Hello Parents! It was great to see so many of the kids again today! In today's class, we covered some of the major events and ideas in three more "parshiot" (portions) of the Torah in Exodus. In this discussion, we talked about several important themes, including the challenge of leaving slavery in Egypt into freedom for the Children of Israel. As commentators - and our students! - pointed out, with freedom we weren't always told what to do. So we explored how important it was to develop laws and ways of being together in peace. We also talked about Nachshon (from Midrash), whose willingness to walk into the Sea is said to be the moment when the waters parted so that all of the people could move forward, out of Egypt. As the students pointed out, Nachshon wasn't only brave and showing trust, he also was caring and was a leader, as his action allowed all of the people to go forward. After the introduction, the students broke up into groups and each group worked on an event in these portions, prompted by a quote from the Torah and our discussion: Nachshon's action (a skit with costumes and sets); Miriam's dance and music after we got through the parted waters and escaped into freedom (written song and dance); the Ten Commandments we then received at Mt. Sinai (a writetn and performed rap song); and the specific injunction (in Mishpatim, with many laws) about not oppressing the stranger, because we were once strangers in Egypt (a poster). I took pictures and videos of the two songs/dances, poster and skit the groups created and hope I can find a way to share them with you! Finally, we ended our morning with a walk through the hallway to the cafeteria - kind of like leaving Egypt quickly! - where we made some "manna" snacks (manna was the food Gd gave the Jewish people in the desert to eat).
I told the students that a Midrash says that manna did not taste the same to everyone. You might discuss at home: what would that mean, why might the rabbis talk about this idea that the manna needed for survival might taste different to people of different ages or different in other ways?
I look forward to seeing the kids again next week! Shirah H.
Hello Parents, This update is a little bit late! During this week before the MLK break, we continued to talk about the beginning of Exodus. We explored a few themes in particular, that connected the story of Exodus to our celebration of Passover. These included remembering that we were slaves in Egypt and therefore to welcome the stranger ourselves and work for freedom for everyone, from the Jewish tradition. We also played "The Exodus Board Game" which went pretty well! Finally, we used that day to celebrate Tu B'Shvat. As a class we had a nice discussion of how people are like trees - as they grow and offer their fruits to the world. Students also had a chance to plant a seed and bring it home, for the New Year for the Trees in the Jewish calendar.
This week in class we covered the first three portions of the second book of the Torah, Exodus (Shmot in Hebrew). These portions cover God's call to Moses/Moshe to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and slavery to the "land flowing with milk and honey" and to worship God. We started with God speaking from a burning bush that was not consumed, and continued through all the plagues as Moses brought this to Pharoaoh. We also opened class with the question of: What happens when someone asks you to do something hard? The students gave a lot of great, relevant answers - and they all applied to Moses and his reluctance to take on this role! We also talked about how God insisted and also offered Aaron, Moses's older brother, to help him do this difficult job. We covered a second theme also about hearts: soft hearts (Israelite people being afraid to leave slavery), hard hearts (Pharaoh changing his mind constantly, while stubbornly refusing to be kind and let the people go), and good hearts - Moshe leading the people out AND the midwives Shifra and Puah, and Pharoah's daughter, and Moses's sister - all of whom helped save the Jewish people and Moses as a baby. Related to hearts and before working on their artistic or game expression of this set of stories, we also shared reading a commentary aloud by Rabbi Bill Hamilton (of Boston!) about being an "upstander" and opposing bullying, with Moses and Shifra and Puah as good examples of this. In Hebrew class, we did our regular review and warm-up for reading letters and vowels smoothly, and then began to create what will be a game to help learn the Hebrew names of the partriarchs and matriarchs in the Amidah prayer we're working on learning to read.
After this session, you might ask your student... What do we learn from the Torah here about how we can help others to be more confident and take on difficult challenges/ And how we can become strong and have "good hearts" in our communities and roles?
Next week we'll continue exploring this section of the Torah through some games and more work on their own, and have activities for Tu B'Shvat - the Jewish New Year of Trees.
