High Holy Days Resources

Printable Activity Pages for Kids

Kids fidget. 
Adults fidget.
Everyone has a little trouble focusing sometimes.

Keep little hands/minds engaged with activity pages created for kids of all abilities and appropriate for all types of observance. Use at home, in the car, on an airplane or during services.  Share it. Print it. Pass it on!


Check out whats inside:

High Holy Days Opportunities for Families from Kesher

Shabbat @Home - a guide for families

Download and print our Shabbat @Home Guide, designed to enrich your family's experience of Jewish life, including the celebration of Shabbat.

Throughout the ages, Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) has been celebrated in countless ways. This guide includes many traditions and customs but you won’t nd the words “should” or “ought to” in these pages. We hope you’ll experiment with practices that help your family create a joyful and meaningful Shabbat. The Jewish community as a whole is enriched by diversity, creativity and pluralism. We believe that there is no one “right” way to celebrate Shabbat or to be Jewish

Special Resource | Shavuot 2017

Yom Ha'atzmaut Resources for Educators

Starting right after Passover, which marks the exodus and the journey of a people toward its promised land – Eretz Israel, there is a succession of commemorations and holidays marking another, more recent journey, building up to becoming a sovereign state – Medinat Israel. The “Yoms” (days), as many of us refer to them, are Yom Ha’shoa (Holocaust Memorial Day), Yom Ha’zikaron (Israel Memorial Day), Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day).  

This year, Israel’s 69th birthday, also marks several significant anniversaries: 100 years to the Balfour Declaration (1917), a diplomatic foundation stone of the State of Israel; 70 years to the U.N. dramatic vote to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states (1947); and 50 years to the Six-Day War and the Reunification of Jerusalem (1967).

For those of us who were around during the Six-Day War it comes as somewhat of a shock to realize that around 80 percent of the current population of Israel was not yet born when it took place. They, their counterparts on the Palestinian side, and our own Jewish community members, the students and their parents, were all born into today’s reality. While some wars fade into relative obscurity, this one remains as relevant today as in 1967. Many authors, commentators and politicians refer to the last fifty years as the "seventh day" since the war's core issues continue to be disputed, unresolved and in the news. In short, it’s complicated...

What a complicated life this little land has lived. It has been terra sancta (Holy Land) to great religions. It has endured multiple conquerors and occupiers. It has been the object of holy memory and vision of return. It is a modern state which is part of a family of nations. It is a source of conflicting aspirations and emotions. What a complicated life this little land lives.
— Barry Chazan, A Philosophy of Israel Education - A Relational Approach, 2016

The resources we chose to highlight reflect on some of these issues, and also on the many reasons to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day!

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
Photojournalist David Rubinger (1924-2017)

Arguably the most famous image of the Six-Day War was shot by David Rubinger, the legendary Israeli photographer behind an iconic photo of Israeli paratroopers entering the Western Wall for the first time. Rubinger, who died recently at the age of 92, was awarded the Israel Prize for his works in 1997. Rubinger's photographs captured key moments in Israel's history and helped define its collective consciousness.

Israeli paratroopers entering the Western Wall for the first time on June 7, 1967. 

Israeli paratroopers entering the Western Wall for the first time on June 7, 1967. 

Another iconic image from that day, June 7, is the blowing of the shofar at the Western Wall by military chief rabbi Shlomo Goren.

Another iconic image from that day, June 7, is the blowing of the shofar at the Western Wall by military
chief rabbi Shlomo Goren.

Rubinger’s own favorite work, he told interviewer Yossi Klein Halevi in 2007, depicted a blind boy who arrived as a new immigrant in Israel in the 1950s stroking a relief map of Israel. “I call it, ‘Seeing the Homeland,’” Rubinger told Halevi.

Rubinger’s own favorite work, he told interviewer Yossi Klein Halevi in 2007, depicted a blind boy who arrived as a new immigrant in Israel in the 1950s stroking a relief map of Israel. “I call it, ‘Seeing the Homeland,’” Rubinger told Halevi.

“There are those who write the pages of history, and there are those who illustrate them through their camera’s lens. Through his photography, David eternalized history as it will be forever etched in our memories. His work will always be felt as it is seen in the eyes of the paratroopers as they looked upon the Western Wall, and in the expressions on the faces of the leaders of Israel, which he captured during the highest of highs and lowest of lows.”
— Israel’s President Ruvi Rivlin eulogy of David Rubinger

Read more about David Rubinger:

New York Times

A slide show from Rubinger's book "Israel Through My Lens"  Time Photo Gallery

A Meeting Place of Sabra Poetry and Jewish Liturgy
A song for Yom Ha'zikaron

How do we remember on Remembrance Day for Israel's Fallen Soldiers? Who and what shape collective memory? In Israel, somber songs take center stage on radio waves and in commemoration ceremonies. A dominant staple on every such occasion is the song “Bab el Wad” written by poet and former Palmahnik Haim Guri. The legendary song has always been associated with Zionism, heroism, independence and the image of the new Jew - the Israeli who fights for his country.

The song inspired one of the greatest paytanim (Mizrahi liturgical poets) of the 20th century, Rabbi David Buzaglo of Morocco, who came to Israel in the early 1960s.  Rabbi Buzaglo wrote his own words to the well-known melody of Guri’s poem.

The piyyut "Binu Na Mordim" (Wise Up, O Rebels!) offers a different way to shape the memory of the past than is customary in the days of Israeli national memory. The piyyut tries to inspire us to shape our future by way of peace and prayer, with a strong connection to the sources. Rabbi Buzaglo designs a different memory and reflects a different Israeli identity. Reading the two songs together is a study in shaping the collective memory. Singing them together, which is more and more the case in recent years, creates an inclusive collective experience.

Conversation between Haim Guri and Meir Buzaglo (Rabbi David Buzaglo's son and a pioneer in bringing piyuttim to the mainstream)

Video from the musical "Mi Shehalam" ("He Who Dreamed") based on the last 10 years of the life of Yitzhak Rabin. Bab el Wad by Haim Guri sung by Harel Skaat

Binu Na Mordim sung by Haim Louk


Bab el Wad

Information about Bab el Wad history

Lyrics in Hebrew

Lyrics in English and transliteration


Binu Na Mordim (Wise Up, O Rebels!)

