Yesterday we turned our attention to the story of Chanukah. We learned that the holiday is about religious freedom, and discussed what that idea is about. We also learned that a central part of the story is the utter desecration of the holy Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the capital city for the Jews thousands of years ago, including during the Chanukah story, which took place c. 165 BCE. The Greek-Syrians, led by King Antiochus, tried to brutally force their way of life on the Jews. (Among the details I omitted were that Antiochus IV was married to his sister – and she had been married to his two older brothers beforehand; that Jews who did not want to bow to idols were massacred; circumcision was banned; and the requisite adoration of naked, physical beauty was antithetical to Jewish concepts of modesty.)
It is miraculous that a small group of farmers were able to able to defeat the formidable Greek army. And then they helped clean up and rededicate the Temple so it could again be used as the central place of worship for the Jews (and this is where the oil miracle story comes into play). If not for these farmers, whom we call Maccabees, which means hammer(s), many scholars contend the Jewish faith would have ended at that time.
We also discussed that the whole Chanukah story takes place after the Torah had been written down. So the story of Chanukah is not in the Torah itself. Rather, it is told in what we call the “keutvim,” or the writings. Chanukah also has two women heroes – Judith and Hannah. We read a story about Judith. It’s pretty impressive for women to have a role in events that took place over 2,100 years ago.
Back to Jerusalem – regardless of one’s opinions on current political issues concerning “The City of Peace” (that’s what Jerusalem means – I hear the scoffing laughter as I write that…), it is a fact that Jews have considered this city to be the heart of our homeland and desires for thousands of years – longer than Christianity and Islam have existed. As Jews, our liturgy and poetry are replete with references to a yearning love for and desire to be in Jerusalem. That is why the holy Temple, or Beit HaMikdahsh in Hebrew, was built there, and it is in Jerusalem that the one remaining wall of the Temple stands.
And back to Chanukah – we sang the blessings for the candles, and learned that the candles are lit when it is dark, but their light should not be used for work, because the candles are lit for joyous reasons. (So traditionally, one would not turn off the lights in the room where the menorah is lit.) There are three blessings sung on the first night, and two blessings sung on the remaining two nights. The candles are put in the menorah from right to left – the same way we read Hebrew. And they are lit from left to right, to “honor” the newest candle.
Wishing you and our fellow Jews around the world a beautiful Chanukah, and may all mankind be blessed with peace:
May it be your will, Eternal One, our God, God of our ancestors, that wars and bloodshed be abolished from the world, and bring into the world a great and wonderful and lasting peace. And let no nation lift a sword against a nation—let them learn no more the ways of war!
Simchat Torah (rejoicing with the Torah), the last of the fall holidays, was celebrated on October 12th and 13th. On Simchat Torah, we finish reading the Torah (the last portion, or in Hebrew parsha), and then immediately begin the cycle again. This shows that the Torah is a never-ending, both in how we read it as Jews and how the lessons we draw from the Torah can be applied to our lives.
For the past two Sundays, we have reviewed the fall holidays and also taken a look into the first few stories in Genesis (in Hebrew, Bereisheet). In order to build a foundation to study some of the Jewish prophets, I think it is crucial that the students have a sense of who and what came before that time period. Indeed, a foundation that includes some knowledge of our “imahot and avot” (mothers and fathers, aka, matriarchs and patriarchs) not only provides a rich context, we also learn so many valuable lessons in these parshot (portions). We learn why many commentators on the Torah think God intended us to be vegetarian; we learn how important it is to be kind to each other; we learn about jealousy and anger and boasting – and the deadly outcomes of allowing these traits to rule us; we learn about kindness to animals; we learn about welcoming guests into our homes. And we learn the value of learning, a key component of our Jewish heritage. We can learn something new every time we look at a parsha; I am so grateful to live in a world replete with accessible information!
This coming Sunday, we will study the parsha that introduces us to Abraham and Sarah (did you know their names were originally Abram and Sarai?), and we will do so with an eye toward sustainable farming and animal husbandry!
1.Please pack a snack for your daughter/son; seeing the other students eating when you have nothing can be a lonely and hunger-inducing experience. (I bring extra snacks when I can, but as I do not have a car, I am not always able to get to the store.)
2.Please have your son/daughter bring their two text books each week: the Jewish Holiday book and the Hebrew language book.
3.If you can spare some change, the tzedekah box is always available to take donations . It’s pretty fun to put some money into the box and give it a shake, to get a sense of how our collection is going.
