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

Hanukkah @Shul

Kids fidget. Adults fidget. Everyone has a little trouble focusing sometimes. Several years ago, when Hanukkah fell on Shabbat, we created these printable activity pages to help keep little hands engaged with Hanukkah @Shul. 

Don't let the title fool you - It can be used in your home, in the car and everywhere in between.

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


Family Resources for the High Holy Days Season and for Jewish Values

BimBam is a media studio making Jewish videos, apps and animated series that are joyful, empowering introductions to Jewish ideas and life for kids & adults.

Videos for the season – Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah Shaboom!

For kids 4-7 and their parents.  Shaboom! is a new series of videos based on Jewish values from BimBam. Shaboom! videos help kids see and learn about Mussar ideas and Jewish values and how they can be useful in everyday family life.

Children's Books

PJ Library offers free children’s books each month for families with Jewish children.

PJ Library has many children’s books related to the season, including:

PJ Library books about Rosh Hashanah

PJ Library books about Yom Kippur

PJ Library also has many books covering Jewish values:

PJ Library books about Being a Mensch

PJ Library books about Forgiveness

If you would like to receive PJ Library books, sign up here.


Jewish children’s books relevant to the High Holy Days and Jewish values are also available at:

Afikomen Judaica in Berkeley, Dayenu Judaica in San Francisco, and for circulation at the Jewish Community Library in San Francisco and via its pushcart program at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto and at the San Francisco JCC.


Other Resources for Families and Young Children

This online Days of Awe resource for families – parents & children – is from Jewish Educational Center of Cleveland.

Interfaith Family Guide to the High Holy Days


High Holy Day Resources for Families and Children with Disabilities – this resource was developed for families with special needs, but it is a great resource for any Jewish family celebrating the holidays.

Teaching Your Children about Derech Eretz (How to raise a family of mensches)

Wise words from a Jewish educator on teaching Jewish values in the home in everyday life.


Jewish LearningWorks Online Resources for Families

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

Educator's Resources for Passover


Dear Educators,
From the vault of discarded-but-not-forgotten resources, another installment of holiday ideas. It is quite amazing to me that in all my many years as a Jewish educator the issue of freedom is only becoming more and more relevant. It is enough to follow recent election campaign rhetoric to understand that even the most basic freedoms we assume are granted in a democratic society are at risk. On this holiday, as we celebrate and enjoy unprecedented freedoms, let us not forget that we cannot take them for granted and let us remember those who are still enslaved in one way or another.

We hope the resources we put together here are thought provoking and inspirational for you and your students.

Chag Cherut Same'ach
Happy Freedom Holiday

Vavi Toran

Every Person Needs to Have a Certain Egypt
Poem by: Amnon Ribak
The poem in Hebrew

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 backs.

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 darkness,
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 Haggadah, which we read on Erev Peasach, is the reenactment of our master story. The text tells us that "In each generation, each person is obligated to see himself or herself as though he or she personally came forth from Egypt." It is not enough to remember or retell the story, but rather to experience the move from slavery to freedom on an intimate personal level. We, who are blessed with freedoms and liberties, are also obligated to look beyond our opulence and help others who are not yet liberated to come forth from their Egypt. 

These Israeli songs, hinting at the Passover story, deal with personal liberation and modern day exodus.

Out of Egypt - Alma Zohar (with subtitles)

From Slavery to Freedom
Lyrics: Yanlele Rotblit
Music: Yitzhak Klepter and Guy Bokatto
Sunger: Arik Einstein
Hebrew Lyrics

And there's something in me, like a full moon of Nisan
That calls me to rise, and calls yet again all the time                 
To embark on a journey full of perils
For a hint of a chance of an envisioned happy and unimaginative future

There is probably a chance, that from the top of some mountain
I will see far away a promise for tomorrow
That might not arrive, but even if I'll die on the road
Tonight I will go forth, from slavery to freedom

My ability to suffer failed, I could bear no more
Enough is enough, I said, I have to go
The slave in me, I left behind
In a place to where I shall never return.                        

I have nothing more to say, there are no words
I have nothing more to lose, except for these shackles

They have cut me to a pulp, I am still scratched
Tonight I will go forth, from slavery to freedom



Freedom Haggadot

A couple of years ago, we were fortunate to have a remarkable opportunity to closely examine the Arthur Szyk's Haggadah at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Szyk (pronounced "Shick") created his magnificent Haggadah in Lodz, on the eve of the Nazi occupation of his native Poland. The Haggadah is filled with sumptuous paintings of Jewish heroes, tyrannical foes and stunning calligraphy. Behind the beautiful design and masterful illustrations Szyk carefully interjects his criticism of Nazism in Europe. Szyk, who immigrated to the US in 1940, was throughout his life a staunch visual commentator on social and political issues. He was known for standing up to tyranny and was dubbed "A Soldier in Art" by his peers. 

