Thursday, 10 July 2014

Pinchas-- Make a Difference!

Parashat Pinchas. Last year for this parasha I marveled at the similarities between international headlines and the themes of the Parasha. I compared all the major themes to news stories of that week. Everything but Pinchas himself, as his act of killing Zimri ben Kozbi actually occurs in parashat Balak.
This year, every news article I read is about the death of young Jewish men or death at the hands of young Jewish men. The pain is overwhelming. Explaining how Pinchas was right in his actions, when killing another never seems right is challenging for me at this time. 

Two years ago we skipped most of the narrative of the parasha and made a fun game based on the mussaf offerings described at the end of the parasha. Here

This year we did it all. When I got to the census part I asked if they knew what the word meant. 
"No," Gabi replied, surprising me that for once she wasn't all-knowing.
"Yes, it umm, checks if you are there," Cohava explained. I was about to praise her accuracy and clarify the meaning, when she continued. "That is how the water turns on in the sink and the toilet flushes itself at some stores." 
I explained the difference between census and sensors, but there must be some similarities in the Latin origins. It made more sense than obstacle/popsicle

When we finished learning the parasha together, I asked the girls which part they found most interesting/meaningful. 
"I like Moshe standing on the mountain, looking into Israel. I want to make a model of it," Cohava replied. We talked about how he must have felt. Then I figured we would do the closest thing to Moshe's experience. We went on the Kotel Cam and watched the Kotel. It was early morning in Yerushalayim and felt very sureal to watch.

"I like B'not Tzelofchad, the daughters who stood up to Moshe and asked for a piece of Israel," Gabi shared. We discussed how they might have felt. I explained how truly groundbreaking their action was, perhaps the first fight for women's rights in history. We talked about how people and women specifically can make a difference in the world. For fun we looked at this: 10 Photos of Jewish Women Being Awesome. We analyzed each woman photographed and her impact on the world. They argued that prayer can have a bigger impact than biking around the world. They were shocked that soldiers can wear skirts. The conversation was enlightening (although Gush Katif and the Holocaust were too overwhelming to really explore). And then we thought about how they can make an impact on the world. 

 I decided we would make shirts with an inspirational logo. With a pack of ribbed undershirts and permanent markers, the girls got to work. As a note, ribbed undershirts are really hard to write on. Still they each wrote a version of "I Can Make a Difference" Then they drew pictures of how they make a difference in the world. 

Cohava's involved teaching people about sharing and praying. Gabi's involved loved and smiles. Ruti's was highly abstract. 

Tomorrow I will get a picture of them in their finished gear. 

Friday, 4 July 2014

Balak's Obstacles

Parashat Balak! Two years ago the girls learned the story well and acted it out (here). Last year (here), I shared Torah thoughts and the girls made a town of tiny tents. This year, as I read the story to myself and with the girls I was really struck by Bilam's ahtone [donkey] as she is being blocked by the angel. 

Obviously the miraculous parts of this encounter is the presence of the angel and the speaking donkey. One of my favorite mishnayot in Pirke Avot states, "Ten things were created on the eve of Shabbat, at twilight. They are: The mouth of the earth; the mouth of the well; the mouth of the donkey; the rainbow; the Manna; the staff; the Shamir; the alphabet; the inscription; and the Tablets." The talking donkey (not Shrek's) was created during the last moments of creation, waiting for this most important moment. But that still isn't what really struck me this year. 
  • How often am I 'riding a donkey' that won't go the way I want it to?
  • How often do I encounter obstacles which prevent me every step of the way?
    • It happens with some frequency. 
  • How often do I realize, without waiting for a talking animal, that the obstacle is being purposefully placed their by Hashem?
    • Not nearly enough!!!
There might not be a physical angel in front of us, but God's hand is there to guide, and if we push It away, and walk away from It, we are less intelligent than a donkey. 