Thanks and have a good rest of the week!
Hello! This week we had some learning and some fun, with our 6th Graders! We talked through "life's ups and downs" as we see in the many chapters of Joseph's life and the important dreams he interpreted with his special skill. The students were able to fill in many of the blanks as we discussed the story, which was great. We also thought about it as a curving line, going up and down. We also talked about how Joseph reconciled with his brothers after so many years, and about the "7 years of plenty and 7 years of famine" dreams. The students then helped develop and play a "Life of Joseph" card game...in which you would collect all the ups, or maybe three in a row of ups and downs, or maybe use the Dream Card... - and many of them represented this idea as their next Torah-scroll page.
Finally, we also talked about how with this segment of the Torah, we finished our study of Genesis! The "thought for the day" was about celebrating accomplishments and how we celebrate together. You might ask the students how we "high five" each other when we finish a book of the Torah. (Hint: "chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek - strength, strength and become strong" we say). It might also be interesting to talk more with your students about perseverence and getting through the difficult times, to the better times in life.
In our Hebrew class, for the students who stay with me, we did our usual (extended) letter-reading warm-up and then began to learn the Avot V'Imahot prayer from the Amidah. It needs more work and polishing, but we definitely got started well! It's nice that it has the patriarchs and matriarchs listed, who we just learned about.
The kids are great and doing a great job on adding to their Torah scrolls, as we ended the day again. Looking foward to continuing the learning and the scroll in January!
Have a good holiday break and new (secular) year!
Happy Hanukkah - as we end the holiday this week! This past Sunday, we had a community-wide Hanukkah celebration day and it was filled with a lot of activity! In our classroom, we had a discussion of some of the themes and ideas of Hanukkah. Then the students made three no-sew blankets to give to the Coalition for the Homeless. The kids worked hard and did a great job! When they weren't working on the blankets, they played dreidle, and everyone received a dreidle to decorate along with candy and donut holes for Hanukkah. The class also learned a new song "Not by Might and Not by Power" by Debbie Friedman, and heard some Maccabeats Hanukkah music while we worked on blankets and games in the classroom. Then we had the menorah display-competition, and a performance of songs and skits by the whole school at the end of the morning.
In our Hanukkah discussion, we discussed the challenges the Maccabees met and also brought out themes like... it's okay to be different (you might ask your student what's "UBU" about?), and having hope even when it seems you don't have enough of what you need to go forward (one day's worth of oil lasted for eight days). We can also all be a "light" in this time of year for others. Thank you to all your students for them practicing "UBU" and bringing their light to us!
Next week we'll return to the amazing stories of Joseph and the ups and downs of his life as we finish the book of Genesis.
Final reminder: We will collect our Tzedakah funds later this year, so do please remember to have your student bring it in for our Tzedakah box.
Thanks and have a good week!
Hello Parents! On December 2, I wasn't in class and the students had a subsitute. They began to learn the stories around Joseph from the Torah, and we'll continue on that when we return to the regular curriculum after Hanukkah - on December 16. Best to all for a fun holiday! Shirah H.
We had another full and fun session this past week! Given how far we've come in the study of Torah, we did some "overview" work, to get the whole story so far.
Two weeks ago, we worked on "researching" and representing the 12 Tribes - the sons of Jacob. That brought us to the end, more or less, of the Jewish early family in Genesis. So this week we first talked about how Jacob was renamed "Yisrael" which means "struggles with God" and how important that is in Jewish tradition. Our first review was to think about the "struggles" each of the "characters" we've met so far in the Torah might have had, from what we've learned. Then we played with the connections among the different people we've met in the Torah (couples, parents and kids, brothers, sisters, pre-Abraham group, etc.). Finally, we took a genealogy approach, to outline the generations from Adam and Eve all the way down to the 12 Tribes. In class, the students then had the chance to work on their own family's genealogy chart, with the option of creating a "sheild" or representation of the family's values and personalities. The kids really seemed to enjoy charting their families!
