Singing satirical songs while cross-dressed in Hasidic costume, Pepi Littman was once a controversial star of the Yiddish theater. Littman faded into obscurity after her death in 1930. Today, a young San Francisco-based Yiddish singer called Jeanette Lewicki is key to her revival.
On Thursday, March 2nd, 35 educators joined us at the CJM. Representing day schools, congregational schools and other Jewish organizations, art teachers, Jewish studies teachers and educators with other specialties came from all across the Bay area from as far as Fresno, Petaluma, Castro Valley and Palo Alto.
We dove deep into Jewish themes, Art, and memory as we explored the CJM exhibition “From Generation to Generation” with Fraidy Aber and Janine Okmin from the CJM. Four stations representing different media set the stage for reflections through theatre, soundscapes, writing and art.
We explored the powerful teaching tool of Zachor and passed down stories while Tamar Forman, our artist-in-residence, led us through text study and a hands on art activity with clay. Our sculptures told stories of personal interpretations and memory. The medium, technique and idea were all based on Native American art tradition.
Participants took away much from the program. One commented that the workshop was " the most meaningful experience at CJM since it opened.”
Led by Vavi Toran, our Integration of the Arts department, hosts professional development workshops all year long.
For more information, CLICK HERE.
The Burden and Responsibility of Freedom
“Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake. It is not easy. It is not a gift given, but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one. The road goes upward towards the light; but the laden traveler may never reach the end of it.”
A few weeks ago in Parashat Beshalach, we read about the exodus from Egypt. In this dramatic Torah portion the Israelites exit Egypt on their way to freedom. This is not a purely joyous moment for them. They leave with heavy hearts, concerned about their future and with a feeling of hopelessness. They question the very decision to leave and some would rather go back and be slaves than face the unknown. At the moment of truth the sea parts and they walk to safety. The long journey to freedom has begun.
We have been blessed through this foundational myth with the idea of freedom as an ultimate value. But at the same time there are both internal and external forces that work against it. The Torah portion tells us about the wish of the people to give up this newly found freedom. Their fear, uncertainty and longing for what they left behind, prepare them for the long way ahead. The journey to freedom is as important as freedom itself.
Most of us were born to freedom. We did not have to realize we were shackled, we did not have to take a long journey, we did not arrive at the metaphoric bank of the Jordan River in order to cross it to the Promised Land. Still, some of us have had “a certain Egypt” and overcame what we perceive as oppression or tyranny. And of course most of us are enslaved to something: career, bad habits, way of thinking, tablets and iPhones, fill in the blank... Either way we must never take the freedom and independence that we have for granted. We have a responsibility to protect it, to fight for it and to tell the story of the long journey toward it to our children and students this year. Especially this year!
“May we all be blessed this Pesach with the ability to feel yetziat mitzrayim, on the national level and on the personal level, so that we are redeemed from whatever confines us.”
- Jennie Rosenfeld, Towards Personal Redemption
We include a few resources that explore the Exodus from different national, communal and personal perspectives. Enjoy!
EXODUS - A MIDRASH SONG
by Etti Ankri (lyrics and music)
Etti Ankri is an Israeli singer-songwriter. She has performed in the United States and other countries. Ankri has been called a "rock genius" the "poet of Israeli spirituality," and "the contemporary voice of... Israel." Her midrash song about the Exodus from Egypt is full of the rhythms of her Mizrachic roots.
Lyrics in English
Translation by Robbie Gringras
From video: Makom-Israel Engagement Network
This is Jacob’s pain
Over little Joseph
Sown within us
Is senseless brotherly hatred
And sometimes it seems to me
When I am ready to give up
Pharaoh is my disorder
And I am sad for Egypt
And sometimes it seems to me
That we are still there
Walking towards the mountain
Begging for water
May it open up in two
The salt water
And we shall pass in between –
All those that are walking
To leave in the exodus from Egypt
To arrive in the desert
Perhaps we’ll find some water there
On the way to the mountain
May it open in two
The salt water
And we shall pass in between
All those who are weeping
And they are gaining on us
An army of cavalry
It is difficult for Moshe
The people have no faith in their hearts
The beach’s touch is calming
The sea gapes open its mouth
What if we return to Egypt?
Fear has no memory
We were builders of pyramids
Interpreters of dreams
We had nothing we could call our own
Only salt and tears
EVERY PERSON NEEDS TO HAVE A CERTAIN EGYPT
Poem by Israeli poet Amnon Ribak
The Exodus as a metaphor for dealing with hardship and resulting in personal growth.
