JCS is Back! Live and In Person!!

We were delighted to be together for the first Jewish Cultural School session of 2021-2022, with classes held outdoors on the grounds of Talmud Torah in St. Paul.  Even thought everyone was masked (except during the snack break), we were happy to feel one another’s presence and see at least the tops of everyone’s face.

Our first session took place during Sukkot, so we started the morning at the Talmud Torah sukkah with Teacher Eva (who is also Or Emet’s ritual leader) offering a message this important celebration, and Teacher Sarah leading us in a rousing rendition of “Zum Gali Gali.”

After choral singing of the Aleph Bet and  reading our blessing for children we broke up intro our four groups.

As long as the weather holds out we will continue to conduct classes outdoors.   Now, here’s what each of our groups did on Sunday.

The Littles, PreK- Kindergarten, teacher Amy Leavitt

We had a great first session of JCS! After a little exploring on the playground, we had Music with Teacher Sarah, and we sang a welcome song and “Did You Ever Shake a Lulav?

The Middles, Grades 1-2, teacher Colline Rolland
For our class we learned about Sukkot and celebrated pollinators, specifically bees. We also did a blind taste test of ‘harvested’ fruits. To honor the holiday, and the hard work of bees, we also came together to make a Sukkah for the bees!
The Juniors – Grades 3-5, teacher Renee Dorman
In September the Juniors got reacquainted and learned to do brief introductions in Hebrew. We reviewed Sukkot with a game of Pictionary. Sarah led us in singing a round of Zum Gali Gali.
We then discussed what “humanistic” means and how that matches our own beliefs. We read a comic book version of Abraham and Isaac through a humanist lens.
The students agreed that in Abraham’s place, their humanistic values would have led them to a different decision.
We concluded by creating our own illuminated “Torah scrolls” to honor words that are meaningful to us.
Illuminated Scroll by Leda, with text from Or Emet’s Blessing for Children
The B’Mitzvah Prep Group, grades 6-7, teacher Eva Cohen
The B Mitzvah Prep class spent their first lesson getting (re)acquainted and using their Humanistic Jewish detective skills! After introductions to each other and the class, students made and decorated name tags with their pronouns. Then we went around the circle asking each other how we were doing today and giving replies–all in Hebrew.
Next we discussed the Torah–what it is, what language it’s written in, et cetera–and talked about why studying Torah and Tanakh could be meaningful for Humanistic Jews. Humanistic Jews see these books as collections of stories and laws/ideas about how people should behave, not as holy or “the truth.” However, students recognized that studying Torah and Tanakh is important for understanding what other people believe and forming our own opinions, for understanding Jewish history and culture, and for general cultural literacy and “getting the reference.” After discussion and a snack break, we returned for a music lesson with Sarah (who taught us to sing “Shlomit Bonah Sukkah” for Sukkot).
After singing we talked a bit more about Torah/Tanakh and how we can use comparative evidence to evaluate whether information in the bible is true. Students worked in groups to compare a timeline of the age of the earth from a religious Jewish, biblical perspective (5782 years old) with a timeline of the age of the earth from a modern scientific perspective (4.6 billion years old). The group found the scientific perspective and the evidence used to support it much more convincing! Then, continuing in small groups, students looked at a hieroglyphic inscription describing an Egyptian pharaoh’s defeat of “Israel” in 1207/1206 BCE. Students used a key to crack the hieroglyphic code and found that, in this case, science agrees with some of what the Torah claims. Here we have independent archaeological evidence that supports the idea that more than three thousand years ago there was a group of people called “Israel” living in the area we know today as Israel/Palestine. I was excited to have students look at evidence from the Torah alongside evidence from geology, archaeology, and other fields to find out the “real history” behind the biblical stories.

June Jewish Cultural School

Our final Jewish Cultural School session of the year was held on June 6, 2021.  The year was unlike any other, with every one of our ten sessions held on Zoom, as well as our Sukkot Celebration, Hanukkah Party, Tu’Bshevat Seder, Purim Carnival and Passover Seder.  I know our students missed seeing one another, being able to work with a range of hands-on materials, playing on the playground after class, and our teachers missed the direct contact with students.

Nonetheless, learning continued, values were developed, and there were lots of fun times.  Here is our our students in each group spent this year’s closing JCS session.

Littles Group – PreK-Kindergarten, teacher Josh Kaplan

This month at JCS we took a look back at our year of learning. We reviewed holidays, special occasions, and traditions. We reread one of our favorite books from the year, and even welcomed Max, an awesome visitor to our Littles’ class!

Middles Group – Grades 1-2, teacher Colline Roland

Our last class of the year was a planned virtual travel expedition to Israel. Because of the engagement and curious questions from the students we visited just two places. We went to Jerusalem and learned of the 3 different cultures and religions that consider Jersualm their holiest place. The students had a great discussion pertaining to kindness and human rights and dignity. We then left Jerusalem for Haifa where we explored the Baha’i Gardens.

Baha’i Gardens in Haifa


Juniors Group- Grades 3-5, teacher Renee Dorman

In June, the Juniors class discussed the history of peace between Jews and Muslims. We learned that the Moors allowed Jews to live peacefully during the Spanish Golden Age, and that our cultures share the symbol of the hamsa (in Arabic) or hamesh (in Hebrew). This hand shaped symbol is sometimes said to represent Miriam. We discussed it as a symbol for feeling protected and made hamsa art.
We also learned about a little known element of Sephardic Jewish history – the Jews who, when forced to flee during the inquisition, became pirates. The video we watched about this was a big hit. You can check it out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDvmzPlmra8

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

(from guest teacher Sam Wegner) The B’Mitzvah class rounded out the year with a necessary conversation about Israel, Palestine, and our perspectives on the conflict as American Jews. We visualized what partition might look like in our own living spaces, teased out the meaning of the word “homeland,” and reflected on the proportionality of violence in the region.

