We started our studies about Passover this past Sunday. And a great place to start was with the question: How did we (the Jews/Israelites/Hebrews) end up in Egypt? After we figured that out, and in lieu of music, we listened to Louis Armstrong (et al) perform the song Go Down Moses, which as you likely know, was written by African slaves in America.
After reading about all 10 Plagues, we reenacted the last two plagues with some vigorous packing and matza making, which involved about 10 minutes of running around the class.
HOMEWORK: Please be sure your daughter/son reads the Passover chapter in the Jewish Holidays book – the more familiar everyone is with the Passover holiday, the sooner we can move on to our seder preparations.
Wishing you a good week,
This past Sunday, we had a great opportunity to practice respecting each other. One of the students wore a Falcons t-shirt to class. Before anyone could say a word, I told this student, loudly enough for all to hear, that I was very proud of him for expressing his preference in a polite, peaceful manner. We talked a bit about how it is very easy to say things about sports team allegiances that can be hurtful and/or lead to contentious behavior. I understand very well that feeling passionate about one’s teams and rivals can be fun: I grew up in a “mixed family,’ with my grandfather a die-hard Red Sox fan and my grandmother a die-hard Yankees fan. Their arguments about their teams were amiable, though – a skill they had learned quite well by the time I was spending summers with them. As you know, I think it is imperative that we teach our children to accept others’ beliefs, whether it’s a sport team, religious preference or clothing style, and I am grateful we had an opportunity to practice this value. There will be time to tease each other about these things when they are older, and have learned how to do so while still respecting each other.
Speaking of grateful, have I mentioned that the root word for Yehudim, Jews, is from the verb for giving thanks? In that spirit, we started class by thinking about something we are grateful for. Thinking was requested; verbally expressing, optional. And yet, every one of your daughters and sons readily thought of several things, and were very eager to express them! To all of my students, I say YASHER CO’ACH! May Your Strength Be Firm! (This is the standard expression of congratulations that we say to someone who has had an Aliyah, which is the honor of blessing the Torah before and after a section is read in synagogue.)
HOMEWORK: This Sunday we are going to make candy trees to celebrate Tu B’Shvat, which is the Jewish birthday for the trees. Please be sure your child reads the Tu’Bshvat chapter in the Jewish Holidays book - - it starts on 90. If you cannot find the book, PLEASE email me and I will scan it and email it to you.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom: a day, an hour, a moment of peace with your families -
This week we started to learn about some of the customs people have on Shabbat. We began by thinking about why it was so important for the Hebrews (the earlier name for Jews) to have a mandated day of rest - - we have to go back to the days when we were slaves, and then think about suddenly being free. It’s a really tremendous change in lifestyle and mindset. We talked a little bit about the idea of work as it relates to Shabbat. It has to do with 39 categories of work the Hebrews performed on the mishkan – their traveling synagogue of sorts – used while wandering in the desert. So when some people say they do not use phones or doorbells or electricity on Shabbat because it’s work, the actual “work” is one of these 39 categories – in this case, the act of completing something (a circuit connection, as I recall). But, there are lots of other ways to celebrate Shabbat. My favorite example to give students is that growing up, my mother only made dessert once a week – on Friday nights. That was a great way to make the idea of Shabbat very special to my family.
We also worked on making hamsas – the palm-shaped amulet popular among many Jews, and commonly used as a wall hanging with a blessing for the home in the middle. The symbol is of Middle East and North African origins, and likely was popular with Sephardi Jews before becoming more universal. While they symbol does not have to do with Shabbat, it is a Jewish symbol, and makes for a fun painting and decorating project.
This coming Sunday, we will continue to learn about Shabbat customs, stories and ideas, as well as continue making our hamsas. We will not be painting, but we will be using glue and markers.
Shalom Parents! Last Sunday, we talked about the Ten Commandments, in part because one of the ten is the commandment to Remember the Sabbath Day. This seemed like a natural way to segue into our lessons about Shabbat. To that end, HOMEWORK: please be sure to your son/daughter reads, or re-reads, the Shabbat chapter in the holiday book!
PAINTING PROJECT THIS SUNDAY! – Also, we will be painting this Sunday, so please dress your child accordingly. If you have any paintbrushes you can lend/donate, that would be helpful! Thanks!
