April JCS Session Zooms to Life

Spring greetings,             

Due to the Corvid 19 pandemic and state-wide stay at home rule, our April 5  Jewish Cultural School session took place using the Zoom on-line meeting platform.  This was a first for us, an experience shared with other programs and K-12 educators around the state and nation.   We got through some minor first-time hiccups to give all of our students an opportunity to connect with their Or Emet friends and teachers, and to continue learning about Jewish culture, history, traditions and values.

We started, as we do when we meet in person, in one large group with Sarah Berman Young leading us through a choral recitation of the alef-bet, our Children’s Blessing, and an opening song.    The students and their teachers were then placed in virtual Zoom break-out rooms for their separate lessons, as described below.

The Littles Group, Pre-School – Kindergarten, teacher Josh Kaplan

Sunday was our first virtual session of Or Emet’s Jewish Cultural School; a social distancing success! After our group meeting, and humanistic blessings, we sang our morning song from the comfort of our own homes! We learned about Passover, and we watched a short clip from Shalom Sesame about going to a seder. It was great to see everyone’s faces, and to check-in during these challenging times. We’re all looking forward to seeing each other again next month! Chag sameach!


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

After a welcome and checking in on whether or not my students missed school we watched a Passover Shaboom episode. We learned the brief story of Passover and why we throw out all leavened breads. After our shared video, we learned how the Pharaoh of Egypt wouldn’t let the Israelites go, held them as slaves, and then 10 plagues descended upon Egypt. After this we did a group worksheet with Passover specific words so we could learn the meaning and importance of the words that would come in our word search. After doing the vocabulary as a group we then moved on to a Passover word search!

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

The Juniors group enjoyed seeing each other via Zoom in April. We checked in on how we are all doing. Then we played a tough round of Passover trivia using a Kahoot! We watched a video about Anne Frank and compared her experience in their hiding place to our (much easier) experience during social distancing. Looking at Anne’s quotes about finding beauty in hard times, we made a list of the 10 plagues of Passover, another of some modern plagues, and a most important list of things that give us joy and gratitude. Students finished the class with a color-by-alef-bet worksheet to review Hebrew letters and color names.



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

This class session the B’ Mitzvah Prep class focused on continuing study of biblical law and ethics. Class opened with a chance for students to share how they’ve been doing during the pandemic; everyone shared what’s been challenging for them as well as what’s helped them feel positive and hopeful. We also asked each other and responded to the question of how we’re doing in Hebrew.

We moved on to looking closely at similarities and differences between law in Hammurabi’s Code and law in the Torah on the theme of ‘an eye for an eye’; students saw how the Babylonian Code only applies this punishment in response to harm of an aristocratic person, while the Israelite Torah law, written about a thousand years later, legislates this as the punishment for harm of any person of any class, citizen or stranger. Students discussed connections to American laws, and talked about different times in American history–including today–when the law has or has not recognized the lives of all people as equally valuable. Then we moved on to a broader discussion of biblical law, looking at lots of examples and discussing which biblical laws seem ethical from a modern Humanistic Jewish perspective and which do not.

Next, students reviewed a list of kosher laws found in or derived from the Torah, and then we played the “Kosher or Treyf” trivia game. We closed with a chance for high scorers in the game to select dress-up themes for our next JCS Zoom class! 🙂

To prepare for Passover, interested students will take time on their own this week to craft their own model Seder plates–especially useful for celebrating Passover at home this year if their families do not have Seder plates.

March JCS and Purim Fest

Our February JCS session was cancelled due to a heavy snowfall, timed just right to interfere with travel to Talmud of Saint Paul, where we meet. We made up for it with a full morning of events in March.

Students in our Littles, Middles and Juniors Group had just over an hour in class, while out B’Mitvah group joined adults to hear the month’s adult program – read more below.

Following classes we had a scaled down Purim Carnival, with games, craft activities, and prizes, and then a performance by the Judith Eisner Klezmorim of their Purim Spiel, an hour-long joyful production with singing, live music, dancing, costumes and noisemakers, with the name Haman loudly and frequently booed.

The morning was topped off with delicious home made hamantashen.





The Littles Group, Preschool – Kindergarten, Teacher Josh Kaplan

This month at JCS we focused on Purim. We had a short class because of our Purim carnival and special presentation. We did, however, learn a new song, read a Purim story, and make noisemakers. Three cheers for the kids that wore cool costumes!

The Middles Group, Grades 1 – 3, Teacher Colline Roland

While this Sunday’s session was short due to the Purim Carnival and play, the middles still managed to read a couple of books and fit in a craft.

To get ready for the holiday we read a short book,’Purim’, about the history behind why we celebrate Purim.

After this we cut strips of paper so that we could create a woven Purim basket! As the kids were busy cutting they listened to the story ‘The Purim Superhero’ where the theme was be yourself.


The Juniors Group, Grades 4-5, Teacher Renee Dorman

n March, the Juniors discussed the story of Purim through the lens of Esther as a social justice activist. Each student learned about another woman who changed the world through activism and created four illustrations to show the person, the setting, the problem, and the solution/type of activism. If you are interested in learning more, the women we studied were: Clara Lemlich (who was Jewish!), Dolores Huerta, Fannie Sellins, Malala Yousafzai, Georgia Gilmore, and Clara Luper. We then enjoyed music, games, and hamentaschen at the Purim celebration.

Clara Lemlich Shavelson (above) was a leader of the Uprising of 20,000, a massive strike by workers in New York’s garment industry in 1909.  She spoke in Yiddish and called for action.


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

Eva was home this month enjoying the new arrival in her family, Freyja Devorah Cohen, born February 26.   Eva’s substitute teacher, Sam Wegner.  Sam is an alumni of Or Emet’s Jewish Cultural School, son of Tom Wegner and Barbara Weisman, who celebrated his B’Mitzvah about ten years ago.  Sam is a graduate of Middlebury College who has been working in youth-related services for non-profit organizations.   We are elated to have Sam return as a part of the Or Emet community.

The B’Mitzvah group were invited to take part in this month’s adult program, “Issues and Advocacy for Jewish GLBTQ+ Identity”, presented by Noam Sienna, Jewish educator, artist, doctoral candidate and author of A Rainbow Thread: An Anthology of Queer Jewish Texts from the First Century to 1969 and Jayce Koester, J-Pride program coordinator at Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis.  Following the adult program, the two speakers met with just the students, guiding them in processing what they had heard and how it related to their experiences as they move toward adulthood.

Noam Sienna


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).