Unfortunately, tyranny and enslavement have not been eradicated yet. On Passover night we ought to be mindful of people in the US, in Israel and around the world who are not free. We bring you several samples of "Freedom Haggadot" and other resources with the hope that you will find a way to incorporate them into your Seders. 

Link to Social Justice Haggadot

Freedom and Justice seder

Pesach Seder Supplements on Economic Justice, Slavery, and other issues of Tzedek

A Human Rights Haggadah


Current human rights issues in Israel

Strangers No More -  Oscar Winning Movie Trailer  

Strangers No More - Oscar Winning Movie Trailer  


Two Historic Haggadot and their Influence on Contemporary Israeli artists

There are several Haggadot dating back to the Middle Ages that we are familiar with. These illuminated manuscripts tell historic tales of Jewish life and creativity. They are also fine examples of ancient Jewish art and are therefore being addressed visually in contemporary Israeli art. Two of the most widespread examples are the Birds' Head Haggadah and the Sarajevo Haggadah.


Birds' Head Haggadah

The Birds' Head Haggadah, the oldest surviving Ashkenazi illuminated manuscript (S. German, c. 1300), derives its name from the birdlike human figures illustrated in the manuscript's margins. This motif is believed to be related to the biblical (Second Commandment) prohibition against creating graven images. The Birds' Head Haggadah, discovered by Israeli art historian Bezalel Narkiss in 1946, the realistic human figure is avoided by providing it with the head and beak of a bird. Some of the figures wear helmet-like hats reminiscent of the conic hats Jews were obliged to wear in Ashkenaz (Germany) during the Middle Ages. From time to time new theories claim that the codex was illuminated by Christian artists who interjected anti-semitic elements by depicting Jews as ravens.

Michael Sgan-Cohen 
The Wandering Jew

Sgan-Cohen used the hybrid figure as a symbol of the wandering Jew and by association as his self-portrait. In his painting The Wandering Jew Sgan-Cohen used the motif of the Hand of God, pointing (in the picture) to the image of a man (the artist's self-image) with a bird's head wearing a Judenhut, a pointed Jewish hat that was forced upon Jews in the Middle Ages. The chair, a symbol of settling down, remains in the foreground empty for now.



Zoya Cherkassky
The Aachen Hagaddah

Cherkassky created the illustrated "Aachen Passover Haggadah" (named after the German city of Aachen where the artist did a residency). The Haggadah portrays graphic designs in red, black and gold - inspired by Jewish images, the Russian Avant-garde and anti-Semitic images. Throughout the Haggadah there are images of birds; their head is a Jewish head wearing a Streimel. These illustrations resemble the ones appearing in the Birds' Head Haggadah.The red, swollen feet symbolize the wandering Jew and the journey from Egypt to the Holy Land. 

Radical Storytelling: Samuel Klein explores a challenging new Haggadah by artist Zoya Cherkassky



The Sarajevo Haggadah - Creation

The Sarajevo Haggadah is an illuminated manuscript one of the oldest Sephardic Haggadahs in the world. Originating in Barcelona around 1350, the Haggadah has survived many close calls with destruction, including World War II and the Bosnian War. Historians believe that it was taken out of Spain by Spanish Jews who were expelled by the Alhambra Decree in 1492. Notes in the margins of the Haggadah indicate that it surfaced in Italy in the 16th century. It was sold to the National Museum in Sarajevo in 1894 by a man named Joseph Kohen.  The novel People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks (2008), crafts a fictionalized history of the Haggadah from its origins in Spain to the museum in Sarajevo. The fascinating history of Dervis Korkut, who saved the book from the Nazis, was told inan article by Geraldine Brooks in The New Yorker magazine. The article also sets out the story of the young Jewish girl, Mira Papo, whom Korkut and his wife hid from the Nazis as they were acting to save the Haggadah. In a twist of fate, as an elderly woman in Israel, Mira Papo secured the safety of Korkut's daughter during the Bosnian war in the 1990s.

Moses receiving the Torah

Moses receiving the Torah

Moses of Sarajevo"

Moses of Sarajevo"

The dramatic history of this Haggadah and its beauty fired the imagination of several Israeli artists, most notably the painter Arie Aroch. Aroch was familiar with the Sarajevo Haggadah and its illustrations, which interested him both thematically and composition-wise. 

