In New England, the beauty of the changing leaves around are as breathtaking as the spiritual wake up call which buzzes inside us. Can you feel the changes all around you? Can you turn your negative behaviors, relationships, and your mis-steps around to becoming a better you? In Judaism, it is imperative that we participate in making the world a better place and make a stand for our fellow human beings (yes….the doing) while not forgetting it is ultimately nurtured by who we are becoming (ahh…the being).
Thank God we’ve lived another year, and Rosh Hashanah brings a fresh start with a celebration of the birthday of the world. Perhaps it’s because it’s all I’ve ever known, but It always feels fitting in the autumn. What’s that gliding down heading my way? What’s that in the shofar I hear? Oh yeah…Its Teshuvah time!
Now of course, the act of repentance shouldn’t merely be seasonal. In truth, it is a lifelong process that touches every season of the human experience if you’re doing the spiritual work of repentance. There is no reason to wait until Yom Kippur to admit your wrong-doings, apologize to those you’ve wronged, ask forgiveness, and promise never to do it again. (Note: the previous sentence contains the four main steps of teshuvah).
There is something extra special about this time of year, when we come together as a community for collective prayer, delving into where we’ve gone astray, and individually, we work on arduous self-reflection in order to “turn things around” and to be our best selves moving forward.
Jewish tradition refers to archery when searching for the perfect word for our unintentional sins as cheit, which literally means to “miss the mark.” Haven’t we all missed the mark at some point? The good news is that we can try again to get closer to our best destiny. Preparing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur helps us draw a line in the sand and begin again. We can reset our intention and re-focus our attention.
Teshuvah is also great for looking at your organizational targets. Each of the past 5 years, The ShalomLearning team has set measurable goals and scaled up our programs nationally. From 300 students and 15 teachers at 15 synagogues in 2015 we’ve now grown partnerships with 110 synagogues, working closely with over 800 educators and 6000 students enrolled in 5780 (2019-2020)!
Getting back to your spiritual path, It is not easy to get things “right,” and hit our targets with the things that truly matter – deeds of loving kindness, studying Torah, connecting with our Creator, and performing tzedakah, to name a few essential mitzvot.
So… how do you know when you’ve truly completed teshuvah? You will know when you come across the same situation in life where you made the previous mistake for which you’ve already atoned, but this time, choose the right thing to do. Our beloved 12th century Jewish philosopher, Maimonides (aka Rambam) called this epilog fifth stage “Teshuvah Gemurah,” Complete Teshuvah.
His students would ask, “But Rabbi what if you are not faced with that same situation again?”
“Don’t worry,” Rambam smiled, “You will.” He also knew a thing or two about Karma.
May you all take the lessons of life and turn things around to be your best selves as I wish you a sweet and happy New Year with blessings of strong and vibrant learning communities deeply rooted in Jewish values.
L’Shana Tova U’Metukah!
Summer is just around the corner! As the rhythmic clock of the Hebrew School academic year winds down, ShalomLearning students are concluding with our seventh unit, Shalom. As many people know, the three most popular translations of Shalom are “hello,” “goodbye,” and “peace.” In the ShalomLearning Jewish values lessons, we take a deeper dive into the etymology via the word’s shoresh (root) which is shalem meaning “completeness.”
Our curriculum designers intentionally and brilliantly saved Shalom to be the final value of the year because there is a sense of peace in being complete. And of course, in Judaism we look towards the next question, “are we ever truly complete?” Part of our nature is to continue to grow and learn and strive to become the best authentic selves we can be. What we do in life, our actions (hopefully mitzvot) are of paramount importance, to strive for social justice and contribute to a better world (tikkun olam) but even higher, the zenith, the ultimate destiny is who we become. We grow in order to be. Where are we growing? What are we becoming? As I look back on the years with ShalomLearning, I am constantly amazed by our growth.