The negative caused by ignoring obstacles versus the value in trying to overcome them (or the reversal) is a major theme in the Parasha. 
  1. Balak considers his first obstacle to be the Jewish people and tried to employ Bilam to overcome them.
  2. Hashem denies Bilam's request to curse, an answer Bilam considers merely an obstacle.
  3. Balak sends many messengers to overcome Bilam's refusal.
  4. The angel obstructs Bilam's journey.
  5. Balak tries various means to change Bilam's blessings into curses. 
It is interesting to note that in the Parasha the Jewish people are only observed and do not actively do anything. All of the obstacles here are relating to non-Jews. Sometimes you completely have to step outside of a situation to be able to learn from it. I believe that is one purpose of Parashat Balak.

"Do you know what an obstacle is?" I asked the girls.
"Something you have to get around," Gabi replied.
"I want a popsicle!" Ruti yelled.
"Like an obstacle course," Cohava added.
"Exactly. Should we always try to get around an obstacle?"
"I want a popsicle!" Ruti yelled again. 
"Ruti, popsicle sounds like obstacle, but they are not the same word! Now stop asking for one," Gabi explained sternly. I snickered.
"We should always try, like if it is an important obstacle to get around," Cohava explained.
"I want a popsicle!!!!" Ruti hollered. 

We discussed types of obstacles, things which may or may not be worth fighting for. We talked about asking someone for something as an obstacle, versus doing something on our own to overcome it. We talked about if it was always worth it when you finally got it. Comparing this to grit is interesting, when to keep trying and when to graciously accept that something is not meant to be.

And then we played games. First we made a version of 'Mother May I'. We called it "Bilam Will You", based on Balak's repeated efforts to enlist Bilam in the cursing job. I was Bilam. This was a fun game and would be good to play in "Shabbat Groups".

Then we had an obstacle course. I set up the original one. The girls took turns checking each other's accuracy and speed. 

Then Tova woke up and became a moving obstacle. 

 Being overly tired is another challenging obstacle for the course.
 Then the girls changed it up and made it trickier. 

I went upstairs and used their obstacle time to work on one of my own on-going challenges, trying to keep the house in order. 

May you be able to identify the obstacles that are angels in your way and overcome the others with ease. 
Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, 27 June 2014

Chukat Beyond Understanding

Two years ago when I wrote about Chukat the girls focused on the death (and life) of Miriam and Moshe hitting the rock.  Last year we discussed using our words and not our hands in times of anger and frustration. I felt this year We should branch out and look at more elements of the perasha.

I started by explaining the word chok, (from Chukat) how some things God commands are 
completely beyond our understanding and reasoning but we do them because He commands them. (I didn't actually discuss the para aduma/red heifer because that will be next year).
We reviewed the passing of Miriam and the midrashic connection between her well and the complaining for water. The girls enjoyed taking terms reading the Hebrew.

Later in the day we discussed the scenario with the snakes. Hashem sends a plague of poisonous 
snakes and Bnei Yisrael are dying from them.  Moshe beseeches God and He instructs 
Moshe to construct a snake from copper and place it on a stick. When the Israelites gaze upon this structure they are cured.
"Girls, I'll be honest. I don't understand what is going on here. Why the snakes? Why the copper one?
  Do you have any ideas?"
"Ema, it is a chok! It is in this parasha because we cannot understand it. And we don't need to understand. HaShem does and that is enough," Gabi explained. Yet again I am 
rendered speechless by  her insights. 

I cannot get the pictures to format at all so I will just describe the rest and you can decide how the pictures correlate.  Gabi and Ruti took cups, filled them with rocks, got a stick and 
secretly put water in. They pretended they were Moshe. (Really Gabi did it and Ruti joined in on stick, rock, water fun). 

Then we painted paper plates. One plate we cover in copper glitter. When they dried we cut them around to turn the plate into a coil. Googley eyes and red foam turned coil into snake. 

Hopefully we will put on a play with camp (we are at Sephardic Adventure Camp right now) with the snakes.  

Shabbat shalom!!!

Friday, 20 June 2014

Korach's Self-Worth

Parashat Korach recounts Korach's attempts at mutiny. His jealousy over the leadership is met harshly, with the earth opening and swallowing him, his family, and his possessions whole.  The miraculous punishment is harder to relate to today, but jealousy is just as all-consuming of an emotion today as it was in antiquity. 
Each year when this parasha roles around I discuss jealousy with my girls. I wish the lesson were more effective, as they struggle with jealousy a great deal. 

