Happy Doesn’t Equal Good.
Not all of you may know that this is my second year of teaching Hebrew to the older students at our religious school. Teaching is such a wonderful way to notice new aspects of something you’ve been doing forever. And here is the story….
We were learning about the use of “Tov”, meaning “good”, in greetings in Hebrew: Good Afternoon, Good Morning, and A Good Year. Wait a minute...don’t we say “Happy New Year” in English? Thereupon a discussion ensued with the 4th, 5th and 6th graders. One 4th grader was very adamant that “happy” was not the right word. Weren’t other issues more important in our lives, we came to wonder? Health, enough money to be secure, love, family, friends….many things that help us live a good and caring life. So we learned not only about a Hebrew word, but about Jewish culture and its values all stemming from the idea of what “good” means.
What a perfect way to begin the new year! Thinking about what is important to us and what we consider “good”. Didn’t God create the world with an idea of “good”, using that expression in reflecting on the work of each day of creation? During Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur we have time to reflect on how we can be part of the good in the world as we try to improve our ways in the new year ahead.
Wishing each of you Goodness and Sweetness in the New Year.
Where does a person’s creative ability come from? Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, portrays Creativity as an actual separate entity in her newest book, Big Magic. Creativity waits for a person to be ready to receive its ideas and energy, and if the person isn’t ready for a creative experience, Creativity will find someone else who will embrace it. We all have creative ideas at different points in our lives, and I agree with Gilbert that they seem to appear out of nowhere.
This year TEC Religious School did embrace Creativity as we brought into our school the new approach to learning called Project Based Learning, or PBL for grades 4-6, Kitot Daled, Hey and Vav, as the next step after the hands-on learning they do in the younger grades. I can’t say that I know where creativity comes from, but I do see what it has accomplished for these children. One result of PBL was how the students in both classes, the combined Kitah Daled-Hey (4-5) and Kitah Vav (6), have connected with each other in new ways through their working in teams.
Kitah Daled-Hey (4-5): The big question asked by the class was, “What is a synagogue and how does it function?” The class delved into in-depth learning about synagogues in general and their own in particular. They went back into the Torah in the Book of Exodus to learn about our first structure for communal worship of God, the Tabernacle. They visited our temple to have a hands-on experience and learn about the ritual items used in the synagogue. They finally did an on-line exploration of different synagogues around the world as well as outdoor mediation spaces. Throughout their studies they kept a record in words and drawings of the elements they found most compelling during their studies, in order to design and create their own model synagogue.
Kitah Vav (6): Their studies of the beginning of the Jewish community in the New World centered around an historic novel about a Jewish girl who was kidnapped from her home in Portugal at the age of six. The story tells her journey of survival in the New World, now at the age of twelve, and how her Judaism plays a part. The students worked in cooperative teams of three to research about this period, using in-class computers, the text and outside references collected by the teacher. Students chose individual or group projects based on their own interest that demonstrated their knowledge of topics related to this period in Jewish history.
Amazing things happened as a result of this new model of learning. I heard that one child actually chose to come to religious school rather than sport practice! Now that is a switch. Also, new bonds were formed among the students who found common areas of interest as they worked in teams and engaged in a wider area of activities. These social connections among the students will have strong impacts on their future lives as they search for how to be engaged in Jewish life. With 21st century styles of learning we are helping our children to find their place as Jews in the 21st century.
There’s a lot of excitement among teachers and madrichim about the new changes we’re instituting this year. Last year the 6th grade piloted a unit for Passover using Project Based Learning (PBL). This style of learning has caught on in synagogue schools after its success in public school settings. This approach delves into a topic through a personal question that involves teamwork, online research guided by the teacher, and whole class activities which culminate in a final project. Learning is more natural as the students pursue their interests rather than following the linear approach of reading in a textbook. Kitah Daled/Hey and Kitah Vav will be engaged in PBL throughout the year, while the other classes will experience PBL throughout January as we engage in Kefiyada (Kef means fun in Hebrew). Our projects for the first half of the year will culminate in a Museum Expo on February 7 to which all families are invited. You’ll hear more about this as we get closer to the date.