Lyrics in Hebrew

Wise Up, O Rebels!

R. David Buzaglo (Casablanca, 1950s)

Wise up, O battle-eager murderous rebels!

You must not stand against a people who intimately

Speak to the One who dwells in the heavens,

the Omnipotent, the Eternal,

in His shade they put their trust and safety.

Remember a passing day was made for creation

The angelic advocates of peace have cried loudly to God:

But man is quick to fight!

Therefore you (men) must call for peace,

Man, the crown of creation, has been created like a king,

so as to build the deserts, to plant the desolated places,

but he has ruined the fields ofplenty and turned citadels

and palaces to rubble.

Remember ...

Honest Jacob sought peace softly and gently,

Both with his brothers and with his opponents.

We were persecuted, strangled in days of hatred and fury,

but we have always pursued peace, we, his descendents.

Remember ...

The Tetragrammaton was erased in the Temple‘s

water and given to Sotah (woman defiled by jealousy)

to drink in order to prove her innocence

and bring peace between her and her husband.



Israel’s History and Society - Online University Courses
Open to all and free!

Where to find quality learning opportunities about Israel is a challenge for many educators. We are in luck! The Israel Institute in partnership with leading Israeli universities has launched two MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses). These courses are offered through Coursera, an online platform housing courses created by accredited institutions of higher learning.
Read more about it

Coursera Courses
A History of Modern Israel: From an Idea to a State (Part 1)

A History of Modern Israel: Challenges of Israel as a Sovereign State (Part 2)

Israel: State and Society

These courses are frontal but pretty informative albeit the heavy Hebrew accents (look who’s talking...) and the sometimes inaccurate subtitles. Most are in English and some are in Hebrew with subtitles.

Jewish LearningWorks Israel Education Resources
Getting ready for Yom Ha’atzmaut?

Check out the many resources we have for you.

Get in touch with Vavi Toran with any questions.

Here is a sample from a downloadable special Poster Tales lesson for Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalayim).


This 1968 poster marks twenty years to Israeli independence and the return to holy sites in Jerusalem following the Six-Day War. It was designed by the artist Kopel Gurwin as a Parochet (the ornamental curtain covering the front of the ark in the synagogue), in the center of which two lions form the base of a seven-branched candelabra. The depiction of the menorah is reminiscent of the description in Exodus (Shemot) 25 where the instruction for its construction is filled with terms borrowed from botany: it had stalks, bowls like almonds, bulbs and flowers. Red flowers, such as Anemones (kalaniyot) and Maccabees’ Blood (dam ha’makabim), symbolize fallen soldiers. The word Yerushalayim is spelled out in the flowers. 

The menorah and the two supporting lions were adopted as the central theme for the official shield of the city of Jerusalem. The lion was the symbol for the tribe of Judah whose territory included Jerusalem. Here they represent the unification of the city, and perhaps the troops entering the old city through the Lions’ gate. The artistic medium is appliqué, for which this artist was famous.

Resources Related to the Six-Day War

Curricula and Lessons

Center for Israel Education new curriculum
The June 1967 War: How It Changed Jewish, Israeli and Middle Eastern History

Ken Stein about the curriculum

Makom Israel – Hugging and Wrestling – Six Day War

Opinions and Ideas

Yeshayahu Leibowitz (1903-1994) was an Israeli Jewish public intellectual, professor of biochemistry, organic chemistry and neurophysiology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a polymath known for his outspoken opinions on Judaism, ethics, religion and politics.

In a 1987 interview he gave his opinion about the aftermath of the Six-Day War:

“The turning point of the 1967 Six-Day War was the seventh day. On that day we had to decide whether that war was a war of defense or a war of conquest. And we decided post facto that it was a war of conquest.” To Leibowitz, the years since have been characterized by "a long process of decline, internally and externally, exposing what was once seen as Israel's "brilliant victory" as "a historical disaster."

More about Leibowitz

Six Days 40 Years of Controversy - Forward

Books about the Six Day War – David Remnick, New Yorker

About the documentary film Censored Voices - New York Times

The Six Day War - Background & Overview - Jewish Virtual Library

Learning the Lessons of the Six-Day War - The Jewish Chronicle

The Six-Day War - Wikipedia

Resources for Yom Ha’atzmaut


Passover Resources for Educators

The Burden and Responsibility of Freedom

“In every generation, each person is obligated to view himself as if he had come out of Egypt.”  The artist created elliptical portraits of Jewish people from various eras—as well as a few mirrors—in order to include the viewer among them.  My Haggadah: The Book of Freedom  by David Moss, 2015. 

“In every generation, each person is obligated to view himself as if he had come out of Egypt.” The artist created elliptical portraits of Jewish people from various eras—as well as a few mirrors—in order to include the viewer among them.
My Haggadah: The Book of Freedom by David Moss, 2015. 

“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.”

― Ursula K. Le GuinThe Tombs of Atuan

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!


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.

Etti Ankri “Exodus” with English subtitles

Etti Ankri “Exodus” with English subtitles








Hebrew Lyrics

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


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
certain Egypt,
and a Jerusalem,
and one long journey,
that they will forever remember
in their feet.

Every person needs to have a
certain Egypt,
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
certain Egypt,

The Poem in Hebrew



1. Towards Personal Redemption – Text Study
Lesson on using “Exodus” - Etti Ankri’s song
By Dr. Jennie Rosenfeld
JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance)

2. Beshalach – The Test of Freedom – Text Study
By Rabbi Alex Israel
For Pardes (Institute of Jewish Stidues)
Pardes’ web site includes many resources for educators

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





5 Ways to Make Purim More Inclusive

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

Chag sameach!

Tu B'shvat Prep For Educators

Tu B'shvat  

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







Purim 2017: Moral Dilemmas | Lesson for Teens

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: or 415-751 6983 ext 149


Suggested activities:

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



Moral Dilemmas:  


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

 Discussion questions:

• 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

Discussion questions:

• 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.…

Discussion questions:

• 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.

