Marc Sender is a ShalomLearning Teacher at Am Yisrael, Northfield, IL and Congregation Beth Judea in Long Grove, IL
I started teaching ShalomLearning a few years ago at Am Yisrael in Northfield, IL. My Education Director, Charlie Sherman is always open to trying new ideas, so I wasn’t surprised when he presented this new curriculum to me.
From the first class, I could see the potential with the materials. The videos resonated with my students, and the lesson plans were ready to go. The kids in my class would get so wrapped up in some of the discussions, sometimes I had to make some tough choices – stop the conversation or determine which of the following activities I’d need to skip. As a teacher, it’s a “good problem” to face.
A few of my experiences with students really drove home the power and importance of the ShalomLearning curriculum. One memory that stands out occurred after a lesson where we learned about treating everybody like they are created B’tzelem Elohim (in God’s image). We watched a video about a school’s buddy bench. Sitting on the bench was used as a signal that the student was looking for friends with whom to play. Other students could then go over and invite the person on the bench to join them. The following week, two girls in my class were clearly excited to tell me something. These two fourth graders (yes, fourth graders!) loved the buddy bench idea so much that they pitched the idea to their elementary school’s principal. To this day, that school now has a buddy bench during recess, and the students in my class regularly check the bench to invite others in. It is that kind of instant connection to students everyday lives that make this values based curriculum so powerful.
This summer, ShalomLearning contacted me about a pilot mentorship program they’re offering this year. I was flattered to be offered a mentor role along with my wife, Shira. (Did I mention she’s a ShalomLearning teacher too?) Together, we assisted at the ShalomLearning Educator Conference in Florida this summer. The conference was great – not only because we were able to attach a mini-vacation onto the trip, but also because it prepared me to lead other trainings here in the Chicago area. Just the other week, Shira and I led a training day for almost 20 ShalomLearning educators in our region.
ShalomLearning’s partners and educators are always inspiring new ideas and ShalomLearning is receptive to feedback and innovation. It is great to be part of the team, and I can’t wait to see what they do next. I am excited to continue to learn and grow with such an amazing team of dedicated Jewish educators!
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. -Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
This is one of my favorite units, B’tzelem Elohim – honoring the image of God in others and ourselves.
There is a sacred charge in the Torah that Judaism’s beautiful belief that we, all of humanity, are created in the image of God. We should ask, “What does it mean to be made in God’s image?” And perhaps the most demanding question, “What are you going to do about it?”
Most biblical scholars agree that in Genesis 1:27, regarding the conceptualizing of God creating male and female in the Divine image should not be interpreted as a physical image. We’re not looking to bring in anthropomorphisms after all, but rather our task seems to be clearly one of a spiritual endeavor.
And yet, one of the most interesting things I have observed as a religious school educator over the years is the surprising staunch reluctance of many Jews to talk about God.
Praising God in an “official” prayer service is a key component and at the heart of the matter of the service itself. (Worship and service are both accurate translations of a Hebrew word for prayer: avodah). However, in the day-to-day appreciation of our holiness and the sanctity of the moment, as a collective people influenced by a deep respect for science and a pluralistic, secular humanism, we fare poorly in the “Praise God” department. I encourage you to “take a time-out for God.” Find that still, quiet voice, your timeless soul, whether through prayer, meditation, or service to others. You do not need to look far to find the eternal. Ask your child about his or her thoughts on God. Children are experts at pointing out the awe and wonder all around. It is the jaded adult who falls into the cynical shutting down of revelling in the mystery of creation.
This year, Shalomlearning has partnered with over 400 teachers in 73 synagogues of Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and independent denominations. Each of these communities are learning about B’Tzelem Elohim at the same time in different ways. Yet, it’s not surprising that the 4,000 ShalomLearning students will reach similar conclusions: We all have a spark of God in us, and if we can see (or hear or sense) the holiness and goodness in humanity, we can be better guardians of the earth and of each other. We must protect the downtrodden and the poor; expand our inclusion of those with disabilities; refrain from judging people by their looks or gender identity or sexual orientation; do more “to see” the image of God in everyone. For when you get right down to it and look inside, we are all the same. We are the timeless connection to the holy, to the creative spark, to the Image of God: B’tzelem Elohim.