Thank you for helping make our Chanukah celebration so much fun! We learned a couple of important things last week: first, the miracle of Chanukah celebrates a single day’s worth of (olive) oil lasting eight days. The oil was needed to light the Eternal Light in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. (The remaining wall of the Temple is the holiest place in Judaism, and being there is unlike any other experience I have ever had!) The Temple, as you probably know, had been defiled and destroyed by the Assyrians. The Maccabees defeated the Assyrians, reclaimed the Temple, and here we are. The second thing we learned is that donuts are fried. In oil. And so are latkes. Because the Chanukah miracle ends with the oil lasting for eight days, we traditionally eat foods fried in oil. In Israel, jelly doughnuts, in particular, are the typical Chanukah treat. The Hebrew word for these treats is sufganiyot.
This coming Sunday we will learn more about Chanukah by playing games such as word searches, hangman and matching games. If you and your daughter/son have time to read the Chanukah chapter in the Jewish Holiday book before class this Sunday, that would be helpful.
This past Sunday, we learned about the two people considered the first Jews: Abraham and Sarah, although when they start out, they are known as Abram and Sarai.
The discussion at one point did indeed turn to last week’s election results. And after listening to your daughters and sons, I feel there is hope for mankind after all, because your children are truly caring, interested, intelligent and thoughtful people! There is a lot of talk today about bulling not being acceptable, about tolerance of others and accepting people’s differences. And I think your kids all get what that is about. I find that matching those concepts to real life situations, however, can be very difficult for adults, much less kids.
Turns out that in the parsha (Torah section) that was read last week, there is an oath undertaken between Abram and God, in which God promises Abram that his descendants will inherit the land of Israel. And that oath was sealed by Abram sacrificing 3 heifers, 3 goats, 3 rams, one dove and one pigeon (but no partridge in a pear tree). Abram splits the animals in half, placing each half on either side of pathway. (The birds get placed in there somewhere, too, but they’re not split.) My initial reaction to this form of an oath was negative, and my first thought was, “No way am I going to tell the kids about this! It’s so weird and (seemingly) pointless!”
But then I realized, that is EXACTLY the type of thinking I hope we as a people can learn to stop! There was no need to think negatively about this oath (not that I’m thrilled about the animals meeting their demise, but given what other people were doing in the region at that time, I’m just glad it wasn’t children who were sacrificed!) Man’s perception of the world, and contract law, was vastly different 4,000 years ago! So I included this oath in my recounting of the parsha, and I then told the students about my reaction. And I reminded them that it can be very, very difficult to overcome our initial reactions to things that seem different from what we are used to. When someone dresses differently, or behaves in a way we’re not used to, our initial reaction is often to think “That’s weird!” Or “That’s wrong!” And it’s okay to have these feelings about other people at first; what is most important is doing our best to remember not to make people who seem different feel different, to remember that we can make the world a better place by growing the strength not to laugh at others, even if our friends our doing so; to practice being patient; and to remind ourselves to think about things just as they are – not necessarily as good or bad.
HOMEWORK: Please read to your child, or with your child, or have said child read the SHABBAT chapter in The Book of Jewish Holidays – it’s pages 59-70.
PAINTING WARNING: Our craft this coming Sunday will involve paint. And Shabbat. But it’s the painting part I figured you should know about in advance J.
Wishing you a peaceful week,
This past Sunday we reviewed the Jewish fall holidays and then started to learn about the Torah. My goal is to provide the kids with an overview of the Torah, our holiest book in Judaism, before moving on to specifics, such as the Prophets, which are part of the trio of the holiest Jewish scriptures. This trio is referred to by its acronym, Tanach. It stands for Torah, Navi (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings). But back to the Torah. After describing what the Torah is*, looking at pictures of the Torah scroll used in synagogues, and the book version of the Torah that we follow along with in services (Chumash, from the root word “chameish,” which means 5, as in the 5 Books of Moses), we looked at our calendars to see which portion from the Torah was read the day before class. It was Bereisheet – the very first portion of the Torah. It is known in English as Creation. To learn more about Creation, we created our own Creation collages.
I have updated your son/daughter’s binder with a current homework page. You’ll see on the new homework page that I’d like you (and/or your children J) to read the sections of the Torah packet, also in the binder, that have stars next to them. Sections that are circled are optional. If you can spend 5 minutes reviewing even the section headers, that would be great. (I don’t think the reading will take more than 10 minutes, but if you only have 5 minutes, the section headers/titles will convey enough information to get the general idea.)