Riddle: How do you make a child with a lollipop sad?
Answer: Give their sibling two lollipops.

A big component of jealousy is not valuing yourself and what you have. In theory my kids understand this. Gabi remarked, "Korach was very poor." 
"No, actually he was very wealthy," my husband corrected her.
"No, but he wasn't rich, because umm- eze hu ashir..." Gabi clarified. She was citing the mishna in Perkei Avot which states, "Who is a rich man? He who is happy with his lot."

Our method for fighting jealousy is building self-worth, complimenting their talents and deeds. This week there was a talent show at school. This led to discussions on what is a talent and how can they be shown off. I thought this week's project should reflect them and their talents.  And then I looked and saw that is what we did last year. But neither the girls, nor I remember it (it was approaching the end of our time in Australia and that period is blurry.). The girls said, "We should make candied almonds!" Which is what we did two years ago. Along with these challot

In the end we improved on last year's project and made candied almonds.

After numerous discussions about our strengths, talents, gifts, personalities, etc., I had the (big) girls sit with pen and paper. They each had to write at least 5 things about themselves and 3 about their other sisters (we actually left Tova out. Next year, Baby.) I wrote a few for each of them as well. And then I typed up their lists (in different fonts and colors) and printed photos of the girls. I mounted their photos on cardstock the size of the picture frames while they cut out their talent lists. Ruti cut her own with great assistance from me. 
 Tova supervised. 
And then they glued the words around their photos. Glue sticks would have been easier. I put glue on Ruti's and she stuck them down. 

I think the results this year were more meaningful and better keepsakes. Hopefully with them hanging on the wall, a physical reminder of individual self-worth, we can work to better combat jealous. 

And if all else fails, I will enjoy the candied almonds!

Shabbat Shalom! 
May the holiness of this coming Shabbat bring back our boys!

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Shelach- Getting Gritty

Sorry for my brief hiatus. Behaatlotecha was too hard with Shavuot in the middle of the week. But last year we did a LOT so I don't think the girls are too deprived.

On Sunday we went to the zoo. When we got out of the car I started to laugh. 
"It is parashat Shelach this week, isn't it?" I asked, slightly incredulous. 
"Yes. So?" replied husband.
"Because we went to the zoo for parashat Shelach before. We made binoculars and spied out the land," Gabi replied. 

Gabi was right. And more amazing than the coincidental zoo visiting was Gabi's recollection. That was two years ago, the first parasha project we did, when she was only three years old! Clearly experiential parasha lessons have a big impact on one's memory. Last year's project was less memorable for them because it was doing something they do regularly. 

Year three for Kosherkidz! Happy anniversary to me! Now I am not after an exciting new project (okay, I am always after and exciting new project) but trying to give the girls a deeper understanding of the text or of themselves. 

We review the story of the spies. Gabi read the Hebrew for what Calev Ben Yefuneh & Yehoshua Ben Nun said about the land of Israel. Cohava read what the other's reported. (I was proud of their reading!)

"Did the spies lie?" I asked. Lying is a big theme. Like here
"Yes!" replied Gabi and the same moment Cohava yelled, "No!" We had a discussion about both points of view. 
"The 10 spies said the land was too dangerous and it wasn't so they lied," Gabi explained.
"No. They said what they saw and felt. There were giants. It was scary. They didn't think they could do it. It was all true," Cohava argued.

"You are both right. Gabi, they weren't telling a lie. They just didn't believe.  Cohava that was a good explanation. Let's say I take a big book off the shelf and ask you to read it. Can you do it?"
"No," Gabi replied.
"It would be really really hard," Cohava said timidly. They both eyed the bookshelf, wondering which massive tome I would pull down. 
"Maybe you couldn't read it right now, but in a few years, you keep practicing reading and you will be able to read anything." 
I reminded Cohava of the monkey bars at school in Australia. Each day at recess she would attempt them. She came home proud when she reached the second rung. Then the third and so on. She proudly showed off the calluses forming on her hands from her on-going attempts. And then one day she made it! "Everyone cheered for me when I got across!" She glowed with pride in her accomplishment. And now she is a regular monkey on all such bars.