Wishing you a Shabbat shalom,
This past Sunday we discussed Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which begins this Friday evening at sundown, Sept. 29th, and ends at nightfall Saturday, Sept. 30th.
The goal of Yom Kippur is to spend the day reflecting on how to be a better person in the coming year. We are performing teshuvah, which means returning. We are, in essence, trying to return to God, i.e., to a path of righteousness. I started class by reading a story about a mythical bird called the Ziz. After accidentally destroying a vegetable garden grown by the children of a large town, God tasks the Ziz with finding the hardest word in the world. Most of the kids figured out the hardest word before I even read the story - but they listened attentively anyway!
We also had volunteers perform a skit about finding a dollar in a classroom and deciding how to best return it to its owner. I mentioned that when I was in 3rd grade, if I had found a dollar, I'm not sure I would have done the right thing and returned it. I would have wanted to keep it for sure. I brought this up b/c all the students knew the right thing to do and say - - but knowing and doing are not the same thing. I believe it very important to discuss the realities of how we feel about doing the right thing, because that can be such a difficult thing to do. And that includes apologizing and meaning it. We talked about that, too, and how we are lucky that each year we have an opportunity to think about how to improve ourselves, and thus help with a key Jewish value of tikkun olam - making the world a better place.
ELECTIVE HOMEWORK: I sent home a "bullseye" chart that you and your child can work on, if you would like. The idea is to fill in the innermost circle with middot, or Jewish values, that you can do now; and the outer circle with values that you are still working on. I told the students that my inner circle is taking care of animals before I take care of myself (b/c pets and livestock are dependent on their owners for sustenance, it is a Jewish law to ensure they have food and water before we eat); my outer circle includes being more patient at work.
HOMEWORK: Please read some, or all, of the Yom Kippur chapter in the Jewish holiday book.
A traditional Jewish greeting between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is G'mar chatimah tovah, which means may you have a good final sealing - i.e., may you be sealed in the Book of Life. Wishing you all a g'mar chatimah tovah and a fulfilling and easy fast,
This past Sunday, we learned about Rosh HaShana. Your children should be able to tell you two things they learned about the holiday (hint: the current year is 5777… so when we begin the holiday Wednesday at sundown, the year will be . . . )
We also discussed some more the difference between literal and non-literal. The Torah is NOT meant to be taken literally (e.g., PLEASE note that an “eye for an eye” refers to monetary compensation! I see this concept misunderstood in the media, et al, so often!). The Torah is written to teach us how to live a just life (remember, tzedekah actually comes from the word for Justice, and is an obligation in Judaism), and be better people. We are not always supposed to take everything at face value. Similarly, one of the main themes of Rosh HaShana is that we are judged by God, Who will seal our fate (on Yom Kippur) in either the Book of Life or the Book of Death. But not literally! This idea is interpreted by many (including my very learned sister, who studied at yeshivas (halls of Jewish study) in Israel for many years) as more about whether we will be included in the community in the coming year, which affects our quality of life. Will we help make the world a better place in the coming year? If so, we will be sealed in the Book of Life.
HOMEWORK: Your daughter/son brought home our Holiday textbook. Please read the some of the chapter on Rosh HaShanah with your children, and if time permits, the chapter on Yom Kippur.
May you be inscribed in the Book of Life - - for a sweet and healthy New Year.
Third grade is off to a great start at SSJS! Our lesson for the week focused on tzedekah, which is often translated as charity. A big difference, however, is that the root word of tzedekah is TZEDEK, which means justice. In Judaism, taking care of those in need is considered an integral part of ensuring we have a just society, and it is an obligation (i.e., a mitzvah). Everyone seems excited to help make the world a fairer place by giving to tzedekah. We all helped decorate a plain, brown box, turning it into a beautiful, 3rd Grade Tzedakah Box. If you have any spare change, even a penny, please send it along with your child. To emphasize that even a penny counts, we read a story called The Very Best Place for a Penny.
This coming Sunday we will learn about Rosh Hashanah, just in time to celebrate this wonderful holiday next week. Rosh Hashanah starts at sundown Wednesday evening, Sept. 20th, and ends about an hour after sundown on Friday night, Sept. 22nd. I like to think of this as a wide window of time to celebrate, since it is often not likely that we will/can spend the entire 49 hours contemplating and celebrating the holiday.
REMINDER: Please pack a snack for your child! Even if you think s/he won’t be hungry, sitting with other people who are eating often makes one feel hungry, and I don’t want anyone to feel left out. I will try to bring in a package of allergy-friendly cookies for those who don’t have a snack; however, it would be best if you could send something.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, a Peaceful Sabbath,