By Stacy Gittleman|Contributing Writer
At Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills, all students learn to click, drag and research in fully wired media labs equipped to educate in today’s digital age. Far away, in a remote village in eastern Uganda containing a large percentage of the country’s 2,000 Abayudaya Jews, the Hadassah Primary School expects to open a computer lab for its 800 Jewish, Christian and Muslim students as early as February 2015 — thanks to the efforts of grandfather and granddaughter duo Jerry Knoppow and Miriam Saperstein.
The two went to Uganda on their own and aim to create a bridge of cultural understanding through the Internet between the Hadassah school and fifth- and sixth-graders at Hillel Day School.
This summer, Knoppow and Sapirstein left the comforts of their West Bloomfield and Huntington Woods homes and spent a week with the Abayudaya Jews of Nabagoya Hill in the village’s guest house and a second week touring the country.
In their suitcases, they packed not only prayer shawls, tefillin and siddurim to better connect their hosts to Judaism, but also laptops fully loaded with the latest software to connect them to the world.
For Saperstein, 16 and a student at Berkeley High School, the visit offered a hands-on exploration of a Jewish community she knew little about until she discovered them in a fifth-grade social studies class at Hillel. The school continues to teach about the Ugandan community on both religious and cultural levels and last year raised money for a clean drinking water supply for the Hadassah school.
This trip is nearly a decade in the making. In 2005, after learning about the Abayudaya Jews through Kulanu, a Baltimore-based organization involved in research, education and donations to those in developing Jewish communities, Knoppow arranged for the leader of the Abayudaya, J .J. Keki, to visit the Jewish community of Detroit.
Keki, a convert to Judaism, visited here for a week in March 2005 to teach the Jewish community here the customs, prayer melodies and other traditions of his community back in Uganda.
Knoppow said the goal of their high-tech project is not just to “pour in money to get the school wired and fitted with laptops and Internet connectivity and then walk away.” It is to help the villagers be able to become financially independent to sustain and update the technology.
He backed his passion for the project with statistical evidence from the Bill Gates Foundation, which shows that the introduction of technology to rural communities changes lives by motivating people to pursue higher levels of education.
The long-term cost of establishing this project is $40,000-$50,000, Knoppow said. In the latest update, he plans to pack six suitcases with additional laptops and get them to New York by Nov. 11, where leaders of the Ugandan community will be putting on a benefit concert for subsistence farmers.
For details on volunteering or making a tax-deductible donation to this project, or for those wishing to contribute through upcoming b’nai mitzvah projects, go to http://tinyurl.com/ok9rhxp or contact Knoppow at email@example.com.
As for Saperstein’s take-away from the experience, she knows that most of her peers in suburban Detroit grow up in a “privileged bubble” where there is a b’nai mitzvah culture of short-term mitzvah projects. At home, she admits she is happy to be surrounded by creature comforts while also dedicating many hours as a PeerCorps volunteer at Detroit’s James and Grace Lee Boggs School.
After her visit to Uganda, she learned what it means to enter another community very different from her own with humility and the capacity to listen.
“Any time you enter a community as an outsider, you should not have preconceived notions that you know what will be best for them,” Saperstein said. “The Jews in Uganda are not there for us to pity or for us to feel good about ourselves by making a monetary donation. We must work together with them as a team to map out a sustainable plan that will enable both the teachers and students to compete globally.”
The trip was not all about work. During her stay, Saperstein also had fun “hanging out” and making friends with her Ugandan peers. A leader of teen discussions at B’nai Israel Synagogue of West Bloomfield back home, Saperstein felt honored to lead parts of the Shabbat morning services in the village’s traditional egalitarian synagogue.
“Though they prayed in Hebrew and their native Luganda language, I felt so connected to the melodies and the words,” Saperstein said. “I know I can go anywhere in the world and know I can feel connected to the rituals and prayers that unite us as Jews. That is very powerful.”
