws from the Code of Hammurabi, an ancient Babylonian law code that clearly influenced later Torah law, even though it was written at least a thousand years before the laws in the Torah. Students noted parallels as well as divergences between selections from Hammurabi’s Code and Leviticus 24:17-22, observing how the Code seems to set up harsher punishments for people who harm members of the aristocracy, while the Leviticus 24 laws make punishment serious and equal for anyone who harms a person of any class from within or outside the community. We will continue to think about these comparisons and contrasts as we expand on our study of biblical law and its ethical implications during our February class.

December JCS & Hanukkah Party!

Greetings, and Happy 2020

Here are summaries from each of our teachers of their December, 2019 Jewish Cultural School lessons.  One week later, our annual Hanukkah Party was held, with photos to bear witness to the great time had by all.

Littles Group, Pre-school – Kindergarten, teacher Josh Kaplan: 

This week was all about Hanukkah! We practiced the song we will sing for our Hanukkah Party, we learned about dreidels, we practiced lighting a play-menorah, we colored and we read our favorite Hanukkah book: Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins. We also welcomed a visitor this week who fit right in with the class!

Middles Group – First – Third Grade, teacher Colline Roland

Today we continued our monthly mitzvah and made Hanukkah cards and Star of David ornaments to give to a senior care facility. We also read a story book and learned all about the story of Hanukkah.

Juniors Group, Grades 4 – 5, teacher Renee Dorman

In December, the Juniors group talked about the issue of underrepresentation of minority groups, and how it applies to Judaism as well as other non-Christian religions. We took a small step toward changing this norm by imagining a Hanukkah celebration into our favorite stories. Students were encouraged to pick whatever story world they wanted, from Minecraft to Percy Jackson and beyond. We pretended to be a character celebrating Hanukkah and wrote a letter about our imagined celebration. Students also had the opportunity to illustrate the scene. We closed the lesson with a few rounds of Hebrew letter bingo.

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

Our December lesson focused on preparing for Chanukah. After our usual Hebrew conversation practice, students spent practiced writing their Hebrew names in block letters and script. Then, after a brief overview of the history of ancient Israel, the class divided up roles and acted out a historically-grounded Chanukah play retelling the story of the Maccabean revolt and the origins of Chanukah as a holiday. Students voted perform this play as their class Chanukah party presentation, reviewed a Chanukah song they sing at Chanukah party with Sarah, and wrote funny arguments to take positions in the great latke-hamantaschen debate. We rounded out the lesson with practice speaking and writing Hebrew (and some Yiddish) holiday vocabulary terms, and then brainstormed issues to make the focus of our tikkun olam letter-writing campaigns to state and federal legislators in early 2020.


2019 Or Emet Hanukkah Party







Here’s what November brought to Jewish Cultural School

Our four groups were all busy with engaging lessons planned by their teachers, plus a visit in each group from Music & Hebrew Teacher Sarah Berman Young.

Littles group – PreK – Kindergarten, teacher Josh Kaplan

This month at JCS we started getting ready for our Hanukkah party by learning one of the songs we’re planning on singing. We also learned about Shabbat. We made challah covers, ate challah, and Teacher Josh safely lit the candles. We colored, and we read two short books about Shabbat


Middles group, grades 1 – 3, teacher Colline Roland

Today in class we started off with a conversation about gratitude. We acknowledged that we are very fortunate and grateful to have everything we have because not every has what we do. Next, teacher Sarah came in to teach us our Hanukkah song. After, the kids had to build a tower. After a few minutes they were unable to communicate. This led to the Story of Babel.
For our class’s mitzvah we recycled shirts and created dog toys to donate to the humane society.

The Middles groups Tower of Babel in ruins!


Juniors Group, grades 4 – 5, teacher Renee Dorman

In November, the Juniors class talked about the first major wave of Jewish immigration to the United States in the 1800s. We learned Kosher rules, and created Kosher Thanksgiving menus. Then we put our knowledge to practice in the kitchen by making a batch of take-and-bake potato knishes. Look forward to preparing our Hanukkah performance next month!