The poem suggests that from a crisis, from the abyss and from despair, a person can find his/her inner Moses, and take themselves out of their “certain Egypt” on a journey of personal redemption.
to redeem themselves from it, from the
house of slavery,
to go out in the middle of the night to the
desert of fears,
to march straight into the waters,
to see them open before them to both sides.
Every person needs a shoulder,
on which to carry the bones of Joseph,
Every person needs to straighten their
Every person needs to have a
and a Jerusalem,
and one long journey,
that they will forever remember
in their feet.
Every person needs to have a
To deliver themselves from it
with a strong arm,
or with grinding teeth.
Every person needs terror and great
and comfort and promise and redemption,
that they would know to look up at the sky.
Every person needs one
that would always be on their lips.
A person needs to bend one time –
Every person needs a shoulder.
Every person needs to have a
TEXT STUDIES & LESSON PLANS
1. Towards Personal Redemption – Text Study
Lesson on using “Exodus” - Etti Ankri’s song
By Dr. Jennie Rosenfeld
JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance)
3. Chofshi – Free.
A lesson plan from MAKOM about the concept of “free” as it appears in “Hatikvah”,
Israel’s national anthem. Etti Ankri’s song featured in this lesson plan as well.
4. Exodus, Freedom and Responsibility – Facilitator’s Guide
American Jewish World Service
Purim celebrations, by their definition, are festive and spirited events. Between the graggers, the shpiels, and the carnivals (most often held in echoey social halls), Purim is nothing if not loud and boisterous. Unfortunately, the onslaught of sights and sounds can be overwhelming for even typically developing children and their parents. This goes double for a family who has a child with sensory sensitivities. Often, those families will stay away from Purim celebrations out of fear that their child will become overwhelmed and have a full-on meltdown in front of everyone in the synagogue.
Fortunately, there are several easy things you can do to make Purim more accessible to every child and every family. Many are budget-neutral (or at least budget-low-impact) and all are relatively uncomplicated to make happen. Check out the list below, pick a few to try this year, and see what a difference it makes.
Create a quiet space. More than anything else, the existence of a quiet space for kids (or adults) who are feeling overwhelmed will transform your Purim celebration. If you do just this, many families who would otherwise never consider coming will do so. All you need is a room nearby (but far enough to dilute some of the noise from the celebration) with a door that closes, stocked with a few pillows, blankets, art projects, sensory materials like beans and playdoh, or anything else you think your community might enjoy.
Make headphones available during the shpiel (or throughout the day). Having a few sets of noise-reducing headphones available for kids (or adults) who get overwhelmed by too much noise will go a long way towards making folks feel welcome. We like the $12 ones here.
Create a social story. Social stories are simple illustrated booklets that tell kids what to expect at a Purim celebration. They are not meant to change the child’s behavior, but rather to help them understand events and the expectations and challenges associated with them. Click the links for great examples from Matan and Gateways.
Offer gluten- and dairy-free hamantaschen. Nothing says “Purim” quite like hamantaschen. Unfortunately, many kids (and adults) have dietary restrictions--gluten- and casein-free (i.e., dairy-free) diets are especially common--which don’t allow them to eat standard hamantaschen. You can make gluten and casein-free hamantaschen following recipes like this one or purchase them commercially at places like Mariposa Baking Company or even Amazon.
Tell the community that you are doing these things. All of your great work on inclusion will only succeed if people know you are doing it! Advertise the accommodations you are making explicitly on publicity associated with your Purim event: in email blasts, on flyers, in newsletters, on signage the day of the event, and beyond.
Spotlight on the Olive Tree:
Tu Bishvat - New Year of the Trees (Rosh Ha'shana La'ilanot) - was originally the ancient fiscal new year created to calculate the age of trees for tithing.
Today, it is celebrated in Israel with tree planting and as an environmental awareness day.
Trees (and planting significant numbers of them!) are of great importance in Israel. Many Israelis are named after trees. In your classrooms, among your friends, and in the halls of the Knesset, you will find people named: Amir, Amira, (treetop), Oren (pine), Ilan, Ilana, Ilanit (tree), Elah (Terebinth), Alon, Alona (Oak), Erez (Cedar), Hadas (Myrtle), Tomer (Palm) and Shaked (Almond).
Even though you are unlikely to find a kid name Zayit (Olive), of all the trees, the Olive Tree has a special national meaning. With its deep roots, steadfastness, gnarled and hollow trunk, and multipurpose fruit and oil, it serves as a symbol of survival, oneness with the land, and of course, peace.
READ more in a post Vavi Toran wrote for the iCenter a while back.
