The October session of the Juniors class focused on the history of the so-called Jewish “Golden Age” in Spain and North Africa. After introducing themselves to the day’s visitor and sharing their Jewish New Year’s resolutions, students reviewed the history of the diaspora covered in the previous session and split into two groups. Each group read a short excerpt from A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People: From the Time of the Patriarchs to the Present that focused on an aspect of this “Golden Age”; one group’s reading described how Jewish people welcomed the advent of Muslim rule in the region in 711 CE because of the increased tolerance and freedom this rule afforded Jews, while the other group’s reading focused on the spiritual/philosophical and literary achievements made by Jewish people during this age of increased freedom and prosperity. Each group worked to summarize what they learned and then shared their summaries with the larger group. Next, students looked briefly at a poem by “Golden Age” poet Samuel bin Nagrela (aka Shmuel HaNagid) and, using it as inspiration, wrote original poems from the perspective of imaginary Jewish people alive during this historical era. Many of the poems touched on the idea of ‘convivencia,’ or coexistence, which is the term that people who study the “Golden Age” use to characterize relationships between Jews, Muslims, and Christians during this time-period. After some students shared their poems with the larger group, the class took a break to eat snack and help decorate the year’s sukkah panel.
When students returned to the classroom after their break, they learned about the important “Golden Age” Jewish thinker Maimonides and his ideas about tzedakah. They studied his “Ladder of Tzedakah” and discussed whether they had ever achieved its highest rung–helping a person to become self-sufficient. Students then selected prepared tzedakah boxes and began to paint them (using acrylic paint as well as matte medium to affix Maimonides’s Ladder of Tzedakah to each box), drawing inspiration from photos of the patterns found in “Golden Age” synagogue decorations. As they painted, students reflected on how they might fill their tzedakah boxes and where they would devote the money that they collected. Hebrew and music teacher Sarah Berman-Young popped in to play some Sephardic-style music while students worked. After class, many students and their families attended the Or Emet Sukkot party!