Several pieces of his artwork are either directly related to the Haggadah or offer further developments on the themes and composition. These include: Moses from Sarajevo, The Creation, and The Figure 2 (based on a page where the number 2 was scribbles on the margins).

Other Resources for Passover

About Passover - Goisrael

Jewish Virtual Library

The iCenter: The Four Sons of the Haggadah - Creative Midrashim

The iCenter: Passover: Bringing Israel into your Seder

Neot Kedumim - Once we were Slaves

Shitim - Machon Ha'Chagim (in Hebrew)

Good News from Israel blog

Lookstein Resources for Passover

Hazon: Educational Resources for Passover

Hazon: Healthy sustainable passover resources

PJ Library








Yoga Postures and Themes for Passover

Explore freedom from an embodied perspective with these Passover-theme related yoga postures offered by Julie Emden, Director of our Embodied Jewish Learning Initiative.  Julie offers workshops, classes, and a Yoga and Jewish Wisdom Teacher Training. She can be reached at: 

These postures and themes were created for At the Well, a project supporting Jewish women to celebrate Rosh Hodesh all over the world.  See more resources from At the Well for the month of Nissan here.

Materials : yoga mat and blanket
Opening Kavanah - You are the Authority

The foremost theme for this month and gift of Passover is that we move from slavery to freedom, from constriction to expansion, from responding and reacting to other’s demands of us to acting from a place of true sovereignty and authority from within.  Please take on these suggested practices (and those from any body-based practice) with this in mind, and consider your own body’s unique needs when practicing yoga.  At Sinai upon receiving Torah, at the same time that we camp at the base of the mountain as one soul, we each also hear our own unique message, and we each receive our own unique place or letter in the Torah.  And when we receive manna in the desert, the amount we each receive is according to our individual needs - no more, no less.  Do not do anything that is not right for your body, in this moment, in this time.  You are the authority and you are sovereign over the gorgeous domain that is your body-soul-heart-spirit being, for this practice and always.

Theme 1:  Moving from Constriction to Expansion - Mitzrayim

When we look at the Hebrew word ‘Mitzrayim’, we see the word ‘Tzar’, which means constriction, surrounded by the word ‘Mayim’, which means water.  All of the joints in the body are surrounded by water in the form of synovial fluid.  As you practice these poses, bring awareness to the fact that the joints (tzar) in our bodies - our wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles - which enable us to move and create change  in the world!- need mayim, softness, and  fluidity in order to be healthy and strong.

Hip Openers - Lying on the floor
Lying Two-Knee-Spinal-Twist 

Eye of the Needle 

Happy Baby

Theme 2:  Softening the heart - Exodus 8:28 - “And Pharaoh hardened his heart…”

As Pharaoh witnesses and experiences the ten plagues, we hear over and over that his “heart is hardened”, and the language in the text indicates that his obstinacy becomes habitual.  Releasing habits that no longer serve us to live in integrity with our deepest potential and desire is another theme for the month of Nissan. In fact, Moses is told at the burning bush to ‘take off his shoes’ (Exodus 3:5),  but the Hebrew can also be translated as ‘unlock your habits!’  Day to day, as we sit and move with postures of leaning over computers and steering wheels, we can create a habitual shape in the body of shoulders rolling forward, chest collapsing and a ‘closing of the heart’.  These poses support us in opening our hearts and shoulders, and also bringing awareness to the spaces behind our hearts.  They provide a countering to the habitual way we often move through the world.

Heart Openers

Supported Backbend Lying back over a rolled blanket or Bolster

Cow-Face Pose arms    

Eagle Pose Arms 

Theme 3: Stepping into the Sea on Dry Land - Exodus 14:22 - “And the Israelites entered the sea on dry land”

You may have seen the movie, or considered the scientific research about the parting of the sea in the Exodus story.  What is possibly as fascinating as the notion that the sea parted for the Israelites, is that the text says that the Israelites stepped onto dry land ‘b’toch’, inside of, the sea.  What?!  How could the land be dry, even if the sea had parted? And have you ever tried to walk on wet soaky sand just after the waves recede on a walk at the beach? It’s not easy.  This is our task in Nissan, and in our lives.  How can we maintain stability, stay grounded and connected to our foundation, in times of turbulence, change and upheaval? How can we stay upright and connected to what is solid, perhaps relying merely on our bones, our etzem, our essence, during times of intense change and transformation. These standing poses can help us feel our feet, solidly rooted and firmly planted and the limbs of our legs rising up from that foundation, as a resource, a source of strength and support for us as we move through the world and reach for our dreams.

Standing Poses

Mountain/Mt Sinai Pose

Warrior 2

Side Angle


To experience these and more, join Julie for one of her Passover workshops: