It was great to see the kids this past week! With the holiday, it had been a while!
This week we started a couple of new things for the school and 6th Grade class. First, we met as a whole school for the first time for prayer. We used the first 15 minutes of the morning well, as we began to learn two prayers, Ma Tovu and the Sh'ma. The students will no doubt learn the prayers more and more as we go along. If you'd like to hear one of these prayers at home, you can find it at this link. You can follow the first line you see here (in Hebrew!) and listen to Ma Tovu here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9arS21R36E .
Then, in our class, we started to study more about ethics and values. To begin, we're going to use the Torah portions we learn about in the "Torah" weeks to explore values and ethics. This week, the students engaged in a conversation about four situations presented in the first three Torah portions we studied so far. These included: (1) When Rules are Broken (Adam and Eve eat the apple) (2) Sibling Rivalry (Cain and Abel) (3) Finding the Courage to Begin (Abraham is told by God to leave his home and start the Jewish people) (4) Choose Harmony (Abraham creates more peace with his nephew by separating their lands). The students shared a lot of great stories in the discussion and just about everyone participated. Then, after Hebrew class, we broke up into groups and each group created a poster - and most also created a skit - about the questions and lessons related to one of these situations. They did a lot of work and a great job, and also had fun! I hope we'll continue to work on the Torah portions this way, with the first "pass" being about "what happened" and the second review being to mine the Torah for lessons and ideas for living.
In the middle of the morning, we had Hebrew class also. In that half-hour, we went over the aleph-bet by identifying patterns in the letters. Each student has an aleph-bet chart in their folder, and we used that to color in the different letters that fit a specific pattern. If your student is in my class for Hebrew, you can see the results in their folder. We also had time for a short game at the end, to practice reading a Hebrew letter-vowel combination accurately - and the kids did great!
To follow up, you can ask your student... What are some good ways we can use to resist temptation, when we want to break a rule we know we shouldn't break (a great one is thinking long-term!)? Also, it might be good to think about: Does the Torah only show us "good" behavior - or does it show us all kinds of human behavior? Why would the Torah do one or the other and how can we get meaning from it that way?
If the students have time for some homework, it would always be good to review the Hebrew aleph-bet!
I look forward to seeing the kids again on Sunday!
This past week we celebrated Sukkot together, across the whole school. The 6th grade class had a little time together in the morning to learn about Sukkot. In that time, we did a word-search puzzle with some words from Sukkot, like Lulav and Etrog. Then we talked briefly about some themes of Sukkot. One is hospitality, or welcoming people into your sukkah. We have the Hebrew word "ushpizim" as the special people we might welcome into our Sukkah from the Jewish tradition. With that in mind, we talked a bit about who the students might want to invite into their sukkah. We talked about some of the requirements of a sukkah, including that you can see through the roof - to see the stars. If you talk with your students about that, you might make a nice connection from that to our earlier discussion of Abraham being promised that his people would be as numerous as the stars. I also shared the idea of the "three Pilgrimage holidays" in the Jewish calendar - in Hebrew, "shalosh regalim" or three legs. Sukkot is one of them and the kids helped identify the other two (Passover and the tricky one, Shavuot). Each one has spiritual meaning and is also connected to an agricultural point in the year - fall harvest (Sukkot), spring (Passover) and summer (Shavuot).
After that short discussion, the class was slit into two groups, to help out younger students through the day. Half went to Pre-K/K and 1st grade classes, and the other half went to the 4th grade class. Through the morning, all of them had the chance to help the younger students make Sukkot decorations, and a model Sukkah, Sukkah gift of food for others. Most important, and sweetly, the students visited the Sukkah at the school, and had a chance to say the prayers and shake the lulav and smell the etrog, along with the younger students.
It was a lovely morning. If you'd like to ask your student more about Sukkot, perhaps you could explore who is important to you to "invite" and welcome into your virtual sukkah - perhaps people who are with us or those we remember who are not here anymore. I wonder, too, if the students might be able t make the connection for you between the two times we talked about the stars, to represent how numerous the people would be and to see them through the sukkah roof.
At our next class, we'll return to studying together. I plan to begin a Tzedakah box with the students, and please be sure to have them bring their bookbag and folder.
Best to all for the next week or so, until we get together again!
Today we had another fun class and the kids did great work! This was our first day of working on the Torah portions, which we'll do just about every other class session.
First a quick LOGISTICAL NOTE. Please check your student's SSJS backpack for a folder and be sure they bring it to class each time! If their name isn't clearly on it, please be sure to add it. It would also be great if they kept a pen in the bag for classwork.
The portions today were Bereshith (In the Beginning), Noach (Noah), and Lech Lecha (Go Forth). We used the theme of "beginnings" for all of the many stories in these first sections of the Torah. We started by hearing some of the students' thoughts about "beginnings" before going over the Torah portion summaries. I also explained how "beginnings" are often marked in Jewish life, especially for holidays, the beginning of the day (prayers), the beginning of each month (Rosh Hodesh), and different beginnings of a new year. Then we learned what happens in these portions and talked about some topics along the way. The students also often could fill in some of the details they already knew about Adam and Eve, Noah, and the Tower of Babel, for example. With a short listing provided, the students also listened for the people, places, events, and significant numbers that come up in these chapters.