We also practiced our Hebrew introductions, sang Balalalaika with Sarah Berman-Young, and said goodbye to a great year in JCS.

And in parting …. for now

I look forward to seeing many of you – old friends, and hopefully some new ones as well – at our Family Havdalah Picnic on Saturday, August 7 at Crosby Farm Park in St. Paul, and of course back at JCS in the fall.  Stay tuned for our plans about reconvening in person – fingers crossed!

Last but not least,  Congratulations to Eliana on her B’Mitzvah, celebrated June 12, 2021.

–   Arty Dorman, Jewish Cultural School Director

May Jewish Cultural School

On a beautiful Sunday morning in May, our Jewish Cultural School students and teachers met over Zoom to connect with one another as members of the Or Emet community, and to continue the process of learning about our Jewish culture, history, traditions, arts and values though a humanistic lens.

The Littles Group – PreK – Kindergarten, teacher Josh Kaplan

This month at JCS we learned about Jewish folktales. We read a great book called Something From Nothing by Pheobe Gilman which is based on an old Jewish folktale. Then I (Teacher Josh) told the class a folktale and, afterwards, the class drew some illustrations for the story.

Note: we did have some background noise issues today. Just a reminder that, if parents are having a conversation while their Little is Zooming, we’ll all hear it on our end.


Middles Group, grades 1- 2 –  teacher Colline Roland

On Sunday we learned about Shavuot and craved dairy products and fruit.  We learned the story of the Ten Commandments being received, including the commandment not to kill Afterwards we each  created our own commandments for society.  We also read the book Kopecks for Blintzes.  We also read  Kopecks for Blintzes by Judy Goldman.

Here are the Ten Commandments each of the Middles Students thought up.


Juniors Group, grades 3-5 – teacher Renee Dorman

In May, the Juniors class learned about Shavuot. We watched a video about this lesser known holiday. We learned about the tradition of reciting acrostic poems of the alef-bet during the Shavuot service, and briefly looked at the content of one such poem, which is full of gratitude for God’s blessings. After a review of Hebrew, we took a humanist lens on the tradition and made our own (English) alphabet books of things we are grateful for. We also included the Hebrew letter(s) that makes the same sound in each alphabet page.


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

The B Mitzvah Prep class spent this session learning about the Holocaust. After our usual Hebrew conversation warm-up, Teacher Eva gave a presentation on Holocaust history. This presentation touched on the historical and economic conditions that enabled Nazism’s rise. It also explored the ways in which some people actively supported or silently enabled the Nazi cause while other people combatively or peacefully resisted Nazism.
Students then split into groups to study Holocaust survivor testimonies, reading transcript excerpts and watching videos from four different US Holocaust Memorial Museum survivor oral history interviews. After this, we came back together as a large group to discuss the survivor stories, including how each survivor had engaged in some form of resistance to the Nazis. Students concluded by making drawings representing important themes and details in the survivor oral histories.

  A Holocaust survivor’s remembrance of a glove dominated Neva F.’s reflection on oral histories listened to by the B’Mitzvah Prep Class

For next lesson, which will focus on Israel/Palestine, students should prepare for class by exploring the following link and reading/watching at least three of the articles/videos hyperlinked: https://teachmideast.org/resource_guides/the-israeli-palestinian-conflict/

April Jewish Cultural School

On a beautiful April day our Jewish Cultural School classes met.  We had perfect attendance !!!!! so students were able to connect with all of their JCS friend.  Below are summaries of the learning and fun that happened in each group.

The Littles Group, PreK – Kindergarten, teacher Josh Kaplan

This month at JCS we learned about Tikkun Olam and Tzedakah. We listened to a song, read two stories, and shared/drew ideas for ways we can help the world.

an ornate tzedekah box 



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

For our class we reviewed holidays and why/what they celebrate by reading two books.  Then we learned about Lag B’Omer and made our own bonfire craft. Because of the orientation of our fire, student were asked to have their parents take a picture and send it to Arty!

Ilana’s   paper  bonfire for Lag B’Omer

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

In April, the juniors class discussed how music can be used to create change and reviewed the history of Israel through music. We watched the music video of “March March” by The Chicks and listened to “The Times They Are A Changin'” by Bob Dylan to discuss the power of music and our duty to fight for justice.

Then we listened to 10 Israeli songs and watched a video putting them in context. We drew as we listened to the music, then went back to add color while we learned the historical context of each song. All the Israeli songs and the informational video can be found at https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLt3DCnxWC38o0xk1-m5R4eMsphLv36Bbe

The B’Mitzvah Prep Group, grades 6-8, teacher Eva Cohen
During JCS this month the B Mitzvah prep class spent most of the lesson focused on Yiddish. After opening with discussion about the Derek Chauvin trial, Daunte Wright’s recent killing, and issues of justice and protest, we did our regular Hebrew conversation warm-up. Then we shifted to Yiddish, reviewing the letters of the aleph-beys and the sounds that they make together.
Next, students worked in teams to transliterate Yiddish terms ranging from מבֿין (meyven) to מענטש (mentsh) and all things in between. Students compared their transliterations to an answer key, then matched transliterated terms to their correct definitions and again compared their matches to an answer key. Finally, students wrote  creative pieces that incorporated at least ten of these Yiddish terms and shared their clever, funny writing with the class.
We closed with students  sharing what they already know about the Holocaust, the topic of our next session.

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