Finally, at the end of class, we turned for the first time to creating the personal Torah scrolls from all the work the students have done individually so far! It was exciting to begin to see how it's going to come together, and we'll keep adding to that.
In Hebrew, we reviewed reading letters and vowels more. Next time we'll turn to more work reading prayers in Hebrew, and begin learning the Amidah prayer. The more the students attend regularly, the more progress we can make individually and as a group!
You might ask your student about some of the struggles we have read about in the Torah so far - and some of the accomplishments of these "characters" as they persevered through the challenges.
As reminders, please do be sure your student brings their folder each time and let's start to bring in Tzedakah, too.
Also, please note that I will not be in class next time (December 2) because I will be at a Jewish event I've been actively involved in organizing: LimmudBoston. If you or your family has an interest in this event, I warmly invite you to attend that day! There is programming for kids in Camp Limmud, too. You can find out more at www.limmudboston.org. : )
I look forward to seeing the students at our shared community Chanukah celebration after that - and perhaps showing off some of their work to you!
Have a good week and Thanksgiving holiday!
Dear Parents: We had a very full class this past Sunday - in all ways. All the students were there, and we also worked alongside the 7th graders this week. This was a week where we begin working on specific Torah portions. Given the way the "story" breaks, we studied what happens in two portions this time, covering the marriage of Jacob to Rachel and to Leah, Jacob's encounter with Esau making peace, and then we focused particularly on the 12 sons of Jacob who became the 12 Tribes of Israel. First we discussed how names and nicknames can have meanings, and the students shared people they may have been named for. Then we had an "in class research project" where each student read up on one particular tribe, using materials we provided. They then developed a one-pager about that tribe based on the personality and Torah references for that particular son of Jacob. The one-pager might have been words telling about the tribe, or a "shield" representing that branch of the Jewish family. The students did some really good work and I think these will look nice if we can put them together in a display (temporary) and then add to their Torah scroll projects. One topic we talked about briefly was the moment when Jacob fought with an angel, and he was then renamed "Yisrael" which is the name for the Jewish people and means "struggles with God." You might ask the students, and talk at home, about the meaning in this name change. How did Jacob change right before re-meeting Esau? What might it mean that we are the people that argues, struggles, encounters God in this way? You can also ask them what they learned about their own Tribe! I admit, I kept their work with me, so it's from memory for them now! In Hebrew class, we continued to review reading letters and vowels, and worked a bit on a short prayer: Adonai S'Fatai Tiftach Uphi Yagid Tehilatecha (God, open up my lips and my mouth will tell your praise). Then at the end of the morning, we did a quick review of the 8 levels of giving Tzedakah, according to Maimonides. Again, the kids did a great job! Have a good couple of weeks, looking forward to our next session! Shirah H.
This is a long message here! If you don't read it all, please do note: we ARE starting to collect Tzedakah now! And there IS a little bit of easy homework for this week! So please do read the end of this message for the homework and other comments. : )
We began the morning with community prayer, singing Ma Tovu and Oseh Shalom and focusing our thoughts on peace in the world. Then, in class, we then pulled back to review the Torah portions we've studied so far, to help us connect the dots and tell a "whole" story. We also did some learning games today. So we started with a bit of written work, where students put Torah events we've learned about so far in order. Talking it through, we could notice what was interesting, such as the Tower of Babel coming after Noah and the Flood. That was good for both showing what they've learned and discussing some ideas. Then the students made cards for a shared Jeopardy game about what we've learned so far, coming up with questions and answers to put into the game. We played the Jeopardy game at the end of class, and it was pretty fun! The focus was on names, numbers, places, and events in the Torah. While we explore meaning, this is also a path into feeling you "know" the Torah story.
You can ask you kids about some order-of-events and their meaning. For example, what was Lot's wife looking behind at, and what might that mean for us? Who ate the apple first in the Garden of Eden? Did Sarah laugh before or after Isaac was born? (I also forgot to mention - Isaac's name means laughter!) Did the lentil soup-birthright story come before or after the blessing for Jacob and Esau? If Abraham was the first Jew and not Noah, what does that mean about being "righteous" and being Jewish? (Hint: they are not the same thing).