Finally, we moved over to the "doing" part of this Torah project. Two groups created games related to what we learned, and others created art - often with the rainbow from the Noah story or other references to new beginnings. One student also created a comic strip with great drawing and words! We hope to eventually collect all of these drawings and representations of their work in a "scroll" that is like their own created Torah.
We ended the class by finishing up these projects and sharing them with the other students. I also finally told them why I brought a green bean along with a dried pod and seeds from the green bean plant in my garden for them. I explained about how the seed was the new beginning of the plant - and that I learned not to throw away the dried pod when I found out that there were seeds in there for the *next* new beginning of a plant. The kids all took home a little handful of seeds, that they can plant in the spring.
In the middle, we also had a brief Hebrew "assessment" for the students and some Hebrew practice. We are starting out in my class with reminders of the Hebrew letters, and today we played Bingo where the students wrote some letters and then identified them in the game.
There are some questions or "ask me about" things I'd love for you to talk about with the students at home this week.
1. What are some significant numbers we hear about in the beginning of the Torah and where are they? (Note: the number 10 is one of them, with 10 generations two times; the number 10 represents "new beginnings" in the Torah.)
2. The Torah tells us that God kind of started over with the world, when he made the Flood - he kept the good things (Noah as the most righteous person in terrible times and his family, and the animals). Was there a time when you were doing a work project or something else and you needed to "start over" and tried to keep only the good ideas or things, getting rid of everything else?
3. What was the (Hebrew) letter that was added to make Abraham's and Sarah's *new* names, and what does it remind us about? (Hint: it was a "H" sound, and it refers to their new relationship to God.)
4. As a bonus question, what are all the ways we might think about "new beginnings" in these three portions (parsha's or parshiot) that we learned about today?
Next week we'll have some special programming for the Sukkot holiday. Happy Sukkot and have a great week!
We had a fun today and it was great to meet the kids!
Today we spent the morning learning a little about each other and with an overview of what we'll study together this year. During the first part of the morning, ater taking attendance, the kids walked around and met each other with a "Find Someone Who Has" sheet of paper. It was great to see that some kids got around to meeting just about everyone this way! After a brief overview of what we'll be working on in class the students personalizes a folder - using colored tape and markers. I hope you will help your student bring the folder and the SSJS backpack I gave them to and from home each week, so the students will have a place for papers they need and we will all have the same materials available. We also talked as a class about how we can work together best - something I call "rules of the road" so that, like when you learn to drive a car, you can avoid collisions and get where we all want to go. In that same morning time, I also asked the students to write about something they hope to gain from this year of SSJS, and they all turned those in to me.
After a break outside, we had a half hour of Hebrew. Today, I reviewed the aleph bet letters with the students a bit, and then gave them two worksheets to complete - one was about Hebrew in general, and the other was a bit of a "test" of their knowledge of the letters. We also shared our answers as a class. I also gave each student a copy of the aleph-bet AND a guide to writing each letter in block print, and they should keep these in their folders each week.
In the last 20 to 30 minutes (after a bathroom break!), we did a very quick but fun activity that introduced us to Torah and then took us to calendars! I explained that Torah is the "T" in "TaNaCH" - and that we name and number just about every "sentence" in the Torah, from book of the Torah (e.g. Genesis) to "parshah" to chapter to verse numbers. I also explained that we read the whole Torah in a full year - and that all over the world, Jews read the same section of the Torah on the specific week. Finally, I connected this to the Jewish calendar. For some fun, after explaining how "the rabbis" set up the Jewish calendar of holidays and readings so that it was lunar with adjustments for the solar calendar (our seasons), I gave out dozens of calendars I've collected over the last 10 or so years from all the non-profts that send them to our house! I told the students to look for Rosh Hashanah in their calendar. We then wrote all the years and dates for when Rosh Hashanah fell in each year on the board, to see how it moved around in its secular calendar date.
There are some questions or "ask me about" things I'd love for you to talk about with the students at home this week.
1. How long does it take for a congregation (anywhere in the world) to read the full Torah, with one parshah read at each Shabbat service?
2. How smart were "the rabbis" to figure out how to adjust the lunar calendar so that the holidays are still in their expected seasons? (What meaning might we make of how these two calendars work together for us as a result?)
3. Where did the teacher today say that Jews lived in the world - and what do they all have in common? (Hint: Practically everywhere is what I expect, and we could Google to find out! And we all read the Torah on the same schedule.)
On the subject of where Jews live... during class, one student suggested Korea as a possible place where Jews might live. And right after class, I found an article on that very subject by chance! I would like to include some discussion over the year, when we have time, of the many communities of Jews around the world, and what we all have in common as well as how they are different. I hope we can fit that in, too!
So, as a final reminder - please do help the students keep track of their folder for papers and knapsack. We can also begin a Tzedakah ritual for the class, if you would like to participate in that. Next week, we will start our Torah study - beginning at the beginning with Bereshith.
Have a great week and all good wishes at this holiday season!