Knoppow said, “As I listened to my granddaughter lead the prayers, I could not see the words in my siddur from the tears of joy in my eyes.”
Last night, I volunteered at Detroit’s evening of Solidarity with Israel. After attendees passed through a strict security screening process, I gave them each a sticker bearing the logo shown above. Fellow volunteers gave out over 2,700 stickers to Israel supporters.
While the world looks bleak now for all world Jewry, and while radical Islamists spread their fiery hatred for Jews just like the Hitler Youth did in the 1930’s, it soothed my soul to see so many: Jewish, non-Jewish, black and white, coming together for a few hours to support the United State’s biggest ally in the Middle East in her war on terrorism.
By the way, my daughter is still on her trip in Israel. She just returned safely to Jerusalem after a sea-to-sea hike in the North.
Last weekend, she did spend some time in a bomb shelter. She heard the Iron Dome obliterate an incoming misile. But then, after they got the clear, she and a family she was staying with went on with life.
Here is my most recent piece published in the Detroit Jewish News.
A few weeks ago, my parents, husband, son and I were riding down the Belt Parkway in New York to take our 17-year-old daughter to JFK. She was about to embark on Ramah’s six-week Israel Seminar, a trip she knew she wanted to do since she was about nine years old. The news that Hamas murdered the three teenaged boys was less than 24 hours old. Seated in the middle row with my mom, I curled my hand into hers. I just kept squeezing it.
The scene at the departure terminal, though chaotic, was almost healing. Hundreds of Jewish teens about to leave for Israel on one trip or another greeted each other with smiles and hugs.
Expressions on the faces of the parents revealed one thing: we all knew our relatively carefree Jewish American kids were headed to Israel in a time of national mourning. Who could predict that a war would unfold in just days after their arrival?
What have I been doing since she left?
It has been a surreal time. While the program posts photos of the kids having fun on hikes and gazing over the Haifa skyline, while my daughter calls me from Jerusalem telling me about the fantastic time she had working with the children at the Ramah Israel Day camp in Jerusalem, friends in Tel Aviv, Ra’anana and Be’er Sheva post on Facebook about dashing for stairwells or shelters when the sirens blare.
On my wrist, I wear a blue Stand With Us rubber bracelet showing my support for Israel. My watch is set to Jerusalem time so I know the best time to call my daughter. My cell phone has become an appendage to my body. I pray daily for her safety, for all of Israel and her Defense Forces.
I thank Ramah Seminar in Israel for their tireless efforts of keeping our kids safe and having as an enjoyable and educational experience as possible while constantly keeping parents in the loop of the changing security situation. After an extended stay in their northern base in the Hodayot Youth Village, the “seminarniks” finally traveled safely to their home base in Jerusalem on July 15. In fact, a parent conference call to update us on the matzav started just as the IDF launched their ground offensive into Gaza.
But life goes on. I have taken the cue from my Israeli friends who endure this daily threat to keep moving on through routine and simple distractions. If my Israeli psychologist friend, an olah from New York, can help spread calm by teaching Yoga to women in a bomb shelter in Sderot, I too will try to find Zen on my mat. I work in my garden and take walks.
Even as the bombs fall, and the inevitability that she may spend some time this summer in a bomb shelter is very real, I have no regrets that my daughter is in Israel. I will not deny the danger or my worry. I know that this time in Israel will be a transformative one for her that can only strengthen her understanding of what it means to be a Jew and never take our Jewish homeland for granted.
When midnight here rolls around, my mind is already seven hours ahead wondering what the dawning day on the other side of the planet will hold for Israel. If you too have a loved one in Israel and find yourself up in the middle of the night, I’m sleepless right there with you.
- Why we’re letting our daughter stay in Israel in wartime (haaretz.com)
To my dear readers: This post is mainly about American Jewish culture. It has lots of unfamiliar lingo to those not exposed to Judaism, so my complete understanding if you skip reading this. Or, if you want to get an inside glimpse of what goes on in the minds of practicing Jews in the face of moving to a new place, do read on.
