January JCS Brings Back the Boxes (Zoom, that is)

I hope 2022 has started well for all of you, at least in most ways.  One way it has not gone well for any of us is the wide increase in transmission of the Covid, especially the Omicron variant.  Thus, our January session took us back to online learning via Zoom.

The good thing, at least, is that we were able to quickly reconstruct the process we spent several months figuring out last year, and the class sessions all went smoothly.  We were able to hold our Tu B’Shevat seder on Zoom as well, with our older students and teachers participating as readers.

We will carefully track the course of the pandemic to decide whether we can go back to holding our classes in-person in February.

Take a look at what each of our JCS classes spent their Sunday morning on Zoom doing.

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

We learned about the holiday of Tu B’shevat (with some help from Shalom Sesame), and the importance of being Planet Protectors. We read Sadie’s Snowy Tu B’Shevat by Jamie Korngold, and learned about what to expect at the Seder. We then talked about the wonderful things we get from trees (paper, wood, fruits, and more), read Luna & Me: The True Story of a Girl Who Lived in a Tree to Save a Forest by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw, and watched a video     about the redwood trees in California.
The Middles Group, grades 1-2 – teacher Colline Roland

For our first online meeting this year we had a few technical difficulties however, we were able to accomplish a discussion, craft, and book! We made ‘fruit faces’ and read “Thank a Tree” in honor of everything trees give us. We talked about the importance of trees and realized, by looking around us, just how important trees are. Some of us even had photos of trees framed on our wall.

The Juniors Group, grades 3-5 – teacher Renee Dorman
The Juniors took a virtual field trip to Ellis Island to learn about the experience of many Jewish immigrants to the United States, especially from eastern Europe.  Then we shared family artifacts and drew our own suitcases of special belongings.
The B’Mitzvah Prep Group, grades 6-7 – teacher Eva Cohen
This lesson, the B Mitzvah Prep class focused on learning about the Exodus story and its influence on culture. Students read aloud the first two chapters of Exodus (in translation) and discussed them from a Humanistic Jewish perspective. Discussion touched on the Exodus story as an inspiration for Jewish opposition to oppression, along with the real history behind the story.
There is no evidence that the events described in Exodus occurred, but scholars theorize that the expulsion of the West Asian Hyksos Dynasty from Egypt or Canaanite suffering during the period of Egyptian imperial control may have inspired a collective ‘memory’ that morphed historical events into legendary form. After discussion, students watched a couple of movie clips retelling parts of Exodus 2, including a clip from the 1998 animated film The Prince of Egypt and a clip from the 1956 live-action film The Ten Commandments (through 2:00).
Then the class did a funny Exodus-themed photo scavenger hunt, where students staged and photographed tableaus of scenes from the Exodus story incorporating props and joke prompts. You can see some of the students’ awesome work in the photos shared here! Before class ended students reviewed their assigned reading parts in the Tu B’Shevat seder, and then the class rejoined the larger group to help lead Or Emet’s Tu B’Shevat seder.
The baby Moses found in a basket            sMoses and the burning bush
   Moses receiving the tablets                     Moses smashing the tablets

Or Emet’s 2021 Hanukkah party was a hit!

On Dec. 5, the final night of Hanukkah, Or Emet celebrated at the Cedarholm Golf Course community room in Roseville.

More than 40 people danced, sang, played dreidel, ate latkes and lit the menorah in solidarity against the darkness, and despite missing our friends through the pandemic.

A definite highlight was dancing the “Banu Chosech Legaresh,” an Israeli dance whose title means, “We came to get rid of the dark!” Dancing outside was a fun way to keep warm.

Enjoy photos from the Hanukkah party below!

Sarah and Leta teaching the “Banu Chosech Legaresh” dance.

Mini-menorah created by the Finestack children.

Dickson family

Dickson family

Jeff lighting the menorah.

Potato latkes, of course!

Eva Cohen


The group enjoyed dancing the "Banu Chosech Legaresh" outside.

The group enjoyed dancing the “Banu Chosech Legaresh” outside.

A visiting family lighting candles.

A visiting family lighting candles.

Seth Fine and family

Seth Fine and family

Howard, Lenny and Gwyn

Howard, Lenny and Gwyn

Binder-Housenecht family

Binder-Housenecht family

The Handley family menorah burning brightly with real candles.

The Handley family menorah burning brightly with real candles.