Hanukkah Resources for Educators

By Vavi Toran – Jewish LearningWorks

Scroll to explore:

·      The Dual Narratives of the Holiday – Historic and Miraculous
·      Hanukkah or Chanuka? (Or is it Hannukah?...)
·      Light as a Metaphor – Artists’ Perspective
·      Illuminate SF Festival of Light
·      Hanukkah Songs
·      Humor
·      Other Resources


The Dual Narratives of the Holiday - Historic and Miraculous

"Hanukkah, one of the most popular holidays of the Jewish calendar, is a military victory celebration. The Maccabees, the heroes of the holiday, were a band of Jewish fighters who took to the hills and the caves outside of Jerusalem to attack the Seleucid forces. Despite their small numbers, they forced the Greeks to retreat. Ultimately the Maccabees regained control of the Temple and of Jerusalem. But the victory could not have come about without combat, suffering, and even death, all wrought by the Jews. Sadly, if the Jews wanted their autonomy back, they were going to have to fight-and to kill-for it.

Despite Hanukkah's overtly militaristic origins, the focus of the holiday gradually metamorphosed from military power to the miracle of the oil. Now God, and not the Maccabee fighters, was at center stage.

The miracle of the oil embellishes the story. When the Maccabees recapture the Temple, they found a sole cruse of oil with enough oil for one day. But miraculously when they lit the lamp the oil lasted for eight days, until more oil was ready.

The miracle of the oil is nowhere attested in the "eyewitness" accounts from the era. Instead, it's found for the first time in the Talmud, a text that emerged hundreds of years later.

To be sure, the "new" version of Hanukkah does not in any way deny the role of the Jewish warriors, but it certainly does shift the focus. It is therefore not surprising that early Zionists, who knew that they would have to fight for their independence, insisted that the Hanukkah story be "restored" to its former version.

In an attempt to make the Hanukkah story more fitting for the challenges that Zionism faced, the poet Ahron Ze'ev (1900-1968) among many others rejected that passive God-centered rabbinic reading (or rereading) of the Hanukkah narrative, and wrote a children's song that became an anti-religious mainstay of the secular Israeli celebration of Hanukkah. The poem “We are carrying Torches” insists that "a miracle did not happen to us, we did not find a cruse of oil, we chiseled away the stone until we bled." Not God, but people. Not miracles, but pure physical might. Not oil but courage. Those are what will save the Jewish people."

- from Saving Israel by Daniel Gordin (Chapter 11: The Wars That Must Be Waged)

Whether you agree with the interpretation of Daniel Gordis about the reasons for the dual focus of the holiday or not, these two narratives do live side by side during Hanukkah. Perhaps in the Diaspora we tend to emphasis the divine intervention in a form of a miracle and in Israel many still focus on the courageous acts by the Maccabees. Whatever the balance between these two narratives - the historic and the miraculous - we joyously celebrate the holiday with lights, stories, dreidel spinning and oil drenched food!

Articles exploring many meanings and multiple narratives of Hanukkah.

Agnon's "Whirlwind of Voices" - Secular Zionism, Hannukah, and Contemporary Jewish Identity
by Roni Zemelman in Kol Hamevaser

Creating Light Each Day
by Gila Sacks for JOFA

Al HaNissim: Do I Really Believe in Miracles?
by Noam Zion From Haggadahs-R-Us

The Truth(s) About Hanukkah
by Shawna Dolansky for the Huffington Post

The True Meaning of Hanukkah
by Hilary Leila Krieger for NY Times Op-Ed

Hanukkah or Chanuka? (Or is it Hannukah?...)

There is major disagreement and confusion around the proper spelling of the name of the holiday in English.  Even Wikipedia deals with the alternative spellings issue in its main article.

We choose to use all of them!

Read More: Balashon: Etymology of Chanukah 

Light as a Metaphor

The song We come to chase the darkness away (Banu Choshech Legaresh) is a Hannukah staple that illuminates the power of light over darkness. This year it has an added significance for all of us.

We come to chase the darkness away.
In our hands are light and fire.
Each individual light is small.
But together the light is mighty.
Flee, darkness and night.
Flee before the light.

Four artists from four different disciplines bring their own unique perspective and meaning to the motif of LIGHT

"From every human being there rises a light..."
- Baal Shem Tov

Design by Tom Geismar

The poster designed by Tom Geismar is a part of Voices & Visions™, a program by Harold Grinspoon Foundation. A collection of 18 images, the series pairs leading figures of contemporary art and design with powerful quotes from Jewish thinkers across the ages. 

A traveling exhibit of 18 framed posters accompanied by professional development and educational guidelines will soon be available to your school/institution through Jewish LearningWorks. 
For more info

Discussion Questions:

1. Who are the lights in your life?

2. In what way are you a light to others?   


Lights: The Miracle of Chanukah is a popular animated film about the deeper meaning of light during the Festival of Lights. Retelling of the Chanukah story, it delivers the message that it is all right to be different and to stand up for what you believe. Available in our local Jewish Community Library and for sale 


H.N. Bialik - I Didn't Win Light in a Windfall The poem is about the art of poetry (Ars Poetica). Haim Nachman Bialik, Israel's national poet, examines the sometimes-painful process of poetry writing, the way it is perceived by the readers and their response to it. Light here is a metaphor for the poetic expression. Light, like a precious stone, is chiseled and quarried from the poet's heart. 
In-depth analysis of the poem in Hebrew


Amir Dadon - Great Light Click to play

Amir Dadon - Great Light
Click to play

This song describes the hardship, doubts and loneliness associated with the road to independence, and the great light that emanates in the process of resolving these difficulties.   

Singer-songwriter Amir Dadon was born in Beer Sheva, wrote for and played with Idan Reichal Project, Shlomo Artzi and many others. His maiden album was a great success in 2010 and the song "Or Gadol" (A Great Light) was watched by more than two million viewers on YouTube. Besides his musical career, Amir works with youth at risk by introducing them to the power of music. He might be the light in their lives!

Hebrew Lyrics
English Lyrics

Illuminate SF Festival of Light

Experience San Francisco as a shining gallery of light during the fourth annual Illuminate SF Festival of Light, from Thanksgiving 2016 through New Year’s Day 2017. The 39-day event celebrates 35 dramatic, eco-friendly light art installations—9 new ones this year including iconic works in the new SFMOMA. Visitors may experience free neighborhood light art tours, artist studio visits and neon walking tours, a stargazing party at the Presidio and more interactive experiences.