Have you recently entered a house of worship when it is not a major holiday or occasion going on? Chances are there will be plenty of room in emptying pews. Congregations merge with one another as membership dwindles.
This is an age when less Americans seek out organized religion, and regular attendance to religious services in churches and synagogues gives way to baseball and soccer fields. Perhaps it is there, where they understand the cheers for the players rather some antiquated texts and chantings, where they feel the most connection to community.
A rabbi I knew, when confronted with a person who would say: “I feel spiritual but I don’t want to get involved with any organized religion” responded by replying, “Judaism is very unorganized.”
My husband and I go against the grain of our contemporaries. As soon as we move to a new town, and not long after we purchase a home, we go looking for our second home, a synagogue or shul. It’s not because we have kids that need to go to Hebrew school. It’s not because we need a Bar Mitzvah date. It is because, away from family, we need a community.
Fortunately, we have many choices in a city with a Jewish population of about 70,000. That more than three times the size of the Rochester Jewish community we left.
We went to two different synagogues. Were we ignored? Did we sit quietly praying unnoticed?
The first house of worship we entered, about four individuals approached us – during the Torah service to find out our story. Were we from out of town? Visiting? Just moved here, well WELCOME! Eyes in pews across the aisle in faces middle-aged, elderly, familiar and unfamiliar all at once, turned our way to see the newcomers in their midst. One congregant, through family connections to the Jewish community in Rochester, actually was told to look out for us. The men on the bimah threw a stern look our way to be quiet as he whispered about the degrees of separation on how he was connected to Rochester. Another man approached us and asked if our nine-year-old son would like to lead Ein Keloheinu or Adon Olam from the bimah. These are prayers at the end of the service usually bestowed to be led by children. I knew my son knew these prayers cold, and he is not a shy kid. But still, we just got here. As I expected, with a smile, he turned the invite down. He has been such an easy-going kid through this whole process, but he is a kid and it was too soon.
The next Shabbat morning, in the second synagogue we tried on, came an even warmer response. The welcomes. The excitement of the newness of us. An older Israeli woman who sat in front of us explained: “You see? No matter where you go, the siddur, the words, the Hebrew prayers and melodies? They are all the same. No matter where you go you are always home.”
We were honored with an Aliyah to the Torah. In my experiences in our former synagogue, this is not something that was bestowed upon us until we were members for several years.
My son spent some time in the service and some time playing cards with about seven other children in the social hall. The fact that there were seven children in the synagogue in the middle of the summer was a promising sign. During the lunch after services, we were introduced to more people who were excited and passionate to tell us about their congregation.
The third synagogue I went to alone. It was Jewish Detroit’s community-wide observance of Tish B’Av, meaning the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, the saddest day on all of the Jewish calendar. It is the day when in Jerusalem, both of the Great Temples were destroyed, when the Jews in ancient Israel began their exile from their land, an exile that lasted two millenia. On this day history recorded countless other acts of persecution and massacres put upon the Jewish people including the Spanish Expulsion of the Jews.
I only began to observe this somber, little known holiday in the summers my children started attending Camp Ramah. To add to the somber mood, worshipers remove their shoes, sit on the ground. Under low lights, and at camp, with the aid of only a candle or a flashlight, the Book of Lamentations, or Eicha, is sung to a haunting chant. If you’ve never heard it, take a short listen here and the sadness comes through even if you don’t understand the Hebrew.
I sat alone on the floor, shoes off as a symbol of communal mourning. Each chapter was chanted from a member of a different area shul. Yet even when sitting alone, I never feel isolated or a stranger within a shul. Even after two weeks, there were some familiar faces. The guy with the Rochester connection who was told to look out for us sat nearby. The young woman rabbi from the first shul. I watched her as she sat on the floor, followed along in the prayer book for a while and then watched her as she closed her eyes just to meditate on the sadness of the chanted words.