The portion that will be read this coming Saturday is Noach (Noah in English), which tells the story of the flood, and the ark. We will talk about that in class, as well as review some concepts pertaining the Torah.
Wishing you a good week,
This past Sunday we learned some more about Sukkot, which ended on Monday, and Simchat Torah, which started Monday night and is celebrated through Tuesday (until about an hour after sundown). Simchat Torah means Rejoicing in the Torah. It is the holiday the celebrates finishing the annual cycle of reading the entire Torah (aka, the Five Books of Moses), and beginning the cycle again. There is a beauty in the idea that there is always something new to learn when studying the Torah.
HOMEWORK: If your son/daughter has not yet read the chapters in the holiday book about Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and/or Simchat Torah, please read these chapters with them. We will be playing some games this coming Sunday (in teams) based on these holidays.
COMING UP: We will start learning more about the Torah this coming Sunday, beginning with the Beginning – i.e., the Torah portion (aka, parsha) that will be read in synagogue this coming Shabbat is the first portion in the Torah – the story of Creation. This will lead into our study of Shabbat.
Thank you all for bringing in such amazing treats for our edible Sukkah building activity. And special thanks to Jordan’s mom Bridget for helping us with the “construction!” I think it’s safe to say your children will always remember this holiday! And in case you’re wondering, Sukkot (sukkah in singular, and sukkot is plural) is celebrated for two reasons: first, the sukkah reminds us of the Israelites 40-year journey through the desert, from freedom to our ancestral homeland of Israel. Along the way, the Israelites built sukkot for sojourning (or, as I said to the students, for resting here and there) as they made their way to a society of free people. Secondly, sukkot were used in the fields when we, as a people, were primarily farmers. The journey from the edges of the fields to the farmers’ homes, which were likely small huts themselves, would have been too long an undertaking. So during harvest times, the farmers built sukkot for protection from the elements while harvesting the far reaches of their fields. Sukkot is indeed a harvest holiday.
This coming Sunday, we will be learning about Simchat Torah, also known as Zman Simchataynu, or the time of our rejoicing. Simchat Torah, which itself means Rejoicing with the Torah, is a very happy holiday J. If you could please read the chapter in the holiday book with your daughter/son before Sunday, the class activity will be much more fun for all. This chapter is on pages 49-55.
Looking forward to seeing everyone on Sunday!
We learned about Rosh Ha’Shanah this past Sunday, since the Jewish New Year begins this coming Sunday (Oct. 2nd) at sundown. A few fun facts we learned:
- The Jewish year will be 5777.
- Unlike the American New Year, Rosh Ha’Shanah is a time to think about what we have done in the past year that wasn’t so great, and how we can do better in the coming year.
- It is a time to say we are sorry to God, friends and family for our sins – which we defined as behavior we know is not correct, and which we can improve.
- But, Judaism does not expect us to be perfect – our Jewish heritage teaches us to strive to do better, but recognize that people cannot be perfect.
One tradition on Rosh Ha’Shanah that is consistent with these values is called Tashlich. Tashlich involves taking some breadcrumbs to a moving body of water and casting them into the water, symbolically leaving our shortcomings behind us, and giving us a clean slate for the New Year. I think there is some beautiful symbolism in this tradition, which is most often done on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, but it can be done anytime up until the last day of Sukkot. Here is a link to a page that I think explains tashlich very nicely, and includes the traditional blessing said when performing this rite: http://judaism.about.com/od/holidays/a/whatistashlich.htm.
So, why the fish activity? Well, first, because the body of water used in tashlich should have fish in it. And secondly, many Ashkenazi Jews (i.e., of Eastern and Central European descent) eat gefilte fish on Rosh Ha’Shanah. There is also a tradition of eating a fish head on Rosh Ha’Shanah so “we should be in the head and not the tail” of life in the coming year. It turns out, gefilte is a Yiddish word for stuffed. Putting together tashlich + gefilte fish + a goal of doing something better next year, I had the students write their own personal message of a behavior or mitzvah they hope to improve in the next year. They then “stuffed” the message into their fish, along with some cotton balls, and voila: the 3rd Grade Rosh Ha’Shanah Gefilte Tashlich Fish Activity!
HOMEWORK: The homework assignments are in the front page of your child’s binder. By way of reminder, please read the chapters on Yom Kippur and Sukkot before our next class, on Oct. 16th.
Wishing you all a happy, healthy New Year,
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