Hannukah Songs

List of Hanukkah songs with Lyrics in Hebrew and English -

Comprehensive list of Hannukah songs and dances with downloadable Hanukkah Song sheets -

Hanukkah Songs on YouTube

Songs for Hanukkah With Uzi Chitman and Cheni Nachmias  in Hebrew -

A medley of songs and stories in Hebrew -

Fountainheads Hanukkah – Light Up the Night

Songs by The Maccabeats:
Candlelight by the Maccabeats -
Miracle with Matisyahu -
Latke Recipe -

Eight Nights – Hanukkah Mashup -


Elon Gold- Stand Up Comedy - Why the Jews Are Better Off Without Xmas Trees

Other Resources for Hanukkah

G-Dcast Spins Hanukkah  

An article by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz:  The Motif of Light in Jewish Tradition  

From the iCenter for Israel Education:

Chanukah Heroes – American Zionist Movement
Celebrating the Miracles – And the Heroes Who Made Them Happen
Heroes and activities for each night of Chanukah

An article about a collector of Chanukiyot (Hannukah menorahs) in Jerusalem


Educational Resources for Teaching Mussar & Middot


Mussar curriculum for young children - From the Mussar Institute

Middot:  A Stairway of Virtues - Curriculum (25 lessons) for grades 6-9

American Presidents & Jewish Values - Downloadable lesson plan with texts and other resources analyzing speeches of American Presidents through the lens of Jewish values.  Adaptable for Grades 5-10.

Study Leads to Action: Understanding and Living Jewish Values Curriculum - for Middle School Students - Jewish Values curriculum for middle schoolers from Jewish Education Center, Cleveland.

IJS Project on Middot includes curriculum and supplemental materials

Under the Same Sky:  “The Earth is Full of Your Creations” - Curricular framework for young children and families, learning values related to our world and nature, including 3 units:

  • Do Not Destroy (Bal Tashchit):  The Importance of Conserving and Protecting Nature
  • indness to Animals (Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim)
  • ppreciating the Wonders of Nature (Le’He’arich at Pelei HaTeva)

Values-based lesson plans and programs from PJ Library - For young children: Various PJ Library books with lesson plans and programs, categorized by value and age. Some programs are adaptable for multi-age programming


Online Resource for Families - Days of Awe resource for families – parents & children – from Jewish Educational Center of Cleveland

For Teens:

Getting to Know Your Values & Middot

Identity Cafe

Character Day Resources:

Making of a Mensch Video

Character Day Discussion Kits

Periodic Table of Being a Mensch –  Table of Middot developed by Rabbi Avi Orlow

Other Resources

Middot-opoly – Jewish Values Board Game

Downloadable Chart of Middot

Tikkun Middot Materials from institute for Jewish Spirituality

Embodied Middot

Resources: Middot (Virtues), Mussar, and Preparing for the Days of Awe

Lists of Middot

Pirke Avot:
“The Torah is greater than the priesthood and greater than royalty, seeing that royalty is acquired through 30 virtues, the priesthood twenty-four, while the Torah is acquired through 48 virtues.”

These 48 Middot are listed here on the URJ website:

Cheshbon Ha-Nefesh
Rabbi Mendel Menachem Lefin of Satanov identified 13 Middot in Cheshbon HaNefesh (Accounting of the Soul), published 200 years ago in Lithuania.

Benjamin Franklin
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Lefin was influenced by reading Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography.  Franklin listed these 13 virtues, along with a rigorous method for self-improvement.  Franklin’s methods may have had an influence on subsequently developed Mussar practice.

A comparison of Franklin’s list of virtues with the 13 Middot in Cheshbon Ha0Nefesh, and the 13 Middot listed by Rabbi Israel Salanter, the founder of the modern Mussar movement, can be found here.

National Mussar Resources

The two leading centers of Mussar learning in North America are The Mussar Institute and the Mussar Leadership Program.

Local Mussar Resources - aggregates information about Mussar classes and events across the Bay Area.

Cheshbon HaNefesh (Accounting of the Soul) Preparing for the Days of Awe

Personal Improving through Personal Accounting
Cheshbon Hanefesh (from 
10 Tools for Cheshbon HaNefesh
Accounting of the Soul template/worksheet

Embodying Middot - Endurance / Netzach

Netzach - Endurance

On the map of the Sefirot, Netzach, often translated as endurance, perseverance, or eternity, is one of the Ten Measurements or Emanations of divine energy, and when mapped on the body appears at the right hip or right thigh, opposite to Hod, often translated as surrender, gratitude, glory, or present moment. The image of the map functions as a mirror, and the right and left sides balance one another, with a central pillar offering qualities that appear at the crown, heart, pelvis, and feet. Generally, the right side of the body is forward moving, expansive energy and the left side of the body is retreating, containing energy. So Netzach, located at the right leg or hip, can be expressed in movement as stepping forward, and Hod, located at the left leg or hip, can be expressed as stepping back. In addition, the triad of Netzach, Hod and Yesod are connected with action and activity in the world, how we walk and move in our lives.

Netzach as Eternity
Netzach is often translated as “eternity.” The first, most obvious way Netzach applies to the asana practice is the way in which we can bring stamina to our practice and build strength by holding poses for an extended period of time. But there is a gentle and surrendered aspect to endurance that is important as it relates to embodying this middah. When we employ endurance with the aspect of eternity in mind, we realize we cannot “power through” and give our all-out effort every moment throughout the practice, firing every muscle in a forceful way, or we will quickly burn out. If we approach embodying Netzach with the idea that we will live and breathe into the pose for ‘eternity’, building a sustainable and sustained practice over time, we must bring a softness of efforting, and find a way in which we can rely upon our bones, our breath, the spaciousness inside and around us in order to maintain the pose. 

For example, in Warrior II (Figure 7), when holding the pose for an extended period of time (which for some practitioners may feel like an eternity!), one way to find Netzach, Endurance, in the pose is to lift the torso up off of the hips, and unbend the front leg slightly so we are not relying too heavily upon the quadriceps muscles to support us. For the same pose, if we are holding the arms up out to the side from the muscles in the arms only, we can easily become tired. But if we consider the idea that the arms are extending all the way from the center of the spine behind the heart, and imagine that the arms lift with the support of the air underneath them (as if they are wings), energy extending outward, we can maintain the pose with endurance for a much longer time.

