School Year 1
September — May
April and May have been full of literacy building sessions and an epic volunteer night at Feed My Starving children with 5 CoHere families with kids from first grade through fifth grade!
In April, we learned all about Mitzvot using the wonderful book, It’s a Mitzvah
The children made posters gluing on icons depicting many mitzvot (literally commandments, but thought of in liberal Judaism as Jewish, ethical and good deeds) to show all of the mitzvot they do in their daily lives. Sometimes we think we don’t do a lot of Jewish things regularly or that we aren’t *that* religious. When we realize that we practice our Judaism when we perform ethical deeds, it is beautiful and spiritual for us. We just have to acknowledge that and articulate it.
When we walked into Feed My Starving children, lots of CoHere kids were saying, “It’s a, it’s a, it’s a mitzvah” just like the book we read.
The rabbis said that if you cut open a pomegranate, there will be 613 seeds representing the number of mitzvot in the Torah. Try it this summer and let us know how many seeds your pomegranate had!
In May, we have wrapped up our year together by learning an essential word in Judaism which is Why? In Hebrew the way to say, “why?” is lama! And, that’s why your children can now play with their lama squishies and remember the importance of asking questions in Judaism!
Shavuot, the holiday marking the giving of the 10 commandments is this weekend. Eat some cheesecake and blintzes and get out the flowers. It’s also the time we read the story of Ruth and Naomi (so, get out those JPS Bibles and read/re-read that biblical poetic narrative!)
March was filled with sessions about Passover. I told the Passover story from the birth of Moses through the burning bush and freedom from slavery. We went over what the items on the Seder plate stand for. Some of your kids are even practicing the classic 4 Questions!
We made posters to show all the Number 4s in Passover. There are 4 questions, 4 children in the Haggadah and 4 cups of grape juice or wine. The Israelites then wander in the wilderness for 40 years and Moses is on the top of Mt. Sinai with God getting the Torah for 40 days. 4 is one of the symbolic numbers of Torah for sure!
Passover is a doozy of a narrative. There is so much death and suffering. There is no real way to sugar coat it. One astute 3rd grader asked, “Rabbi Ari…who is the bad guy in this story?” What a deep question. Is it Pharaoh alone? Does God in the story do the “right thing?” What about the role Moses plays? He does kill the Egyptian task master. The story is quite nuanced. I tried to explain that most of the Passover story did not actually happen (although some of it is archaeologically sound). There are deep truths in the narrative though that last through to our day.
The main Passover take-away is seen in the commandment repeated most often in the Torah. Do not oppress the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I spoke with your children about what it means to take care of the most needy in our community and in our world. This is one of the core messages of Judaism.
Here is an interesting Eli Talks video about the beauty of Jewish ritual items and includes a fantastic description of the Seder plate. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDVRT26Awxw
Purim (means lots as in the lots the evil Haman cast to determine a date to kill the Jews) is on February 29, but most synagogues in the area seem to be celebrating it on Sunday, February 25. Often the shpiel (the Purim play) and carnival are open to the community. Come in costume! Let me know if you want recommendations on where to go. In our CoHere sessions, I am telling the Purim story and we are making puppets to act out pieces of it. We’re also talking about what makes someone a hero.
In December, we worked on the story of Chanukah. We talked about how the word “Chanukah” means dedication. It’s still a good time to think about what you are most dedicated to and how we show that. The kids made books showing the Chanukah historical story using their own comic pictures. We learned about the dreidel and the Chanukah customs. They were mostly well familiar with these!
January is about Tu B’Shivat (The 15th of the Hebrew month of Shivat). It’s like a Jewish earth day. We celebrate trees and nature on this day. It starts the evening of Jan. 30th this year and runs through the evening of Jan. 31st (holidays begin at sundown because in the creation story God made evening and then morning…) Check out the full moon that will be in the sky then (almost always a full moon on Jewish holidays).
We mixed grape juice showing the special 4 Cups from a Tu Bishvat Seder (seder means order). We also planted parsley to hopefully grow in time for Passover!? Has anybody seen a sprout?
