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.

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