And the words are indeed sad. It is sadness of Jerusalem likened to a raped woman. Childless and friendless abandoned by all humanity. Her streets are filled with ragged people walking through burned out ruins. It was a time when Gd, because of our baseless hatred and corruption, delivered us into the hands of our enemies.
An ancient, outdated story?
As I read the words of the Book of Lamentations, both in Hebrew and English, another city came to mind. The city to where I just moved. With its blighted houses and skyscrapers. With its government on the brink of bankruptcy.
But then, in the last chapter, hope.
In the back of the synagogue were some very young faces. White faces and black faces. But all young faces. These were the congregants of the Downtown Detroit Synagogue. Founded in the 1920’s, it is the last standing synagogue in Detroit proper. And instead of aging and decrepit members, its members were young. Way young. These were the determined young people living in urban Detroit. Waiting for Detroit to come out of its destruction. Making it happen by living and working in downtown Detroit and not like the rest of us in the ‘burbs.
In our shul shopping quest for the ideal synagogue for our family, I know that this synagogue is not the one we will be joining. But out of all the synagogues I have visited or heard about in Detroit, the existence of the Downtown Detroit Synagogue is the one that gave me the most hope.
I hate ends.
I don’t like when books, or series of books, end.
Ask my kids about this.
Just last week, after years of them prodding, teasing, begging and bribing me, and even going through lengths like borrowing books on CD from their school libraries. I finally, finally finished the entire Harry Potter series.
I don’t even like to eat the ends of a loaf of bread.
Even when it comes to one of my favorite activities in the world – dancing – I prefer not stay for the last dance. Call it a Cinderella syndrome, but I hate when the music ends. I leave about 10 minutes each week before the session wraps up. As the music lingers in my head while I start up the car in the parking lot, I envision my folk dancing friends dancing on into the night, so the dance is never over.
But end it did, for me, at least in Rochester.
I have been taking Israeli Folk Dancing on Sunday nights at the Rochester Jewish Community Center for about 10 years now. When I first started I knew nothing about Israeli Folk Dancing outside of Hava Nagilah. Seriously.
But Israeli Folk Dancing is not your Bar Mitzvah Havah Nagilah. Blending music with Greek, Latin, Middle Eastern and the random Irish (yes IRISH) influences, Israeli Folk Dancing has something for everyone. At every age.
And you don’t have to be Jewish to do it. There are Israeli Folk Dance sessions held the world over, including places like Tokyo and Beijing.
At first, Israeli Folk Dancing can be frustrating. All these people whirling and jumping around you are having all this fun and really know what they are doing. And the beginner, well, the beginner fumbles. And watches.
Week after week I went. I made sure I got there for the beginner hour. I watched feet. I danced on the outside of the circle not to get in the way of the experts. Then, with increased confidence that I would not crash or trip anyone (or myself) I moved in. I’m grateful for great guidance from the teacher to long timers who called out steps for me.
I have gone from stumbling through each dance, to learning the steps, to a point where I’ve actually become pretty good! Good enough to call the steps to newcomers who give it a try. Good enough to teach it to children in area Hebrew schools and camps.
Here are reasons why dance, any dance, but particularly Israeli Folk Dancing is good for you:
- It’s a great cardio workout. Dancing burns on an average of 375 calories per hour.
- IFD is also great for your brain. Each dance is a sequence of choreographed steps. All this memorization improves brain function, especially for some of us who are, emmm, getting up there in age. It takes about six lessons and going on a consistent basis to get the basic steps down. Before you know it, your feet are moving to each familiar dance without even giving it much thought, which comes to the next benefit….
- Israeli Folk Dancing is a great social outlet. While your feet are moving, catch up in conversation with friends old and new.
- If you are Jewish, or simply have a love for Israel, IFD connects your feet and ears to the Holy Land. During Israel’s peaceful times, dancing to the latest Israeli dance is a dance of celebration. In times of war or terror, the dance becomes one of solidarity.
