Using Jewish Values to Respond to This Moment
Today, as we process the shock of the events at our nation’s capital, we struggle to find a message to share with our community. ShalomLearning’s Jewish values curriculum makes Judaism relevant to the lives of our students. It gives them texts and sources to draw from when making real-life decisions. But which of our seven values speaks the loudest at this moment? Which one will best guide us to move forward?
Teshuvah (Repentance), can we reflect on what occurred and turn it around? B’tzelem Elohim (Created in the Image of God), aren’t we all deserving of respect? Achrayut (Responsibility), it’s our responsibility to respect government law and civil authority. The values of Hakarat Hatov (Recognizing the Good), Koach Haddibur (Power of Words), and Shalom (Peace) can each guide our behavior in peaceful and challenging situations. However, it was the Gevurah (Strength) unit that resonated with us today as it teaches us how to use our inner strength.
Our fifth grade Gevurah unit teaches students about the role of courage in processing an argument, the art of compromise, practical ways for standing up for rights and points of view, and the skill of consensus building. All skills needed at this moment of history.
Therefore, we are sharing two activities from this unit that help students practice conflict resolution wrapped in our Jewish teaching. May these teachings guide us as we teach our children that we have the power to express our will within a democratic process with Jewish values to guide us.
Activity 1: Arguing the Right Way/Conflict Resolution
15 Minutes In-Person or Virtual
Tell students: Today, we will explore how to compromise, argue, and stand up for your ideas. We will look at some scenarios and find the piece of truth that each side possesses.
- When you argue with someone, do you usually feel that you are right and they are wrong? Do you ever feel like they could have a legitimate point of view too?
- The Hebrew word for argument is machloket מַחֲלוֹקֶת. But the root of the Hebrew word is chelek חֵלֶק, or part. Why do you think the root of the word machloket מַחֲלוֹקֶת is chelek חֵלֶק, part?
- Do you think that in an argument each person may have part of the truth?
- When you disagree with someone else, but you acknowledge that they have a chelek חֵלֶק of the truth as well, how does that change things?
- Sometimes when you acknowledge other people’s chelek חֵלֶק of the truth, the result is compromise, pesharah פְּשָׁרָה. Do you view compromise as a good result?
Activity 2: What Would You do? Machloket מַחֲלוֹקֶת Scenario
15 Minutes In-Person or Virtual
Role Play Fishbowl: You may use the following scenario or choose a scenario that you know the students are confronting or that is in the news. If you have never led a fishbowl before, see this site for a helpful description. https://www.facinghistory.org/resource-library/teaching-strategies/fishbowl (5.3.4 Fishbowl Strategy)
It is the first day of school. Elaina has been away the whole summer and is looking forward to seeing her best friend Jessica. When Elaina gets to school, she looks all over for Jessica and finally finds her talking to a new kid. Instead of running over to greet Elaina, Jessica keeps talking to the new kid for ten minutes before she finally goes over to greet Elaina. Elaina is mad. How could Jessica keep her waiting for so long when they haven’t seen each other for two whole months? She tells her friend Andrea that Jessica has really changed and Andrea should not be friends with her. Jessica finds out and gets angry with Elaina.
Have two students play the roles of Elaina and Jessica. First, have them role play an argument where they are not interested in seeing the other person’s chelek חֵלֶק of truth and care only about the truth of their position.
Choose two other students to role-play the same argument. This time, they must acknowledge the chelek חֵלֶק of truth in the other person’s position.
- Who made choices in this story?
- How could you defend Elaina’s choices?
- How could you defend Jessica’s choices?
- What other choices could they have made that may have avoided a fight?
- Was there a chelek חֵלֶק of truth for each side of this story?
- What would happen if Elaina and Jessica took the time and effort to understand the chelek חֵלֶק of truth in the other person’s argument? What would be the consequences of the argument?
- What would have happened to the friendship if they talked out why they were each upset?
- How can respecting another person’s point of view and trying to see their chelek חֵלֶק of truth help you in other arguments and situations?
Notes of a 21st Century Jewish Dad – Gevurah
Just a little note: as a writer, I’m changing the names of my wife and kids to protect their real identities. Also, from time to time I might incorporate stories and feedback from other parents into these characters and others, to give voice to the many ways ShalomLearning affects the lives of our children and families.
Sunday night, December 13th, 2015. 5 pm. 8 hours after the kids’ ShalomLearning morning sessions. We lit all the Chanukah candles tonight right next to the hamster cage by the window, as we celebrated the 8th and final day, where the miracle is at its strongest. After singing our songs and prayers, Jonah, staring at the glow of the 8 candles with his 8 year old eyes asked, “I wonder how far the light of our sun shines out into space?”
My 10 year old, Hannah, with the pinache of a brooding artist exploring scientific information, was the first responder tonight, “well… most of the universe is empty space and darkness anyway.”
“Oh yeah?” I asked.
She turned our attention to the blog about dark matter, “only 4 percent of all that space and energy is light.”
“Overall, dark energy is thought to contribute 73 percent of all the mass and energy in the universe. Another 23 percent is dark matter, which leaves only 4 percent of the universe composed of regular matter, such as stars, planets and people.”
“That’s not very much,” Jonah calculated while spinning a dreidel.
“But that’s all we really need,” Kristen replied.
Hannah brought us back to astrophysics, “the universe is expanding even faster than anyone thought and most of it is this ‘mysterious dark matter’.”
“Well,” I replied, passing out the dreidel bingo cards, in a way it can be easier to find when you are surrounded by darkness…that little spark of light will help you find your way.”
Later that night, after the kids were in bed, Kristen’s words came back to me about the 4%, “that’s all we really need.”
Some might say that those numbers are a grim revelation of an overwhelming dark power that is knocking out the galaxies of light.
But what if it was never about quantity in the first place? There is only one area to turn for value and that is quality. Perhaps this dark matter is indeed pure nothingness and it can expand all it wants to.
All that matters is the little spark of light that we hold on to. I’ll take this 4 percent of light any day over eternal nothingness. To me, that is Judaism. We take it on faith and we cling to the light. We carry on because well, we carry on. The odds have always been stacked up against the Jewish people from the beginning of monotheism. The universe can spin its space and nothingness and darkness for 13 billion years like the hamster on the wheel next to our menorah: it moves and moves but goes nowhere. It seems like a waste of energy. (Hmm..but we could hook up the wheel to a generator some day…)
I am putting my faith in an honest 4% of matter that I know is real because everything else is well…darkness? There is a goodness and a sweetness that only the light can provide, like a glimpse into the best part of eternity.
For me, there is no question in my mind that this cosmic operation, we are meant to be a light unto the nations. We just have been handed a torch and have to find new ways in every generation to keep it burning, that’s all. Otherwise the light could go out. And it feels amazing to know that we are doing everything we can, when we say, “Not on my watch.” ShalomLearning is reinventing Jewish education to speak to a new generation in a new way, but that Light has not changed. And it is up to all of us to keep it going.