At the end of class, we talked about collecting Tzedakah and where we might donate any funds. The kids listed causes they care about, and we voted to find the top few. One of the causes the students listed was to help refugees, and I identified HIAS as a Jewish organization for refugees. It was meaningful when the class raised some difficult issues about Israel briefly and we found a way to bridge the gap we identified, settling on finding an organization that would be supportive of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
In Hebrew class, we did a brush-up on reading letters and vowels with some games where students could improve and compete a little bit. They definitely *did* get better! We'll always try to include flashcard Hebrew reading as a warm-up and other reading games as we go along. This is a good way to move their Hebrew reading forward towards the prayer reading we'll do.
Most of the students also brought home a brief HOMEWORK sheet that will help us next week when we study three more Torah portions. If you don't have it, here's what it is! The portions will complete the list of the Jewish forefathers and foremothers, including the 12 sons of Jacob who are the 12 tribes of Israel. Tp place ourselves in a genealogy and among the Jewish ancestors, this sheet asks the students to list the names in their own family tree: parents, two sets of grandparents, and any names they have that go further back. Of course, you can include the names that are comfortable for you. I hope to connect family trees to the idea of the larger Jewish family tree - so please help your child fill this out!
I would like to mention that we did not talk about the challenging events of this week-end in the PIttsburgh Jewish community. While some students raised it with me, there were reasons we did not discuss it as a class and there was little opportunity for private conversations. If Michelle or I can be helpful to your family in this conversation, please do let us know, as we know of many resources online also. If all the students know about these events by next week and you are comfortable as parents with the conversation, we can perhaps discuss it then, and identify some ways we might reach out positively as a class to the Pittsburgh community. Feel free to share your thoughts with me about this.
Thanks and have a good week!
Dear Parents: We had a busy day on Sunday this week! We began with the 15 minutes of prayer as a whole school. The kids are learning Ma Tovu and the Sh'ma. Perhaps we can go over it in class also, because they will really enjoy knowing those prayers better and better, to sing together. We then started the next three "parsha's" (portions) from the Torah, in our year-long Torah project. This included a LOT of action, from the parsha's called Vayeira, Chayei Sarah, and Toldot. In a "journalistic" way, we used a grid that shows the people, events, places and numbers (Judaism loves numbers!) in these Torah portions. We also talked about stories and themes that are interesting in this 3-parsha storyline. The highlights include Isaac's birth and the test Abraham goes through from Gd about (not) sacrificing Isaac; Abraham "arguing" with Gd to try to save Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of 50 and then down to even 10 good people; Lot's wife "looks back" and turns to salt; Eliezer finds Rebecca as a wife for Isaac; the birth and early lives of Esau and Jacob, including the birthright and Isaac's final blessing - which ends with the "younger" twin Isaac getting the birthright and blessing, but running away due to Esau's anger. That's a lot! The students started to express some of these stories and themes and we'll continue with that next week so they can complete them. We also play some interactive games and we may continue to explore some questions that were behind the portions today: 1. Who Gets Chosen? (HInt: everyone has their path.) 2. Why Did Sarah Laugh? (Hint: what do we do when we're told we will get something good we never expected to happen for us?) 3. Why did Lot's Wife Look Back (Hint: We need to move on from bad things probably.) 4. Why Did Abraham Argue with Gd for Sodom and Gomorrah? (Hint: We all count in making a good world, even 1 person, or at least 10.) 5. Who is Rebecca? (Hint: she passed Eliezer's test in caring for the camels, and she also preferred and made it so that Isaac selected Jacob over Esau for the future of the Jewish people.)
We also talked about "Mind" (Jacob) and "Heart" (Esau). As a family at home, you might ask the students: what do you think about how we need to use both and how each one might help the other?
We're looking forward to next week, to continue the discussion and some new ways to work on learning!
~ Shirah H