Friday, 5 January 2018

Shemot - Losing Freedom

Shemot begins the story of the Jewish enslavement in Egypt.  The girls, especially Tova, were particularly interested in this 'new king' and how could someone be so mean. 
"For our project we should make stuff for Paroh, like clothes or something," Ruti suggested.

This really was a lovely idea. But I couldn't find any cardstock paper, only reams of regular and it wouldn't work as well.
I brought out my Paroh doll and he began to yell at the girls. "I heard you wanted to make fancy clothes so you can look like me! No way! No one looks like me or is like me! I am the only Paroh and you are nothing but a slave. You must do this work for me!"
 I handed them pages from this print-out I compiled.

Here is an mini packet of Egypt work pages.

Everyone had to write a message in hieroglyphics. The little girls had to color a beautiful picture of Paroh and build 2 pyramids (and were given two paper templates). The big girls were given the word search and told to build 4 pyramids (from 2 templates).

The girls were thrilled with this assignment and rushed off gleeful to work. This was the final day of school break. Theoretically this vacation means lounging around, reveling in the lack of structure and responsibility. Complete freedom. But my children were not reveling in freedom. They were delighting in work, even fairly mindless work.

Ruti and Tova worked to please Paroh. Tova insisted he was a bad man who must be obeyed. Ruti insisted he must actually be good (I love how she looks for the good in everyone).  Gabi rebelled against him, rude and violent. Cohava worked to outsmart him. Regardless of how they felt about him, they worked to complete the assignment.

There is a question of how exactly the Jewish people came to be enslaved by Paroh.  A midrash recounted in Shemot Rabbah explains how Bnei Yisrael was tricked into slavery. Initially the Egyptians, even Paroh, were working with all of the Israelites. Everyone was eager to work towards a shared goal of building up Pitom and Ramses. But then Paroh and the Egyptians revealed it was a ruse and the Jews were now slaves, while everyone else were freed from the project. Frankly this midrash does not elucidate for me how Bnei Yisrael became slaves. But it does shed light on the way we throw around the term slave in modern parlance.

How does someone became a slave to their job, family, or fashion? It starts with enthusiasm towards a positive goal. Slowly the joy, enthusiasm, and support are disappear. Then one is enslaved in a situation of their own making. In many ways this slavery is easier to escape from. It does not require the Hand of God in the same way as the Exodus. But a slavery of our making is the hardest to recognize and extract ourselves from because the responsibility is on us and not on the Divine. First you have to acknowledge the slavery you have put yourself into. Then you must work to change mindset, situation, and often boundaries to work towards your freedom. [This concept could be deemed victim blaming. That is not the slavery I am referring to. Although some of these modern 'slaveries' are not entirely of one's own making, like a slave to rush hour traffic patterns, one can still be mindful to improve and change a situation.

Sometimes my daughter yells, "You are not the boss of me!" "Actually I am!" I often reply in the heat of the disagreement. But the truth is we are both off the mark.  A master or dictator's concern is only for himself.  A boss's concern is for the well-being of his company, with a focus towards profit. A parent's concern is the order of the family as a whole, the child in the present, and a mindfulness of the child's growth. The real different between the boss and the parent is the parent is (ideally) always considering the individual child's present and future success, not the boss' need to succeed himself.

Blogger is refusing to upload photos, so I shall stop here.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Blessing Vayechi

Vayechi is focused Yaakov blessing his progeny.
"What does 'vayechi' mean?" I asked.  They worked the translation through.
'And he lived' "So he died or he moved," Cohava responded. She explained that if you say 'and someone lived' then it is always said past tense. They either lived and are now dead or they lived in x and now live in y. Her point was valid but she was a little annoyed that the passuk continues by explaining he is still alive. 
"But he knows the end of his life is soon."
"How does he know?" Gabi asked.
"Cuz he is old," Ruti explained. 
"When I came home I noticed a beautiful note on the playroom door. Can you tell me about it?" I responded.
(If you cannot see the picture/decipher guess spelling it says, "Live every moment like it is your last day on earth". -Bubby. In loving memory of Bubby.)
We discussed this quote of my grandmother's (and certainly many before her) and why Cohava decided to post it. We took time to talk about the recent, very shocking death of Jennifer (Leah bat Avraham) a beautiful (inside and out) 24 year-old from our community. 