It includes “Trees!" lesson plans for various grade levels developed by Rabbi Avi Deutsch for Jewish LearningWorks
In addition check this Visrael video about how Israeli kids celebrate Tu B'shvat
This Purim, we've created activities, guiding questions and "moral dilemmas" scenarios to serve as a touchpoint for conversations with your teenage students.
The Purim story offers many opportunities to connect with teenagers around themes occurring in their own lives - passion, jealousy, fear of the other, love, relationships and responsibility.
Reading and exploring excerpts from the Megillah brings up a number of questions including:
• How and why are women judged?
• When is the right time to “come out”, to stand up for what you believe in and to advocate for others?
• What responsibility do you share for the collective?
We hope the activities, guiding questions and “moral dilemmas” scenarios spark meaningful conversations with your students.
With questions or for support in creating more ideas please don’t hesitate to contact us: Ivitemberg@jewishlearningworks.org or 415-751 6983 ext 149
1. Divide teens into groups. Assign each group one of the moral dilemmas below and ask them to create a short presentation on its relevance to them
2. Ask the teens to role play a scene wherein the protagonist must decide between two opposing courses of action. Charge the teens with acting out the protagonist’s thoughts
3. Ask the teens to create a scene without an ending. Offer the audience the opportunity to weigh in on how the tale should end
Scenario 1 Coming Out
Esther Finds Favor
…9. Now the young lady pleased him and found favor with him. So he quickly provided her with her cosmetics and food, gave her seven choice maids from the king's palace and transferred her and her maids to the best place in the harem. 10. Esther did not make known her people or her kindred, for Mordecai had instructed her that she should not make them known. 11. Every day Mordecai walked back and forth in front of the court of the harem to learn how Esther was and how she fared.… New American Standard Bible
• Under what circumstances is it important to stand up and assert who you are?
• How can real change occur without taking steps that hurt someone’s feelings?
• When might ensuring your physical and emotional safety be more important than standing up for something you believe in?
Gil and Evan are a gay couple who have been together for nine years. After years of struggle, they are finally legally married. They are going to visit Evan’s elderly mother (he is her youngest!). She lives in an assisted-living, tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone. Even though she knows that Gil and Evan are married, she introduces them to her friends as “my son Evan and his friend Gil. “
How would this situation be different if: it took place in an Orthodox shul in the Midwest, where Gil’s brother plays a prominent role as a community rabbi?
How would this situation be different if: it took place in rural Pennsylvania and Gil’s brother were afraid that if the true nature of the relationship between his brother to his husband were known, they might be physically hurt?
Scenario 2 Mutual Responsibility
…12. They related Esther's words to Mordecai. 13. Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, "Do not imagine that you in the king's palace can escape any more than all the Jews. 14. "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?"…New American Standard Bible
• Does what happens to others of your religion, ethnicity or culture always impact you?
• In what ways are you responsible to your people?
David is very excited to be admitted to the college of his choice. He is especially excited to get involved in rowing crew and in political environmental causes. Soon after his arrival at school he is asked to participate in Hillel activities relating to recent expressions of anti-Semitism on campus. David considers the invitation but between school, crew and advocating for endangered species he is uncertain he has time.
How would this situation be different if: David were a senior who was very popular and held a position in student government?
How would this situation be different if: Speaking out against anti-Semitism might put David at risk of losing friends or being physically targeted on campus
Scenario 3 Beauty and Power
12. Now when the turn of each young lady came to go in to King Ahasuerus, after the end of her twelve months under the regulations for the women-- for the days of their beautification were completed as follows: six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and the cosmetics for women-- 13. the young lady would go in to the king in this way: anything that she desired was given her to take with her from the harem to the king's palace. 14. In the evening she would go in and in the morning she would return to the second harem, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king's eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not again go in to the king unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name.…
• Under what circumstances should women use beauty to access power?
• What tools might be effective for women to oppose a male dominated system or culture?
Sophie is smart, and accomplished young woman. She is frequently told by her peers that she could be a Hollywood star. Sophie has always wanted to be a writing and hears of an opening at a publishing firm that she is interested in. A peer at the firm has shared that her interviewer has a “weakness for pretty women who wear revealing clothes.” Sophie is tempted to play up her looks for the interview.
Josh is staffing a leadership program for teens. Some of the girls wear clothes that he feels are designed to make them appear sexy. Josh believes these girls may not understand the impact of their clothing choices. When he tries to talk to the girls about wearing other clothes out of respect for themselves and their bodies, they tell him that he is being sexist and accuse him of trying to limit their sexual expression.