Boiling potatoes to make knishes!           Isaac and Julian sharing recipe tips


B’Mitvah Group – grades 6 and 7, teacher Eva Cohen

During our November session, we continued our humanistic Torah study with a focus on the book of Exodus. After opening with Hebrew conversation and brief review of last session’s content, students experimented with writing their names in Hebrew (the Hebrew name for Exodus is Sh’mot, meaning “Names”). Then we moved to reading and discussing the first and second chapters of Exodus in translation. We talked about the story’s description of Israelite enslavement and parallels to this in the history of other nations and peoples, we talked about the story’s heroes, and we talked about whether the story has any basis in fact. For those following along at home :), there is no historical proof that the Exodus as described in the Torah really happened, but many scholars believe that its narrative may be inspired by (1) the experiences of a few slaves who escaped from Egypt and became part of the Israelite ethnic group that coalesced in Canaan during the Late Bronze/Early Iron Age, (2) the overthrow and expulsion of the West Semitic Hyksos dynasty from Egypt in the 16th century BCE, and/or (3) Egyptian presence in and control over Canaan through the 12th century BCE, and the experience of dispossessed peasants, escaped slaves, and other marginalized people under Egyptian domination.

Students watched a clip from the animated film The Prince of Egypt that dramatically reimagines scenes from the opening chapters of Exodus, and then acted out and discussed funny skits (from Stan Beiner’s book Sedra Scenes) that retell later chapters of the story. After snack and our music and Hebrew lesson with Sarah, where students practiced singing “Mi Yimalel” in preparation for the Chanukah party, we returned to Exodus. Students watched and discussed a clip from Nina Paley’s 2019 animated film Seder-Masochism that creatively represents the Ten Plagues, and then made their own creative representations of the Exodus story. Looking at some images from (mostly medieval) haggadot for inspiration, students painted their own Haggadah pages that imaginatively depict scenes from Exodus. For next lesson, I have asked students to find out their Hebrew names (and to choose Hebrew names for themselves if they do not have them yet).


October: Jewish Cultural School and Sukkot Party


In spite of the cold drizzle, there was enough fall color to make it feel like Sukkot  when we met on Sunday, October 13.  Following JCS classes, we had a Sukkot party, feasting on pizza – leading to cleverly dubbing the Sukkah our “Pizza Hut” – and all ages took part in a service conducted by Or Emet ritual leader Eva Cohen and song leader Sarah Berman Young.

By the way, we had perfect attendance at Sunday’s JCS!  With meeting only once each month, it is so important that our kids make it as often as possible, so please keep up the good work!

Read below to find out what each group did during their class time.

Littles Group – PreK – Kindergarten – Teacher Josh Kaplan

This month we learned about Sukkot. We got to smell an etrog (lemon) and wave a lulav (asparagus). We colored, sang, read a Sukkot story, and made paper chains to decorate our Sukkah!

Middles Group – Grades 1 – 3 – Teacher Colline Roland

In class we started off with a book, The Vanishing Gourd!

After our read aloud the kids discussed what Sukkot is and what is celebrated, based on what they learned from the book and what they knew.

We then connected the holiday of Sukkot with social justice issues as we created a paper chain. Each student decorated a chain. One of the paper chains was decorated to answer the question, “What’s one good deed you’ve done this year?”

Junior Group – Grades 4 & 5 – Teacher Renee Dorman

In October, the JCS Juniors reviewed the holiday of Sukkot. We then moved on to learning about Jews in early America, including Jewish Americans who supported the Revolutionary War. Did you know that the famous George Washington letter featuring the biblical line “everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree” was written to a synagogue, in thanks for their support with the revolution? Pretty cool! We also continued our work on Hebrew phonics. Students sounded out and wrote their own names using Hebrew letters – including the vowels! We tied this all together with a game on jeopardy.