We are able to practice more easily and in a more sustainable way- for eternity! - with Netzach if we take the focus off of one particular muscle group in any given posture and allow other parts of the body or draw upon other sources of life energy (hiyyut) for the asana.

Netzach as the Part that Stays
In a vinyasa or flow practice Netzach can beautifully support us in moving through the poses with a quality of stability, steadiness and consistency. If we place our attention while moving from pose to pose on the parts of the body that stay in a relatively fixed position, we can find balance and strength.

For example, when moving from Warrior I (Figure 8)  to Warrior III (Figure 9) to Tree Pose (Figure 10), if we focus on the front standing leg as Netzach, or the part that stays, throughout the sequence, we can move the second leg through the postures - first in back for Warrior I (Figure 8), then it lifts for Warrior III (Figure 9), then it comes up bent to meet the standing leg for Tree (Figure 10) - around the steadfastness of the leg that stays put.

Similarly, if we move from Triangle (Figure 2) to Side Angle (Figure 11) to Warrior II (Figure 8), we can focus on the back leg as Netzach, grounding us, keeping us steady, and as the part that stays strong as we move the upper body and front leg through the changing shapes.

By focusing on the quality of Netzach in these types of flow sequences, we experience a sense of calm, steadiness, and solidity. The Netzach of a standing leg serves as an unwavering support, a source of strength - the part that stays when all else is moving.

This physical practice of maintaining a focus on the ‘staying’ part of the body can translate to our lives in the most helpful way. When there is turmoil, either within ourselves or in relationship with others, our ability to stay calm and focus on the quality of steadiness can be strengthened by this physical practice (Thich Nhat Hanh offers the image of being the mountain in the storm, or the rock in the rushing stream).

Netzach as Waiting
Netzach comes into play most helpfully for an asana practice with sitting forward bends. In poses such as Head to Knee Forward Bend (Figure 12) or Seated Forward Bend(Figure 13), there is an aspect of Netzach that relates to waiting and watching that can be extremely helpful. When approaching a forward bend from a seated position, it is most important to lift the hips so that the pelvis and torso can turn over the legs as one unit, so as not to take the pose into the lower back. The next step is to lengthen and lift the front of the spine and stay in the pose for a long time with an extended long back. When we sit and breathe and wait, watching with patience the small openings in the body, the pose itself begins to take on the waiting and watching with patience aspect of Netzach. Staying with these forward bend poses for a minute, two or three, before even beginning to release the spine into a rounded position, allows us to move into the pose much more deeply.

In practicing Netzach as waiting with patience, not pushing beyond our limits or trying to change what is true, we are practicing for all the ways in which we can do this in our lives. In his description of patience (Savlanut) in Everyday Holiness, Alan Morinis correlates patience with a kind of endurance or tolerance of circumstances, be they difficult or uncomfortable. “Patience is here depicted as a tool we can call on to help us endure when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances we did not choose or could not avoid.”[1]  By practicing more challenging poses with this quality of Netzach, we can prepare ourselves to meet other challenges in our lives with an aspect of waiting and watching that builds our capacity to respond, rather than react, no matter what comes our way.

[1] Morinis, Everyday Holiness, 57.


Throughout this guide, we will refer to the following poses:

Forward Bend - Uttanasana  (Fig. 1)
Triangle - Utthita Trikonasana (Fig. 2)
Mountain Pose - Tadasana (Fig. 3)
Downward Facing Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana (Fig. 4)
Seated Twist - Marichyasana III (Fig. 5)
Hand to Big Toe Pose - Supta Padangusthasana (Fig. 6)
Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II (Fig. 7)
Warrior I - Virabhadrasana I (Fig. 8)
Warrior III - Virabhadrasana III (Fig. 9)
Tree Pose - Vrksasana (Fig. 10)
Side Angle - Parsvakonasana (Fig. 11)
Head to Knee Forward Bend - Janu Sirsasana (Fig. 12)
Seated Forward Bend - Paschimottanasana (Fig. 13)

By opening these pages, I acknowledge that this material is owned by Jewish LearningWorks' Embodied Jewish Learning Initiative.  I understand that I am prohibited from reproducing, distributing, or selling the material - in full or in part -without attributing ownership to Jewish LearningWorks' Embodied Jewish Learning Initiative. It was created by Julie Emden, Director of Embodied Jewish Learning - Julie offers workshops, classes and a Yoga and Jewish Wisdom Teacher Training.  She can be reached at

Embodying Middot - Perspective / Menuchat Hanefesh

Menuchat Hanefesh - Perspective, Equanimity or Resting of the Body-Soul

How can we bring Menuchat Hanefesh to an Embodied Practice?
The phrase Menuchat Hanefesh can be literally translated as “resting the part of the soul that is closely associated with the body.” In our mystical tradition, there are five levels or aspects of the human soul, and Nefesh refers to that aspect that is closest to the world of action, Assiyah, and to the physical/embodied plane of existence. Whenever we are talking about Nefesh we are emphasizing the level of soul that is closest to the body, addressing the deepest connection between the physical and spiritual as it manifests in the form and matter of the body itself.  We take the phrase Menuchat Hanefesh into a physical practice in a few ways.

Menuchat Hanefesh as Resting, Finding our Foundation
With every breath we experience a filling and emptying of the lungs.  We also experience a rhythm of lifting and settling of the sternum and upper chest, and a corresponding rhythm of descent and ascent of the diaphragm. If throughout a movement practice, at the end of every exhale, we can accentuate the descent of the body to meet the earth, we are able to feel the part of the body that contacts the earth as a source of rest, grounding and foundation.  For example, we can feel the weight of the sit bones a little more deeply if sitting, or we can feel the full contact of our entire torso onto a mat or blanket if lying down, or we can feel the softening of the soles of our feet, with the base of the toes and the circumference of the heel capturing our weight evenly if standing in Mountain Pose / Tadasana  (Figure 3).  By connecting the balance of ascent and descent in the body, we can experience the way in which the breath assists us in resting more deeply into the earth.