December JCS

Our last Jewish Cultural School of 2021 was held December 19, overcoming several obstacles, including the absence – due to Covid exposure and holiday travel – of three of our four JCS teachers.  Sarah Berman Young guest-teachered for the combined Middles and Juniors group, and Arielah King guest-teachered for the Littles group – and all was well.   Thanks so much, Sarah and Arielah.

We expect everyone to be back and hope for all to be in good health for our first JCS session of 2022 on January 16.

Littles Group – age 3 – Kindergarten, teacher Amy Leavitt, guest teacher Arielah King

The Littles learned the word “mitzvah” and discussed the mitzvah of caring for the sick. They made drawings to be delivered to Children’s Hospital. We read the book “A Sick Day for Amos McGee”, and other books with a similar theme.

Middles Group – Grades 1-2, teacher Colline Roland, & Juniors Group, grades 3-5, teacher Renee Dorman – guest teacher Sarah Berman Young

“Renee left a lesson for the students that introduced Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism, and the students listened to two versions of the Golem tale. The students talked about what magical words they might use to bring their own Golem to life, and what type of shape their own Golem might take to protect them and those they cared about. Then they had a chance to build their own Golems out of air-dry clay. It was a lot of fun!”

Above: reproduction of Prague Golem

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

During our December class, students continued to explore Genesis/Bereishit (the first book in the Torah) from a humanistic perspective. After our regular Hebrew conversation warm-up and reviewing November’s lesson, students read a summary of Genesis, noted all the stories in it that were familiar to them, and discussed major themes in these stories.

Then the class acted out a funny skit from Sedra Scenes based on the Noah/Noach section of the book (Noah’s Ark and surrounding stories). We discussed similarities and differences between this flood story and others from the ancient Near East, and we considered the ethics of God’s actions in the story. One student made the interesting comparison between God flooding the world to destroy his creation that had ‘become evil,’ and mad scientists in works like Frankenstein who try to destroy the monsters they create.

After break we shifted to learning about Hebrew names, noting the connection between many Hebrew names and characters and concepts in Genesis. Students reviewed how to write the letters of the aleph-bet and then created Hebrew name art inspired by medieval Jewish illuminated manuscripts. The class brought great engagement and creativity to our lesson!



November Jewish Cultural School News

The cold finally caught up with us and we moved indoors for our JCS classes in November, but students and teachers kept their masks on and we observed safe social distancing.  Hopefully by January, all but our very youngest students will be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, but we will continue to observe these protocols for as long as needed.

During our gathering time, before splitting into separate group,  music and Hebrew teacher Sarah Berman Young taught students, parents and other adults a new song for the upcoming Hanukkah observance, which we will sing – along with a lively dance – at our Hanukkah party on December 5.

Here are highlights of each group’s activities in November.

The Littles Group, age 3 – Kindergarten – teacher Amy Leavitt

We learned all about Hanukkah this week! We read The Chanukkah Guest by Eric A. Kimmel and The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes by Linda Glaser, made our own menorahs to take home, played dreidel, and learned what each of the sides say (nes gadol hayah sham-a great miracle happened there). We learned 5 Little Latkes and 2 new verses to “I Had a Little Dreidel”, and we listened to the PJ Library Hanukkah Mix on Spotify (be sure to check it out!) while we built a menorah out of blocks.


Isaac and Lela play dreidel and build a menorah

The Middles Group, grades 1-2 – teacher Colline Roland
Today we made special Hanukkah cards for those in senior living communities. We learned about the Macabees and how their oil lasted for eight days, which seemed to be a miracle. We also learned that the stormed temple had a menorah with 7 branches and there was a horrible king!  Finally, we read Nonna’s Hanukkah Surprise by Karen Goodman.
During our November class, we continued our humanistic exploration of B’reishit/Genesis, the Torah’s first book, and then we pivoted to learning about Chanukah history through theater. After our regular opening, students finished their Genesis creation story drawings. These drawings, begun last month, took inspiration from a diverse mix of famous art that riffs on the creation stories in Genesis 1-2. As students put final touches on their drawings, I read Genesis 3 (aka the Garden of Eden story) aloud to the class. Students shared their reactions to the story and discussed the following questions:
(1) If you were in the Garden of Eden or the Gan Eden, would you eat from the Tree of Knowledge? Why or why not?
(2) Do you think the ancient author(s) of the story saw the characters’ actions (eating from the Tree of Knowledge, getting expelled from the garden) in a negative or positive light? What about later Jewish tradition? Later Christian tradition?
(3) How has this story and its later interpretations promoted sexist ideas? Could we interpret Eve’s choice to eat from the tree and give fruit to Adam in a different, positive way?
After this discussion we shifted gears, from the earlier period when the Torah was written and edited (800s-400s BCE) to the second century BCE–the time of the Maccabean Revolt. Students had fun acting out a play I wrote that tries to humorously retell the “real” history of the revolt and the holiday, Chanukah, that it inspired. We won’t be performing the play at this year’s Or Emet Chanukah party, but it was great to see everyone flex their dramatic muscles in the classroom!