B’Mitzvah Group – Grades 6 & 7 – Teacher Eva Cohen

The B’ Mitzvah class this month continued their humanistic Torah study while building their Hebrew skills. After our usual Hebrew speaking warm-up, we reviewed the differences between the two creation stories at the beginning of Genesis and talked about how they were probably written by two different authors with different theological beliefs and values. From here we pivoted to learning a little about the Documentary Hypothesis, the classic academic model for understanding the Torah as written by four different ancient Israelite/Judahite authors from different time-periods whose writings were edited or redacted together. After a brief discussion of the Garden of Eden story (“If you were a character in this story, would you or wouldn’t you eat from the Tree of Knowledge?”), we shifted gears, went over the aleph-bet, and played a Hebrew letter-recognition game. Students grabbed the right letters faster than me–they get a prize next time! 🙂 Then the class practiced writing the letters of the aleph-bet in block print and Hebrew script. After snack and break, we returned to class and students read short summaries of the remaining chapters of Genesis in tweet form, identifying stories that they were familiar with already as well as ones that were new to them. To tie our humanistic Torah study and Hebrew writing practice together, each student selected a chapter of Genesis and worked with an English-Hebrew glossary to learn and write some Hebrew vocabulary connected to their selected chapter. As we wrapped up for the day, students who wanted to get crafty made paper chain decorations for the sukkah and Sukkot party afterward, while other students continued to experiment with Hebrew writing.

September: Jewish Cultural School off to a great start

Thanks to our parents, teachers and students who made our first session of JCS such a happy time.  From my observations, all of the students were happily engaged in active learning.  Read below to find out a little about what each group did.    The bring-your-own-snack worked out really well, too.  I was prepared with a stash if any students (or their parents) had forgotten, but no one did!  What a great community!


The B-Mitzvah Prep Group – 6th and 7th Grade Students, teacher Eva Cohen

For our first JCS session of the year, we kicked off with welcomes, introductions and icebreakers, and Hebrew conversation practice. Students learned a little about the Hebrew Bible from a secular humanistic Jewish perspective, and then the class read aloud and acted out Genesis 1-2 in translation. Through critical discussion, students realized that these two chapters actually contain two different versions of the creation story that come from two different biblical authors/sources. The Torah, our lesson emphasized, reflects the perspectives of different human authors from different time periods with a range of agendas and priorities.     The B-Mitzvah Prep group has 9 students.



Juniors Group  – 4th and 5th Grade Students, teacher Renee Dorman

t was great to come together again in September. This month the Juniors learned about key High Holiday practices and artifacts, and worked in small groups to go deeper into the traditional spiritual importance of Rosh Hashanah. We then watched a short film of the story of Abraham and Isaac and discussed it through a humanistic lens, identifying the beliefs, traditions, and decision making tools we use as Humanistic Jews. We practiced Hebrew phonics and decoded a secret spy message in Hebrew, before writing and illustrating our names in the style of Renaissance-era illuminated manuscripts. (Google “Mishneh Torah” to see our inspiration.) Most students took home a Hebrew alphabet packet with two sheets – consonants and vowels. Please encourage your child to review the letter sounds over the next month.   Thank you!        The Juniors group has 8 students. 



Middles Group – 1st, 2nd and 3rd Grade Students, teacher Colline Roland

On our first day we discussed charitable giving, read a book, crafted, and finished with a video. Our lesson for day 1 revolved around ‘charitable giving’! Each student created their own Tzedekah box and came up with what they wanted to donate their money to to help save the world! Some things the students wanted to save included: Tigers, Mice, and Ocean Life.  In the photo below you will also catch a glimpse of our ace teacher aide, Ian Zukor.   The middles group has 5 students.











Littles Group, PreK and Kindergarten Students, teacher Josh Kaplan

(text coming soon)

The Littles group has 4 students.