Similarly, in every position, there is a foundation or resting place - a place where our physical body contacts the earth. In Forward Bend (Figure 1), and Triangle Pose (Figure 2) and Mountain Pose (Figure 3), our feet are the resting place/ foundation for all of these poses. In Downward Facing Dog (Figure 4), our hands and our feet are the resting place/ foundation. In handstand our hands are the resting place/foundation; and in complicated twists like Marichyasana III (Figure 5), our sit bone and lower calf/heel on one leg, and our foot on the opposite side are the resting place/ foundation.

In every case, if we bring our attention to the natural way in which gravity assists the deepening of contact between that resting point/foundation in the body and the earth, we experience Menuchat Hanefesh.

Menuchat Hanefesh as Moving from a Place of Rest
Here is one place where the concept of Menuchat Hanefesh also exists in our interpretation of a verse from Torah.  There is a beautiful teaching about a line in Torah about Jacob when he flees for his life. The text reads, he “left from Be’er-Sheva and went to Haran” (Genesis 28:10).  Be’er Sheva is the name of a town. The word Be’er Sheva can also be translated as “The Well of Seven,” which according to many teachings is Shabbat, the seventh day of the week, when we dip into a deep well of rest, divine connection and inspiration. The Hebrew word Haran also has the root, Hara, which is anger. So there is a teaching that the line “Jacob left from Be’er Sheva to Haran” as “Jacob left his place of deep rest and went toward anger.”  Some sages teach that Jacob, when he went toward Haran or anger, did not leave Be’er Sheva but actually kept one part of himself tied to Be’er Sheva at all times. He kept himself connected within, to a place of deep rest and connection to the divine. This is the place from which he was able to dream his dream. So, this line from Torah offers for us an instruction for how to meet challenges in our lives from a place of rest, perspective, or witnessing:  When you feel yourself moving toward an unsettling emotion, stay connected to the place of calm, rest, equanimity or perspective.

Similarly, if during any active movement practice we focus on staying connected to a place of rest energetically, we can create a balance of effort and rest in a way that deeply acknowledges all parts of our being, avoiding any injury which often comes from overexertion or pushing too hard. The practice of maintaining awareness of the resting place brings us perspective to our endeavors at every moment - a perspective that we can bring to our practice and off the mat into life, as well. By focusing on the resting place in any given active pose, and staying connected to that place, we are able to stay grounded and cultivate disidentification from the challenges that may come to us.

For example, when lying on the floor supine in Hand to Big Toe Pose / Supta Padangusthasana (Figure 6),  if we place our attention on the back of the torso resting into the earth as we take one leg up to the sky, we can lengthen down the side waist from upper chest to hips evenly on both sides and let gravity assist in the resting of the organs, lungs, and kidneys into the support of the earth beneath us. If we focus upon this place of rest/Beer Sheva as we effort/Haran to lift the leg, we can experience the way in which the place of rest can always serve as a resource to us in our physical practice. Furthermore, we notice it takes even less effort to lift the leg when we take the opposite leg and arm long onto the floor, with a focus on the upper thigh bone (femur) resting down into the earth, and the entire length of the body resting, as the abdominals engage to lift the leg.  The more we place our attention to a place of calm or rest in the body during the actions of a physical practice, the less effort it takes.

Menuchat Hanefesh in our Anatomy
This balance of Haran/Effort and Be’er Sheva/no effort is perfectly mirrored in our anatomy as well, in the agonist/antagonist muscle pairs. Certain muscles in the body contract when other muscles relax, and vice versa, and this allows us to move with more freedom. For example, in the aforementioned Supta Padangusthasana (Figure 6), energizing or contracting the quadriceps muscle on the top of lifted leg allows us to support the hamstring muscle at the back of the leg to reach to it full length and softness. The contraction of one muscle group corresponds to the relaxation of another partner muscle group in order for the body to function optimally.  Similarly, if we raise our arms above our head and contract the pectoralis muscle at the front of the chest, we restrict the stretch of the trapezius and find restriction in the shoulder joint for Downward Facing Dog (Figure 4). But if we soften the pectoralis, we are able to find much more freedom of movement in the joint, and the arms lift higher, in greater alignment with the upper arm closer to the ear, etc. The kinesthesiology of the workings of the muscles themselves reflect the teaching in this text.

Thus, we can cultivate the quality of Menuchat Hanefesh by balancing effort with rest, by staying connected at all times to the part of ourselves that is in contact with the earth, and by paying close attention to the natural ways in which our muscular system functions. All of these approaches can support us in having perspective in our lives. From this place of perspective, we are able to respond rather than react, to move through our practice and our days with equanimity and perspective - an ability to be present with a “calmness of soul,” Menuchat Hanefesh as described by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Leffin in his book Chesbon Hanefesh.[1]

[1] Morinis, Everyday Holiness, 100.


Throughout this guide, we will refer to the following poses:

Forward Bend - Uttanasana  (Fig. 1)
Triangle - Utthita Trikonasana (Fig. 2)
Mountain Pose - Tadasana (Fig. 3)
Downward Facing Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana (Fig. 4)
Seated Twist - Marichyasana III (Fig. 5)
Hand to Big Toe Pose - Supta Padangusthasana (Fig. 6)
Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II (Fig. 7)
Warrior I - Virabhadrasana I (Fig. 8)
Warrior III - Virabhadrasana III (Fig. 9)
Tree Pose - Vrksasana (Fig. 10)
Side Angle - Parsvakonasana (Fig. 11)
Head to Knee Forward Bend - Janu Sirsasana (Fig. 12)
Seated Forward Bend - Paschimottanasana (Fig. 13)

By opening these pages, I acknowledge that this material is owned by Jewish LearningWorks' Embodied Jewish Learning Initiative.  I understand that I am prohibited from reproducing, distributing, or selling the material - in full or in part -without attributing ownership to Jewish LearningWorks' Embodied Jewish Learning Initiative. It was created by Julie Emden, Director of Embodied Jewish Learning - Julie offers workshops, classes and a Yoga and Jewish Wisdom Teacher Training.  She can be reached at


Embodying Middot - Humility / Anava

Humility as Emptying
‘Humility pertains to Keter’ - Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Tomer Devora. 16h Century.