Music and T’fillah will regularly take place in the Chorus Room down corridor #3 at the school. Signs will be posted the first few weeks of school. When we do alternative t’fillah we will even meet in classrooms or the large foyer area. We will keep you posted, and be on the lookout for your children to enjoy the t’fillah experience!
Look for notices and student work on the new portable display board in the foyer, thanks to our anonymous donor! For safety reasons, on most Sundays the doors will be locked from 9:15-11:15. If you come between these hours, give a wave to the Lobby Monitors who will let you in.
That’s all for now. Looking forward to seeing you on September 20th for the beginning of our new school year. Wishing all of you a Shana Tova U’Metukah, a Good and Sweet New Year.
You've gotten to know me quite well in this, my first year as Education Director at Temple Etz Chaim. You know I'm pretty reserved, but right now I want to share other feelings bubbling up from inside, so I'm letting you in on a secret. Inside I am twirling and dancing and kicking my legs. Shouting and singing and laughing. And even pumping my fists! We have not just gotten to the end of the year, but we did it with wonderful learning, fun projects, joyful singing, and energized t’fillah. Together as a team with you, our parents, we have worked to pass on our Jewish values to our children.
At the beginning of school, the year ahead was like a big dark tunnel to me, and I was pretty nervous. But the whole Temple Etz Chaim community gathered around and supported me. You were so understanding, when I didn't know which parents went with which kids, or even mixed up students’ names. You were patient and helpful, with words of support and helpful suggestions.
While you gave me your support, the teachers took my hands to lead me through that tunnel. The tunnel, of course, got brighter as the year progressed and I understood more about the daily workings of the school program. Your teachers were always there to show the way and offer me advice. Early in the year, as I would go into the classrooms and listen to the students, it was amazing how each teacher knew just what to do. Their lessons were not only well-planned, but the concern they showed for their students was evident in every class through the tone of their voices, and the friendly and caring look in their eyes.
As an educator, one of my favorite quotes is from proverbs: iחנוך לנער על פי דרכו (Hanoch L'Noar al Pi Darko)
“Teach a child according to his way.” Throughout the year your children’s teachers were always looking to better their teaching skills as we explored new ideas at our faculty meetings and reflected on how to best meet the needs of students in the 21st century. Not only did they look at each child’s skills and interests, but also realized that in this computer age, learning needs to take place in a different environment than what we grew up with. This change has happened in general education and is now transforming Jewish education as well. You will see some of these new ideas in next years’ program. Thank you, teachers, for a wonderful year!
An important idea in Judaism is something called “Hithadshoot” that has spread out to mainstream Jews from its origins in the Hassidic movement. The root of the word is “Hadash”, meaning new; “Hithadshoot” has to do with the idea that we should constantly be renewing our understanding and appreciation of our world.
This idea came home to me during this past month as I worked with the sixth graders on a special Passover project. I was in the midst of reading a book of historical fiction by Sue Monk Kidd, called The Invention of Wings, set in South Carolina in the early 1800’s. The book follows the relationship between the central characters, a slave girl and her young mistress, through many decades. Sometimes I had to put the book down as I was overwhelmed by the terrible degradation of the slaves and the attitude of the slave owners that conveniently kept the system in place. I suddenly realized how this book had given me a renewed insight into the meaning of slavery, a word I used in teaching about Passover, but whose sting had softened over the years. I was saying the words, “We were slaves in Egypt”, in a hollow way, words without feeling. The sixth graders seemed to get what I was saying when I shared these thoughts with them.
What to do with this “awakening”? I am following through with sending out letters to some chocolate companies, a project done in conjunction with our Academy students who learned about child slavery in chocolate production during their Chocolate Seder. After all, isn’t helping others one of the goals of our experience on the Seder night?
Hag Kasher V’Sameah, A Happy and Tasty Passover!
Read Hana's Blog - The Director of Education
2015-2016/5775-5776 Religious School Calendar and Family Shabbat Services Schedule
Religious SchoolGrades Pre-K - 79:00 - 11:30am at Medway High School
Academy, Confirmation, Post-ConfirmationGrades 8 - 126:30 - 8:30pm at Temple Building
Hebrew SchoolGrades 3 - 64:00 - 5:30pm at Medway High School