If you want to try a Tu Bishvat Seder at home, check out: https://reformjudaism.org/practice/ask-rabbi/how-can-i-celebrate-tu-bishvat-home
Some of the children also made a mezuzah to hang on their bedroom doors.
Remind your kids that hanging the mezuzah on a slant is a sign of compromise.
We have also started an introduction to Hebrew letters. They are commenting on the shapes of the letters and what they remind the children of. We are learning a new Hebrew vocabulary word for each letter of the alphabet.
During the month of October, we worked on several different projects. Some of your kids practiced being a Torah scribe, a sofer, in honor of Simchat Torah. They saw how challenging it is to use a quill for writing! The book that I love which explains the profoundly beautiful process for writing a Torah is The Sofer by Eric Ray. It is available from amazon.
We also read the book, The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper. Like The Sofer, these are books for all ages. We spoke about what makes the rule golden and the different versions of the rule. Your children made the most amazing, GOLD, posters to remember this rule! Don’t forget to speak about it in your home and during social interactions so that the lesson at their kitchen table will be reinforced in their natural experiences of life.
Some kids also worked on Shema Pillowcases. The book I used for this lesson is: The Bedtime Sh’ma by Sarah Gershman.
Check out this video from a deaf rabbi who teaches the Shema in sign language.
Questions to think about:
- Do you pray at night?
- Have you talked with your partner about what you say or how it feels?
- Have you talked with your kids about praying or hoping or reflecting on things at night?
- Did you grow up with praying at night?
- Could you imagine singing the 6 words of the Shema with your kids at night?
In November, we got ready for Thanksgiving and even started thinking Chanukah!
We learned the word, Todah, which means Thank you! Some of your kids made Todah Placemats to use at Thanksgiving. They came up with dozens and dozens of things to be thankful for! Did people share what they are grateful for during your Thanksgiving?
To get ready for Chanukah we took out the Chanukiah or Chanukah Menorah! We have gone over the name for the helper candle is the shamash. You put the candles in right to left (like reading Hebrew) but light the newest ones first.
We read a great pop-up book on the history of Chanukah and your kids made the most creative and wonderful books telling the story in their own ways.
In September, we learned all about Rosh Hashanah. Now, I am very aware of the difference between learning about a holiday and observing the holiday. I am trying to bridge these two things. We learned that Rosh means ‘head’, ha means ‘the’ and Shana means ‘year’. We learned that Shanah Tovah means ‘Good Year’.
We blew the shofar (or tried to!) The three notes of the shofar are tekiah, shevarim and teruah and of course TEKIAH GEDOLAH (the big tekiah) when the blast is as long as they can hold it! It is supposed to be an alarm clock for our hearts and souls. The blast is meant to wake us up to our better selves.
That is why we played the aiming game. The word chet is usually translated as ‘sin’ but it really means ‘missing the mark’. Talk with your kids about what you are aiming for this new year (5778) as well! Your kids will surely remember the Rosh Hashana foods of apples and challah in honey for a sweet new year!
Our Yom Kippur lesson was centered on saying sorry. We spoke about how Yom Kippur can be thought of as the saddest or most serious day and also the happiest day because we can start over and do better. We spoke about saying sorry and asking for forgiveness from the people we have hurt. It’s hard to say, “I’m sorry” for a variety of reasons. It’s easier to make excuses or skirt around the issue.
The game Sorry was a fun way to think about what we know we can work on. Visualizing ourselves doing better is also a good step to being able to rise above behavior of the past. We have to keep working on this every day.
The book, The Hardest Word by Jacqualine Jules, is fun and meaningful for all ages.
Yom means ‘Day’ and Kippur means ‘atonement’ (or some people say at one ment). When we feel whole and at peace ourselves and when we come together as a people in unified prayer and a shared experience. Pur also relates to the word Purim meaning ‘lots’. On Yom Kippur, they cast lots to see which goat would be the scape goat on which the sins of the community would be symbolically placed. On Purim, Haman cast lots to decide on the day to kill the Jews. Although they are opposite holidays in some ways, they are connected.