And now, now that I am leaving town, the JCC of Greater Rochester offers Israeli Folk Dancing FREE to members, $6 per week for non members.
Last Sunday was my very last dance session, for now, with my dear friends from Israeli Folk Dance in Rochester. It was a big part of my life and brought me happiness each Sunday night.
And last Sunday, I managed to make myself stay for the very last dance:
Do you dance regularly? What does it bring to your life? Leave a comment below, and don’ t ever stop dancing.
You know that piece of furniture in your kitchen, the one with the round or sometimes square flat surface? How many times do you eat at it with all family members present and accounted for?
I’ll fess up: Now that my family is in transition, it’s boiled down to the weekends.
In American culture, the days where families gather at the table to eat dinner on a nightly basis are going the way of Saturday mail delivery.
Eating on the fly, wherever and whenever, has become the norm, right? We eat walking, driving, or even standing up at elevated tables because we didn’t get a table with seats at the mall food court.
We can go on and on in school about nutrition, but often our kids are rushed through their meals at their lunch period, that’s if they HAVE a lunch period. My high school daughter eats lunch in class nearly every day. She can’t fit in lunch because of her electives.
The proof in the pudding (a food substance I would highly implore be eaten at a table) is a conversation I had with a bunch of my 7th Grade Hebrew school students as we prepared to study the Birkat Hamazon. This is a long Hebrew blessing known as Grace after meals, but it actually translates to: the blessing of nourishment.
I think that hundreds of years ago, those wise rabbis who constructed this prayer were onto something: eating together and then SINGING together at a table gives us nourishment that goes way beyond the physical.
Before we got into the nitty-gritty of the Hebrew vocabulary of the prayer, I asked a general question that can be asked to any kid regardless of their faith:
How often do you eat together as a family?
The general response was, “not much.”
“Everyone has sports so people eat at different times whenever.”
“My mom doesn’t make dinner so i just grab something from the fridge and eat it in my room.”
“My dad works late so we eat without him lots of the time.”
I listened to these honest yet sad confessions just one week after hearing a recent report on National Public Radio of the demise of family time around the table.
On a positive side, because of Jewish camping, some of my students were quite familiar with the Birkat Hamazon. And in the summer, they do sit and eat meals with others and then sing this prayer together, complete with all the campy hand motions. Thank you camp!
And even if we ARE around the table, we often bring some kind of electronic device with us to further distract ourselves from the people in our lives who really count.
As Passover and Easter approach, who will be around your table?
The year mark of my most recent visit to Israel quickly approaches. It was my fourth journey to the Jewish state. It won’t be my last. In fact, if I could, I’d have no hesitation to go there on the next plane.
A few things made last year’s trip during Chanukkah very special.
The first is family. Unlike my first two trips to Israel, this time I went back as a wife, a mother of three children accompanied by their grandparents, both sets. Seeing Israel’s historical and religious sites through the eyes of three generations was once-in-a-lifetime goosebumps every single minute.
Secondly, we have Israeli friends. Friends from teaching. Friends made in summer camp. These friendships deepened our connection to the land of Israel more strongly than any tourist or archeological site.
Nearly every day of our trip, friends met us for dinner or lunch in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. My son reconnected with his friend, son of two rabbis, who met us for lunch after we celebrated my son’s Bar Mitzvah.
Friends came and met us wherever we were on tour.
They hung out with us on the beach near our hotel.
My good friend from Modi’in met up with our group not once but twice.
She’s An artist. A teacher. A true intellect. We have shared our different perspectives and deepened our understandings of what it means to be a Jew in America and what it means to be a Jew in Israel. I’ve connected with few people in my life as I have with her, though we will seldom see one another face to face. On a wintry day by Tel Aviv standards, we chatted on beach chairs with our spouses and watched our daughters play in the waves.
Or they accompanied us to the Israel museum in Jerusalem.