We then took time to bless (or compliment) each other in turn around the table, as though we were each Yaakov. This was very sweet and meaningful and took the edge off a tense morning. I highly recommend trying it.

"Umm, that was -uh- nice, but umm, are we going to make -umm- something also?" asked Ruti, always concerned about others feelings but eager to do art.

We did a project, which did not have the strongest parasha connection but was fun, heavy on fine motor, and made a nice product.

We took the wood pieces left from my class hannukiyot and plotted the letters in Hebrew on them. (This went through variou test runs but finally we discovered that minimal marks were ideal.)

Then the girls hammered nails into the marked spots.

Spray paint.

Then the girls pulled rainbow loom rubber bands between the nails.

 Tada!  (It's our last name in Hebrew)

Gabi maturely decided early on that this project was not for her. She said, "You know how Yaakov assigns animals and symbols to his sons? Like spirit animals? I am going to make one for each of you."

She made beautiful art for each of us. She had a beautiful reason for each one. Ruti's height, grace, and love for nature made her a giraffe. Tova's grace and cheekiness made her a monkey. Cohava's agility and speed made her a deer. I was deemed a peacock for my love of colors and 'go big or go home' attitude. "

"What should Abba be?" asked Gabi.
"Maybe a bear?" I suggested.
"A polar bear, maybe," she contemplated.
"They don't migrate," remarked Ruti.
"Polar bears and arctic foxes are the only animals that don't migrate from the North Pole," she explained.  Those kindergarten teachers are amazing!

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Preserving Miketz

In many ways this blog is for me to preserve my girls, their learning and growth. I forgot how powerful it was for Ruti learn this perasha last year and that was only a year ago. Having my brother visit us was four years ago.
But how does Yoseph preserve the food of Egypt during the years of plenty to save them for the years of famine? I dunno. We used the food dehydrator!

When planning Shabbat dessert I had an epiphany. These cookies are often called zebra cookies but could just as easily be called 'fat cow' cookies.

Eat fat cows and stay skinny!
Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, 8 December 2017

Vayeshev- Dreaming Big!

I was once reprimanded by a supervisor for teaching children parashat Vayeshev. Her premise was that the story was far too scary and completely irrelevant to small children. Obviously I disagree wholeheartedly. It isn't too scary, it is incredibly relevant, and early childhood is the time to begin Torah learning.
This morning I read a Disney princess book at a child's request. The stories were truly scary and the children were unfazed, accepting and processing difficult information, either deeming it all fantasy or realizing people face difficult situations and overcome them.
Parashat Vayeshev is about jealousy, sibling rivalry, and making sense of our dreams. These are topics children face on a daily basis.
The brain development in early childhood means the Torah they learn is absorbed and retained. They may not assess information on a more abstract cognitive level (that does not begin until age 7) but the plasticity of preschool brains means the neurons are cementing in the Torah. Here is a video of Ruti reciting all the books of Tanach in order. She doesn't know their content. This is just a string of sounds to her. But she will know it forever (and I didn't learn it then, so I don't know it by heart now).

This is a parasha I prefer to teach to all of the girls together. They think about sibling dynamics as they look at each other.
 We met all the brothers.
 Plotted the course of actions.
And visited Yosef in prison in Egypt as he interprets the dreams of his fellow prisoners.

"If your friend gets a new dress and you don't, how do you feel?" I asked the girls towards the beginning of the narrative.
"I am happy for her. I complement it and ask where she got it because maybe you'll get me one like it," Cohava replied quickly. To draw Tova in, I altered the scenario to a beanie-boo, the new coveted item.
"What if only one of your sisters gets one and not you?" I asked.
"That's not fair!!!!" yelled Tova. Through our discussion, I think they really understood the kutonet pasim, Yosef's striped tunic. This article of clothing and sibling rivalry was the focus of the blog here and here. The issues around sibling rivalry have not diminished for us since I first wrote about them five years ago. For siblings in general, it can be just as pervasive as it was for Yaakov's sons thousands of years ago.
I'd like to think we have made headway in the area of lying, as we talked about related to Vayeshev here.

This year we focused on the dreams, how our dreams make us feel, and made dream catchers.

Step one: cut the outer ring from a cheap paper plate.

Step two: decorate the paper ring and hole punch it several times. 

 Step three: Cut yarn and weave it through the hole.