The first quality/middah studied in Mussar practice groups is Anava/Humility, for a very important reason. Keter, the point from which all creation is originally derived, is the first Sefira,[1] but it is the most unknown. Just as Keter, the ineffable source of all being, is the first Sefira, so also must Anava be the place from which we approach an embodied Mussar practice. Keter is associated with Ain Sof, without end, the unknowable aspect of God.  As Rabbi Bachya ibn Pakuda says, “all virtues and duties are dependent on humility.”[2] Thus, humility is related to the aspect of not knowing. By emptying ourselves of preconceived notions of how we are to practice, we enter the space of not knowing, not assuming, not being in habit. We are starting anew, and this allows us to bring ourselves to our practice with open awareness and curiosity. “A person must teach [her] tongue to say ‘I don’t know’” (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 4a).

When we empty ourselves of all that we think we know about our bodies (and its limitations and capabilities) we became like the desert.  As the Sefat Emet[3] teaches, we received the Torah in the desert because we needed to become like the desert to empty ourselves of slave mentality. If we approach our embodied practice each day anew, each new breath, as if we do not know how to move into the asana, we break out of habitual ways of moving through our practice, and this translates to our lives. 

Emptying Using Breath
When we lie upon the mat, before we begin to open our hips, back, neck, shoulders, and limbs, we can bring attention to the dynamic of the breath entering and leaving the body.  When we pay close attention in this way, we are filling (on the inhale, we receive breath into the lungs through the nose or mouth) and emptying (on the exhale, we release breath from the lungs through the nose or mouth) hundreds upon hundreds of times each day.  Lying with our hands on our upper chest, above the collarbone, we can feel the rise and fall of the upper rib basket and sternum. Placing our hands on the bottom of the rib basket at the lower ribs, we can feel the sensation of the descent of the diaphragm that expands the belly on the inhale; and the lift of the diaphragm that empties the belly on the exhale. By simply focusing on the inhalation and exhalation of the breath throughout our entire practice, we can experience the sensation of emptying in the body.

Humility as Truth
Alan Morinis, in his book Everyday Holiness, says the reason we begin with Anava in our Mussar practice is that we need to have an accurate assessment and understanding of self as a foundation and starting point for the work: “Humility is not an extreme quality, but rather a balanced, moderate, accurate understanding of yourself that you act on in your life.”[4]  Although there is great value in emptying preconceived notions or old habits when approaching a pose (or a conversation with a loved one, or many situations in our lives), we must also be safe in the physical practice and this means being aware of what is true for our bodies in the moment.

How do we bring Truth to the embodied practice? We must tune in to the truth of our bodily sensations as we practice.  We are the only ones who know what is safe and best for our unique body-beings in any given moment. Especially if we have injuries, past surgeries, or if we begin to feel pain of any sort - we must listen to ourselves and understand what is true from within. Rav Avraham Isaac Kook says, “I just need to position myself in the posture of deep listening to myself, to listen to the secret discussion of creation in its room of rooms and I will hear and my soul will be alive.”[5]  This level of deep listening to what is true for our bodies, moment to moment as we practice, is another essential aspect of Anava.

The aspect of Emet or Truth in Anava is most applicable and important in the practice of forward bends.  The focus of the practice, especially in forward bends, is an investigation of what is TRUE, not what ‘should be’.  When practitioners focus on a goal -  touching their toes or bringing their head closer to their legs - this, too often, leads to injury. Most of us have tight hamstrings and we compensate for this tightness by overstretching the lower back and hurting ourselves.  What is most important in a forward bend is to keep the front of the spine long and lifted, and to turn the entire pelvis and torso over the heads of the thigh bones (femur) as one unit, only as far as is reasonable for our bodies in the moment. What is true for one person is not true for another.  Looking within for what is true, with deep listening inside our ‘room within rooms’, as Rav Kook so beautifully describes, is essential to the practice, and can be seen as a metaphor for the way we engage with others in the world, day-to-day.

Humility as the Right Amount of Space
Maimonides teaches that humility is not about extreme self-debasement or extreme pride, but about taking up the right amount of space, as is appropriate for who we are.  We need to assess in any moment what amount of space is appropriate for us to take. In some cases, it is appropriate and even necessary for us to step forward, in others, it is right to step back.

There are numerous ways that ‘taking the right amount of space’ applies to an embodied practice. First, in the asana practice, placing our feet a certain distance apart from one another in all of the standing poses brings different levels of comfort and/or benefit to the body. For example, if there is too much space between the feet in a Forward Bend / Uttanasana  (Figure 1), we literally may not be able to turn the pelvis up and over the femur bones - anatomically it is impossible. Or, if we stand with the feet too close to one another in a Triangle Pose / Utthita Trikonasana  (Figure 2), we limit the ability of the torso to comfortably turn up and over the front leg.  Even in Mountain Pose / Tadasana (Figure 3), the amount of space between our feet affects our ability to balance on the inner or outer foot, or upon the base of the toes or circumference of the heel in a way that most effectively supports our unique body’s structure, and the ability of the spine to lift and flow freely up to the sky.

Second, we can look within the body and apply the same principle to the moving joints within the anatomical structure.  For example, there is the matter of space taken by the head of the femur (thigh bone) in the hip joint.  If we move into Trikonasana  (Figure 2) or Uttanasana (Figure 1) with the image of head the femur being centered in the hip joint, spaciously surrounded on all sides by the acetabulum, we create the right amount of space for freedom of movement in the pose, particularly as we move into and out of it. The concavity of the acetabulum moves up and over the head of the femur in the externally rotated front leg with more ease based upon the way in which every single part of the anatomy is placed in space. 

When we practice with full awareness of the amount of space we take up with careful attention to the placement of our limbs or to the alignment of the bones within our limbs, we open our awareness to all of the spaciousness within, to all of the ways in which we inhabit our flesh, muscles, bones, and breath, and as a consequence we are more likely to move into the world and engage with others with conscious awareness of more spaciousness inside.