There are the friends we did see and the friends we couldn’t see. I spent one night on a very long phone conversation with a friend from high school now living in Modi’in. At the time, she was newly diagnosed with breast cancer. All the plans we made almost a year in advance to get together, to spend time, to celebrate Shabbat, were reduced to that one phonecall. I was thankful just to be in the same time zone as her as I listened to her talk about the hard choices and treatments that lay ahead.
Now. Now the bombs fall.
When you have friends and family in Israel, focus on anything else has been nearly impossible. Eating? Making meals? Even taking walks? Just a temporary diversion until I can get back on the computer again and check in.
I read an update from my tour guide who heard the bomb sirens and made it on time to the nearest shelter.
I read updates from people who sleep with shoes on and who get tips on how to get to sleep again after they settle into their cot in their safety room.
I read an update from my Modi’in friend, now done with chemo treatments but who must now train her daughters how to run to safety depending on where they are when the siren sounds.
I read an update from my neighbor, now visiting in Israel describing what it was like to see the Kotel plaza evacuated.
Is this any way to live a normal life? What is normal? Why must this be accepted as the status quo?
What to do? Whether you’ve been to Israel a dozen times, or have never been there, whether you can name dozens of Israeli friends or never met anyone from the Middle East’s only true democracy, there is something we as freedom loving Americans can do.
We can tell the world the truth. We can expose Hamas for their lies and their brainwashing. Social media can expose how Hamas truly operates as nothing more than a brain-washing hate cult that glorifies death enough to seduce its women and children into becoming human shields.
When you have Israeli friends and family, the latest flare up between Israel and her Arab neighbors is not just a news story, it’s a personal attack.
I know I’ve been posting about this nonstop if you follow me on Facebook. But please, don’t ignore Israel’s fight for hearts and minds. Their war on terror is ours. Do what you can do from far away to defend her.
A note came home in my son’s backpack to state that today, this Friday, the school would be celebrating “International Heritage Day.” Third through fifth grade in my town is a time when students study the cultures of many countries. My child this year studied the cultures of Egypt, Japan, Australia. In successive years they will study about China and ancient civilizations from Greece to Rome to the Inca and Mayan Indians in social studies.
As a culmination and celebration of all this international study, third graders in my son’s school were asked to wear a hat that represents the culture of their immigrant ancestry.
Like most self-respecting Ashkenazi Jews, my family has roots in Russia and Poland. And, if you want to find some real exotic roots in my family, I believe my paternal grandmother was from Vienna, Austria.
But the Polish and Russians never looked upon my ancestors as their fellow countrymen. We were just: Jews. Yids. Pretty much second class citizens. That’s why Jews from Poland and Russia came over in droves to the United States – for economic if not religious freedom.
In my house, we don’t have any connection to Russian or Polish culture. How we identify, ethnically, is through Jewish culture.
So, what hat to use? The Moroccans have the Fez. The Mexicans, the Sombrero and the French, the beret, the Italians have the Fedora (acually, my older son has taken up wearing the fedora because he is so very dapper).
So, this brings me back to the question: What country do we identify?
I should have just put a Yankee Doodle style hat on my son’s head. We are Americans. But are we something else as well? Is Judaism a people? A religion? A Culture?
With what other country do we identify?
I could have chosen an Israeli Kibbutznik style hat, but that would be so … 1950’s.
So outdated. And, as much love as we have for our spiritual homeland, we are not Israeli.
So of course, to show off our heritage, we selected this one.
A kippah, in the Bukharan style, that we purchased this winter in Jerusalem as we made our way to the Western Wall.
This is the hat of our heritage.
It’s been a month since the Hebrew school where I teach has let out and I guess you can say I’m going through a bit of teaching/classroom withdrawal. Yes, I love having my Sunday mornings to myself once again and don’t miss the late afternoon juggle of teaching and then rushing home to figure out dinner at 6:15 (I figured teaching at this hour will train me for the day when I actually do return to work full-time. Someday.)
