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
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.