October JCS, a Brisk Time for Learning

Our Jewish Cultural classes again met outside on October 24, challenging us to attend to learning on a rather chilly morning.  It didn’t help that the sun wasn’t shining, but that didn’t reduce the bright lights shining out from each of our students.  Our next session, on November 21, may be time to shift classes indoors – but who knows, perhaps we will have a a wave of warmth to presage Thanksgiving.

Till then, stay warm and enjoy the season – Arty – 


The Littles Group, PreK- Kindergarten, teacher Amy Leavitt

This month at JCS we talked about tzedakah, which means justice, or in our case doing the right thing by helping people in need. We read Jumping Jenny by Ellen Bari and The Berenstain Bears and the Good Deed, and we talked about many different ways to perform good deeds, including giving tzedakah.

Then we learned a song about giving tzedakah and made tzedakah boxes (while listening to the PJ Library tzedakah playlist on Spotify). Start a new family tradition by having your child add a little change to their tzedakah box once a week-maybe make it a part of your Shabbat celebration as a nice way to end the week! At the end of our year of JCS together, we will add up our savings and choose a charity to donate to.


The “Littles” – Issac,  Lela, Max and  Rebecca 1) at work, and 2) with their tzedekah boxes.  


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

Our class took time to create entries for the American Jewish World’s Hanukkah issue cover contest. Then we learned about mezuzahs, including a mezuzah scavenger hunt at Talmud Torah,  and created our own!


Mezuzah’s by Middles students – wouldn’t you like one at your door?


Juniors Group – grades 3-5, teacher Renee Dorman

In October, the Juniors learned about diversity within the Jewish community. Specifically, we investigated “evidence” about Mizrahi, Sephardic, and Ashkenazi Jews and recorded our findings. We also learned about the Jewish value of gemilut hasadim (loving kindness). We played a blood-warming round of acts-of-kindness charades, and then we drew pictures of what kindness looks like to us.

Gemilut hasadim – loving kindness – is important for us at every age.

The B’Mitzvah Prep Group, grades 6-7, teacher Eva Cohen
This month’s class featured humanistic Torah exploration through critical reading and art-making.
After opening and our regular Hebrew conversation warm-up, students reviewed last month’s lesson and then turned their attention to Genesis. We read Genesis 1-2:4  aloud  and then worked as a group to identify the order of creation, the name used for God, and the characterizations of God and humans in this creation story. Students recorded this information in comparison charts. Then we played a game of charades that focused on characters, animals, and natural phenomena from the story we just read.
After this we read the rest of Genesis 2 aloud together, and again worked as a group to identify the order of creation, the name used for God, and the characterizations of God and humans in this creation story, recording the information in our comparison charts.
Students looked over their charts to compare the two stories, noticing how each story described creation happening in a different order and used a different name for God (Elohim/God VS LORD God/Adonai [YHWH] Elohim). They also noted how each story characterized God differently (distant, not embodied or human-like, all-powerful, operating by schedule, acting like a priest, observing Shabbat VS close, more embodied and humanlike, spontaneous, not priestly or Shabbat-observant), and characterized humans differently (male and female created together in image of God, made masters of earth, called “very good” VS man created first from “dust of the earth” and woman created later from his rib, man placed in Garden of Eden to tend it).  Marking all these differences, students came to the conclusion that the two creation stories were probably written by different authors in different time periods with different belief systems.
After exploring this evidence from the Torah for multiple authors, students looked at a diverse mix of art inspired by the Genesis creation stories–ranging from Michaelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” to the cover art for a recent single by Lil Nas X–and began work on their own drawings that creatively riff on the stories.  In spite of the cold, we had a great class!
Were Michaelangelo & Lil Nas X both inspired by the Book of Genesis?