But what I do miss is the discussions, watching and helping my students as they work through some Hebrew reading; watching them make their own discoveries as they decode a Hebrew sentence and have an “ahah!” moment about their emerging Jewish identities and the cool way the Hebrew language itself is constructed.
Sure, I see some of them in this post-Hebrew school twilight between the end of Hebrew school and the end of secular school. I see them at my kids’ track meets, on baseball fields and evening school concerts. We are happy to see each other, but I can’t exactly ask them a question on the week’s Torah portion in these secular settings.
I’ve gotta teach SOME Jewish kids, so I turn to my own. Namely, my youngest.
Each morning, before the school bus and after a bowl of cereal, we have been checking out this great website called Israel365. On it’s Facebook page, it states:
Israel365 promotes the beauty and religious significance of Israel. Featuring the stunning photographs of more than 30 award winning Israeli photographers alongside an inspiring Biblical verse, Israel365 connects you with Israel each day.
The photos are inspiring.And, each day there is a sentence from the Torah in English, Hebrew, and Hebrew transliteration. I scroll down the page with the transliteration part so my 8-year-old son has to read the Hebrew.
“There!” I say to him, after he reads the sentence. “You’ve done a mitzvah of learning just a little bit of Torah today!”
“Yup!” I proudly reply, and I feel like I’ve validated myself as doing my job as a Jewish parent for the day.
Check out the site with your kids and tell me what you’ve learned.
Another site, this time dealing directly with the Hebrew language is My Hebrew Dictionary which can help you with Hebrew verbs, useful vocabulary and word pronunciation. It even breaks words into themes, like Food, Animals, and a Bar/Bat Mitzvah resource center.
Over the past week, I referred this site to my cousin in Seattle, who is preparing to sing some Hebrew songs in an upcoming choral concert. If she takes the quality of her singing as seriously as she takes which syllables are accented and word pronunciation, this is bound to be a concert that is Metzuyan (excellent!)
Last night, I attended a great working gathering with about 80 other 20, 30 and 40something Jews in Rochester who are very concerned about carrying Jewish continuity here into future generations. This grassroots group, in its very infancy, calls itself ROC Echad (one Rochester) and I wish them all the success in the world in infusing energy back into our Jewish community.
At this meeting, we learned the biggest issue that is keeping people up at night: Providing quality Jewish education in our community.
At the end of the meeting, I challenged those who were there to go out and seek for themselves in the next day some Jewish knowledge for themselves.
While there is no substitute for learning and doing Jewish in the company of others, these websites are a good start for some independent Jewish learning.
If you are reading this and decide to do some Jewish learning, tell me what you find out and I will share it on my blog so others can learn. Thanks!
I teach Hebrew school in the afternoons to sixth graders.
As a teacher, my greatest wish is for my students, my budding Jewish scholars, to ask deep meaningful questions about God, Judaism and our 5,000 year old tradition.
Can you guess what their most asked question is when their hands go up in my class, after being in public school all day?
If you guessed: “Can I go to the bathroom?” or “Can I get a drink of water,” or “Are we going to get a chance to play?” you would be on the right track; except my students need to pose their question in Hebrew.
But today, when they asked me, I turned their questions back on them: Are you really thirsty? How badly do you need that drink? And … what if there was just nowhere to go to the bathroom?
This week, as in Israel, Jews have come off the sorrow of observing Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. It will be a challenge for these kids — the last generation to have any access to the first-account testimony from survivors — to get a comprehension of the enormity of the loss and the depths of cruelty suffered by the Jews who endured and who did not endure through the Holocaust.
But perhaps they could understand it through their own most basic needs, the needs of kids just like them during the darkest years of humanity. They looked at pictures of kids starving on the streets of the Warsaw Ghetto, asking for food when there was none. They read an account of a girl who “stole” an icicle to get water to drink when there was none. They read about kids in hiding who asked for a bathroom but there was none; too risky.
Of course I let my students go get a drink of water and go to the bathroom, but when posed with these questions about survival and enduring the unendurable, they thought twice today before they asked.