Step 4: add feathers and beads

This is mine. The idea is the yarn on the dreamcatcher is Yosef's kutonet pasim and his prison bars. Around the circumference are the wheat bowing to him from the first dream. The sun, moon, and 11 stars will hang from the bottom.

This afternoon we saw these striped dresses in a store. Obviously everyone needed one.

I wonder if they remember an earlier time they all chose stripes for this parasha.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Vayishlach - Conflict Resolution and Cute Coffee Cups

The relationship between Yaakov and Eisav provides a lot of food for thought in sibling relationships. This week's Torah portion begins with the following:  
4Jacob sent angels ahead of him to his brother Esau, to the land of Seir, the field of Edom.דוַיִּשְׁלַ֨ח יַֽעֲקֹ֤ב מַלְאָכִים֙ לְפָנָ֔יו אֶל־עֵשָׂ֖ו אָחִ֑יו אַ֥רְצָה שֵׂעִ֖יר שְׂדֵ֥ה אֱדֽוֹם:
The first discussion began over whether the English translation of מַלְאָכִים֙ should be 'angels' or 'messengers'.  
"Messengers makes more sense," Gabi remarked.
"Rashi says angels," Cohava observed. "Maybe he normally would have sent messengers but this was his one big chance, like a 'phone-a-friend' so he used angels instead of people."
"Because it was his darkest hour he needed to call on his most powerful forces," added Gabi, using a Magic Tree House reference.
I was still in favor of messengers but we moved on to the next point, looking at Yaakov's methods of conflict resolution. 
 Cohava's list of everyone's observations in the text was:

  1. Give the person lots of personal space and alone time.
  2. The person needs to see the situation with their own eyes 
  3. Presents make everything better.
  4. Tefillah (Prayer)
  5. Make a mindful plan
In our experience
1. Most of the alone time for Eisav happens in last week's parasha but in our house it is a topic addressed almost daily, with boundaries, privacy,  body bubble, and personal space coming up as keywords.
2. Tova often makes a large dramatic performance over minor things (like losing a turn in a game). Recently Cohava's coat hit her and she cried a lot. Cohava ignored her until I showed her an object in her coat pocket actually bruised Tova's face. Until Cohava saw with her own eyes, she did not realize her sister's suffering was genuine.
3. Of course! But we encourage using them not as bribes.
4. All of the girls agreed that this is crucial in everything.
5. Cohava is my best planner and really values this step. The others were skeptical.

I am hesitant to write what happened next because it is pretty embarrassing. I had made big plans for the project but they weren't mindful. The girls got very upset, very quickly. I said I needed some alone time to plan something better. One of the girls refused to let me have a moment of alone time and yelled a lot. Then I yelled a lot. The situation was completely out of control. I failed on #5, she failed me on #1. The Ruti came to me, holding a rock. "Ema, this is my magic rock. If you hold it, you will feel better." I was absurdly skeptical but when a child offers you a gift (#3!) you always accept it graciously. The crazy thing was, as soon as I grasped the rock, I felt calmer. 

Calm enough to return with a new project.  Yaakov sent gifts of cattle. We would send gifts of cattle to our loved ones.  Obviously not real cattle.  Cup coozies with animals on them.  These are to beautify coffee mugs.  The Torah doesn't mention coffee as a tool for avoiding conflict, but it's implied, right?  'He-brews' 

Step one. 
I printed a selection of cattle cartoony images for the girls to use as stencils on felt.

 Cutting felt isn't easy but the girls enjoyed the challenge.

Step 2
Design the animal and start decorating it. With thick needles and embroidery thread, the girls began adding features to their animals. The older girls loved the activity. It was too advanced for the younger girls.
 Sewing with a needle is not something they have done for long before and there was a big learning curve in keeping the thread in the eye of the needle.

Step 4: I opened the ring from a disposable coffee cup and used it as the template. It is slightly curved.

 Sew the two halves of the sleeve to form a ring and sew on the animal. I need to get the images of their completed work.

The next step (which might not happen until early next week) is the actual 'Vayishlach' part. We will be sending them in the mail to family members. Usually we give things in person but Yaakov used messengers and so will we.  The girls began addressing the envelopes and I realized it is a life skill in which they are not yet adept. The theme of the postal system and Vayishlach could be great in a preschool setting. 

May you have great success in avoiding conflict and achieve resolution speedily and successfully when it occurs.

Shabbat Shalom!