In 2011, founders Devin Schain and Andrew Rosenberg created our first cohort of seven students with one teacher (Rabbi Yakov Majeski) at one partner site in Bethesda, MD. We grew our team and resources to include a curriculum for grades 4-6. Incrementally we added on additional features and levels, expanding our Jewish communities of practice and commitment to pluralism and inclusiveness. The 2018-2019 enrollment consisted of 5128 students and 643 teachers at 98 partner schools. Collectively, if we look at our community as one and complete, this is the largest Hebrew School in the world!
This fall, you will notice we’ve expanded our offerings to include:
- Lessons (28 per grade) for eight different grades (K-7),
- More hands on training and mentorship for teachers with seven in person workshops this summer and additional webinars,
- A new iteration of learning prayer through gamification (ShalomLearning Escape Room 2.0), and
- Meaningful partnerships with over 120 synagogues across North America – both large and small of various affiliations.
We are committed to be more than just a provider. Rather we are partners with each congregation, helping every community make their educational independent visions a reality. I am so proud of what our learning community has accomplished. May you all continue to grow to be your best selves and enjoy the journey in striving for Shalom. “Summer lease hath all too short a date,” (Thank you Shakespeare!) and I look forward to starting anew in the fall as we continue to grow together.
This fall (September 2019) ShalomLearning will offer three new levels of our values-based curriculum (K-2). Similar to grades 3-7, our lessons tie Biblical stories, prayers, holidays, and Jewish text to a value. In addition, for these grades, we focus on arts, literature and experiencing the values through the senses.
Here’s a sample activity from our Yom Ha’atzmaut unit for first grade. Keep in mind, this is just one piece of a larger lesson plan.
Israel has so many wonderful foods. We are going to taste a few today. If children have tried some Israeli foods in the Kindergarten lesson, choose a different food this year, or stick with a favorite and remind students of their taste test last year.
Serve as many of these foods as you have access to.
- Israeli salad (Tomatoes, cucumbers, olive oil, salt, pepper)
- Hummus (could serve with cucumbers, carrots, pita)
- Chocolate spread (goes on the pita)
Spend some time doing some exploration about the foods. For example, ask children to wonder what hummus is made from. Have some chickpeas on hand to show them. Students can even try their hand at mashing the chickpeas to make their own hummus.
One reason the Israeli salad is the most well-known dish of Israel is that the cucumber has a long history in that region of the world. Ask students when they might eat an Israeli salad. Share that Israeli salad was part of the traditional Israeli breakfast at home before cereal became popular.
After tasting the food that you have, have a conversation with the students about what they liked or did not like. What was the same as what we eat, and what was different?
Purim is just around the corner! Our 3-7th grade students are currently studying the core Jewish value of Hakarat Hatov, seeking joy and being grateful.
Hakarat Hatov is the quintessential Jewish value; as the name of Yehuda (Judah), is rooted in hodah – to give thanks. It is the essence of a meaningful Jewish experience. While one may have all the blessings of goodness (good health, wonderful family, and friends to name a few), without gratitude, one’s journey through life can’t capture the full meaning of appreciation. Giving thanks and finding ways to conveying gratitude is a profound key to happiness.
I am so grateful to be part of the transformation and growth of Jewish education here at ShalomLearning. We have the distinct joy of working on innovative projects, and kvelling over some recent successes. Working with Bible Raps, we are empowering our students to create their own original Jewish values rap songs at Temple Shalom in Succasunna, NJ, Temple Chaverim in Plainview, NY, and Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood, PA. We have plans to continue this program in the fall at other partner synagogues.
We are also pumped from the success of our first virtual escape room game. I’d like to give a big shout out to Ben, our eight-year old winner, from California, who shares his experience in this interview with Heidi Lovitz, our Director of Educational Programming
To prepare for the fall, we’re currently putting the final touches on the new and updated curriculum. We’re also announcing the six locations for in-person summer training opportunities for our ShalomLearning educators. I look forward to seeing many of you at one of these sites or one of the training webinars.
May your hunger for Jewish Learning continue to grow, and my prayer for us all is to continue cultivating an attitude of gratitude- hakarat hatov!