[1] The Ten Sefirot (Measures or Enumerations), a visual model and map that denotes a dynamic process of finding balance from our mystical tradition. Originally conceived and documented by Rabbi Moshe De Leon (1250-1305 CE), a Spanish rabbi and Kabbalist, the Sefirot map includes manifestations of divine qualities considered to be present within all of us.  When in balance and harmony this body-map can offer a picture of a balanced life.  

[2] Alan Morinis, Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar (Boston and London: Trumpeter, 2007), 46.

[3] Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Gur Poland (1847 – 1905)

[4] Morinis, Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar, 50.          

[5] Rak Avraham Isaac Kook, Orot HaKodesh


Throughout this guide, we will refer to the following poses:

Forward Bend - Uttanasana  (Fig. 1)
Triangle - Utthita Trikonasana (Fig. 2)
Mountain Pose - Tadasana (Fig. 3)
Downward Facing Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana (Fig. 4)
Seated Twist - Marichyasana III (Fig. 5)
Hand to Big Toe Pose - Supta Padangusthasana (Fig. 6)
Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II (Fig. 7)
Warrior I - Virabhadrasana I (Fig. 8)
Warrior III - Virabhadrasana III (Fig. 9)
Tree Pose - Vrksasana (Fig. 10)
Side Angle - Parsvakonasana (Fig. 11)
Head to Knee Forward Bend - Janu Sirsasana (Fig. 12)
Seated Forward Bend - Paschimottanasana (Fig. 13)

By opening these pages, I acknowledge that this material is owned by Jewish LearningWorks' Embodied Jewish Learning Initiative.  I understand that I am prohibited from reproducing, distributing, or selling the material - in full or in part -without attributing ownership to Jewish LearningWorks' Embodied Jewish Learning Initiative. It was created by Julie Emden, Director of Embodied Jewish Learning - Julie offers workshops, classes and a Yoga and Jewish Wisdom Teacher Training.  She can be reached at

Embodying Middot Introduction

Explore three qualities through your physical body!  Read below for an introduction and click the buttons below for a deeper dive into specific qualities.

Embodying Middot
We can infuse any embodied practice, including Yoga, with an awareness of qualities which might deepen our spiritual growth.  Each trait can be invoked in any and every pose we do.  Practicing these qualities on the mat helps us integrate these qualities into our being.  This gives us a greater chance of continuing to exude the qualities we’ve cultivated in the world beyond our mat.  There is no ‘perfect pose’ for any given middah. Rather, we can take the same exact sequence any given day and infuse the practice with whatever kavanah (direction or intention) we wish to cultivate within ourselves.

Click-through the buttons above to explore three middot,  AnavaMenuchat Hanefesh, and Netzach, through various postures (images at bottom of page).

Each of these middot must balance with its opposite to work in harmony together.  To cultivate only one quality to its extreme is detrimental to our growth and antithetical to the idea behind cultivating and developing character traits in the first place. In the Mussar tradition, we each have our own life’s curriculum, with our own strengths and our own challenges. The goal is to create balance by engaging with our traits as we grow and change.

When we approach these qualities or middot by strengthening our kinesthetic understanding of each principle, we are able to engage with these middot in our lives from an organic, embodied, grounded place.

Why Yoga?
While we do not have an asana (posture) practice in Judaism, many teachings from the Jewish mystical tradition place great emphasis on the deep connection between body and soul.   According to the Hasidic rebbes, every day-to-day activity is for the purpose of connecting our physical beings to our spirit, and for revealing divinity on the physical plane. In fact, the rabbis of the Talmud are said to have spent the hour before morning prayer in ‘movement’ or ‘meditation.’ (Berachot 30b).

This is where Yoga comes in. The Sanskrit word Yoga means “to merge, join or unite”.  It refers to the unification of the “soul with the eternal truth.”[1] The word Asana means “holding the body in a particular posture with the bhavana or the thought that God is within.”[2]  When we infuse our Yoga practice with teachings from the Jewish tradition, we are not practicing ‘Jewish Yoga,’ rather, we are bringing our whole selves to our practice. 

The popularization of Yoga in the west has awakened a yearning among Jewish Yoga practitioners to connect our physical practice to the spiritual teachings of our own faith. For some practitioners this happens organically, for others, the invitation to connect the two is a long-awaited opportunity to feel at home in a body-based spiritual practice.

The practice of Yoga is one of many physical practices that can support us in bringing our attention to the present. This toe. This breath. This line of energy from the lesser trochanter through to the inner arch of the foot. Our Yoga practice is a means for us to enter more deeply into awareness of all aspects of ourselves. 

We are most joyful and whole when we can bring our whole self to the world. When we connect our personal practices for fitness and well-being with our spiritual practices, we can practice Yoga, dance, run, move, sweat, laugh, learn, meditate, rest and restore without leaving our Jewish selves behind.  We can show up in our Jewish body-souls to our practices for well-being with an integrated sense of presence. 

[1] Geeta Iyengar, Yoga:  A Gem for Women (Timeless Books: Palo Alto, California, 1990), 9.

[2]  Ibid., 25.


Throughout this guide, we will refer to the following poses:

Forward Bend - Uttanasana  (Fig. 1)
Triangle - Utthita Trikonasana (Fig. 2)
Mountain Pose - Tadasana (Fig. 3)
Downward Facing Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana (Fig. 4)
Seated Twist - Marichyasana III (Fig. 5)
Hand to Big Toe Pose - Supta Padangusthasana (Fig. 6)
Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II (Fig. 7)
Warrior I - Virabhadrasana I (Fig. 8)
Warrior III - Virabhadrasana III (Fig. 9)
Tree Pose - Vrksasana (Fig. 10)
Side Angle - Parsvakonasana (Fig. 11)
Head to Knee Forward Bend - Janu Sirsasana (Fig. 12)
Seated Forward Bend - Paschimottanasana (Fig. 13)


By opening these pages, I acknowledge that this material is owned by Jewish LearningWorks' Embodied Jewish Learning Initiative.  I understand that I am prohibited from reproducing, distributing, or selling the material - in full or in part -without attributing ownership to Jewish LearningWorks' Embodied Jewish Learning Initiative. It was created by Julie Emden, Director of Embodied Jewish Learning - Julie offers workshops, classes and a Yoga and Jewish Wisdom Teacher Training.  She can be reached at