Over the last week, Israelis have been on an emotional roller coaster ride: They observe Holocaust Remembrance Day, then Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, then move right into the triumph and joy (and yes, barbecues) of Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israel Independence Day. But how to convey these emotions to Jewish American kids who are tired after a long day of school on a rainy and cold April Day?
Youtube, of course!
Here are three videos I showed my students today. The first shows Israeli soldiers, strong, young and proud, singing Ani Ma’amin – I believe. A song that was sung as an act of spiritual resistance by the Jews in the concentration camps even as they faced death:
One of my students said, this song makes me want to cry. Crying about the Holocaust is okay, I said. It’s part of the learning.
This video shows how Israelis honor their fallen soldiers, by observing a complete two minutes of stillness by the sound of a siren. Even cars on the highway stop:
After seeing this, one of my students said “This is how we should honor Memorial Day in America!”
Finally, the singing of Hatikvah (The Hope), the Israeli National Anthem, and this is not your typical Hatikvah:
Funny, but when watching these videos, not a single hand went up to ask to go to the bathroom.
Happy Birthday, Israel!
It would be funny if it were not so tellingly sad.
After weeks of rehearsing Passover songs for a school wide Seder and in anticipation of April break, I knew my students would be feeling a bit burned out. But still, there was so much left to teach about Passover, especially the idea of redemption and how for modern Jews, Israel is our redemption. However, as our generations get further away from knowing a time before there was the existence of the modern Jewish State, one can take Israel, and teaching for Israel for granted. In afternoon supplementary Hebrew schools, where hours are shaved for time’s sake, teachers must focus most of their time just teaching Hebrew reading. There is little time to teach Israel.
So, in the final Hebrew school hours before Pesach, I wanted to part with my students with thinking about the Israel-Pesach Connection with a slide show. (if you want a copy of this slide show, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll happily send it along.)
I put a picture up from my laptop projector of the following people. Can you name them?
Now, to give them credit, I said I was going to show students slide show presentation from photos that were mostly ones I took in Israel, and told them that most of the photos were mine, but others were those I found on the Internet.
I just didn’t tell them which were which.
So, when I put this picture up and asked if anyone knew who these folks might be, I got some pretty interesting answers:
“Umm…. they must be husband and wife.”
“Are they your parents?”
No. No, I corrected them. These people are two of Israel’s most influential leaders in the formation of a Jewish state. Can you name them now?
Still no answers.
“Children, the man is David Ben Gurion, the first prime Minister of Israel and the woman is Gol-“
“Oh, now I know! Is that Golda Meir, the first woman Israeli prime minister?”
“Yes, that’s right!” Now we were getting somewhere.
The next hand flew up.
“Did you… meet them?”
So, in the final weeks of Hebrew school after Pesach, I realize I have my work cut out for me. I’m pretty sure I knew who David Ben Gurion and Golda Meir were by the end of the sixth grade. And I knew that, like Moses, these pioneers of the modern state of Israel went to European leaders in the 1930’s asking to let their people go to emigrate to the British Palestine Mandate to escape Hitler’s mad plan for the Jews.
When I get back to class, even though there are only weeks to go, I will put up photos up of Ben Gurion and Golda Meir. And Moshe Dayan. And Menachem Begin. And Rabin and Sharon.
Because, just as we tell our children the story of the Exodus from Egypt, and just as we vow to never forget the horrors of the Holocaust, so must we tell our children the history of the formation of the modern State of Israel. We must somehow weave that right into our Seder narrative just as we sing Dayenu and Adir Hu.
One great resource that I found online this week is the Israel 365 Hagaddah. It is 60 pages of the traditional hagaddah text combined with beautiful Israel photography plus specially marked “Israel moments” to highlight at your Seder. I hope that just some of this amazing Hagaddah makes it to your family’s Seder celebration.
Pesach Sameach. Happy Passover. And next year in Jerusalem.