This fall (September 2019) ShalomLearning will offer three new levels of our values-based curriculum (K-2). Similar to grades 3-7, our lessons tie in Biblical stories, prayers, and other Jewish text to a value. In addition, for these grades, we focus on art and literature.
Here’s a sample activity from our Ba’al Tashchit unit for second grade. Keep in mind, this is just one piece of a larger lesson plan.
Ba’al Tashchit-Don’t Waste
ShalomLearning: Grade 2
From ט”ו בִּשְׁבָט Tu B’Shevat To בַּל תַּשְׁחִית Ba’al Tashchit – Don’t Waste
Values in Art: Hanoch Piven and Recycled Art
40 minutes total (can be broken into two twenty-minute sessions)
– Scrap paper for the students to brainstorm their portraits
– Construction paper
– Clean recycled / found objects (lids, game pieces, figures, old cards, etc.)
– Magazines (to cut up)
Last week we learned about ט”ו בִּשְׁבָט Tu B’Shevat, the holiday where we celebrate trees. So, it makes perfect sense that this week we’re going to take that love of nature just one step further and explore a key Jewish value: בַּל תַּשְׁחִית Ba’al Tashchit Don’t Waste. בַּל תַּשְׁחִית Ba’al Tashchit Don’t Waste is the idea that we are responsible for how we interact with the world around us and our impact on the environment.
What are some of the ways that you know that we can have an impact on the world? Brainstorm a list, including creating trash, recycling, driving a car, using disposable items instead of reusable. Be sure the students identify that you can recycle items and reuse them.
We have identified that there are many ways we impact the environment, in good ways and not-so-good ways. We’re going to focus on some of the ways we can improve our impact.
Together, let’s make a list of ideas of ways that follow the ideals of בַּל תַּשְׁחִית Ba’al Tashchit Don’t Waste. I’ve given one idea for each category, to get you started, but let’s see what else we can do, both here and at home.
– Use reusable plates / cups
– Turn plastic jugs or cans into planters
– Make sure all paper and cardboard get into a recycling bin!
If possible, come up with specific ideas for things that the students can implement – things like making sure all the paper gets cleaned up from your classroom and put into the recycling bin. If your synagogue (or other location) doesn’t have ample recycling bins, perhaps you can make a new one! If you have access to outdoor or window space, you could plan a future project to create planters.
One creative way to reuse a variety of objects is to create new art from it! Hanoch Piven, a famous Israeli artist, does just that. He creates portraits of famous people from across the globe. Let’s look at a few of the portraits he has made from the website Piven World http://www.pivenworld.com/art.
Show students a variety of portraits of figures they will recognize from the website. As you view them, point out a few of the objects used to add meaning to the portrait. For example, for Obama he uses Statue of Liberty models for the eyes.
Not all of Hanoch Piven’s art features particular people, sometimes he just creates.
Today, you’re going to create your own Piven-style art! To get started, the first thing is to identify who you’d like to portray and come up with 4-5 attributes of the person, so you can include them in the portrait. For example, if you picked Moses, you might note that he spoke to a burning bush, he had a speech impediment, he held the 10 commandments tablets, he split the red sea, and he lived in the desert!
When you have your list, think about ways you could represent some of these ideas on your picture. For example, you could use fire or a bush to represent the burning bush. You could color his robe a speckled tan color to look like desert.
Encourage the kids to help each other with their brainstorming. You can bring back the idea of “זוּג – zug – pair” from week 13 and encourage them to work in partners.
Students will work at a variety of paces, so it is recommended that you pause once you feel like everyone has picked a person and started brainstorming attributes. You will take more work time later on to create the actual portraits – and suggestions for what to do with those students who create quickly.
Provide a second block of time for students to work on their portraits. Encourage students to include any objects they can find – and to draw or cut out pictures of items that wouldn’t work to include directly (like a banana!).
Some ideas for students who complete their work more quickly than the rest:
- Create explanation cards for each portrait, interviewing other students to learn about the symbolism they included.
- Work together to create another image for an imagined character.