"It is called 'grit'. Even though somethign looks hard, you can do it. You have to push yourself and believe in yourself and Hashem and you WILL do it. But it isn't easy. Grit is sticking with something hard. The 10 spies didn't have enough grit and belief in Hashem. Do you?"

The girls enthusiastically agreed they did until we talked about things like bike riding without training wheels and they got a little hesitant. 

"What was the grittiest thing you did recently," I asked. The girls each explained challenges they faced in the classroom and how they overcame them. 

"When we stick with something and we succeed, how does it feel?"
"Should we reward our success?"
"Yeah, but I thought you said no more stickers for our chart."
"There are other rewards. What were bnei yisrael finally rewarded with when they got to Israel?"
"Umm, Israel!" Cohava was confused by the obvious.
"Yes, a land flowing with milk and honey," Gabi added.
"And the shivat haminim [seven species]," Cohava said.
"We aren't going to Israel any time too soon, but we can have the other things."
We filled a plate with dried figs, pomegranates, and raisins. I asked the girls why I just included those. Cohava said, "I know why but I want GIANT ones."

We got the milk and honey and heated them on the stove top. 
Then everyone sat down to enjoy warm milk&honey, and the fruit of the land. 
They enjoyed the food, but more importantly, I plan to reference back to this food and the lesson of grit as they struggle and doubt their abilities.

Of course grit isn't only for children. It is crucial for everyone. In honor of this parasha, try something challenging and prove your grit this week.

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, 30 May 2014

Nasso: Putting the 'Nation' in DoNATION

Parashat Nasso is the longest single parasha. Therefore there is a lot covered. Some parts we discussed enthusiastically. Some, like Sotah, I do not discuss with the girls at all.
The first topic we discussed at length is the Nazir. After explaining this voluntary commitment and what it entails, I instructed the girls to make a chart.

On one half they wrote Nazir and wrote what was expected of him. They spent some time describing different ways he could not consume grapes.
In the second column I asked them to write 'Bat Torah' and what they felt was required to fulfill their role as someone who embraces the Torah. The first thing they listed was 'no killing'. I suggested they think not just about every person, but a special person, like them.

Next I explained how the nesiim, the tribal leaders, donated wagons and oxen for transporting the Mishkan. Last year we made wagons. This year we had wheelbarrow races, which is somehow similar.

After the wagons and oxen, the leader of each shevet [tribe], donated:  one silver dish, the weight thereof was a hundred and thirty shekels, one silver basin of seventy shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary; both of them full of fine flour mingled with oil for a meal-offering; one golden pan of ten shekels, full of incense; one young bullock, one ram, one he-lamb of the first year, for a burnt-offering; one male of the goats for a sin-offering; and for the sacrifice of peace-offerings, two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, five he-lambs of the first year.

Each tribal leader donated the exact same thing to the Mishkan. But their donations are each listed separately, taking a large section of the text. If the Torah had a human editor, they would have circled it and said, "Repetitive!" But only Hashem wrote the Torah and clearly he had a reason to repeat this information so many times. I believe it is to proclaim to the nation then, and for all times, the importance of donating. Donating your money, time, resources, and anything else is wonderful. Each donation that is made is valuable in its own right, and thus proclaimed individually, with the name of the donor repeated. 

After reading almost the same text to the girls over and over I asked them to recite it back to me. It was a fun memory game. They could really only recount the first part, up to fine flour and oil. 

"Should we donate like the shevet leaders?" I asked. 
"Uh, yah, but we don't have big silver bowls and we don't have the Mishkan anymore," Cohava seemed confused at the selection.
"We could give it to the synagogue instead," Gabi suggested, since we substitute the Mishkan with the synagogue. 
"What would they do with the flour and oil?" I inquired.
"Make Challah!" Gabi cheered (she has just become adept at braiding and is very proud).
"And food for kiddush," Cohava added. 
"Very true. But I think there is enough food in the kitchen. Where else could we donate?" 
"JFS!" Gabi yelled. This year Gabi's class has worked hard this year to collect food for Jewish Family Services' food bank. "We should donate oil and flour to the food bank!"
"Gabi, that is a great idea!" We discussed flour versus favorite flour products and eventually had a shopping list.
I bought 12 identical bottle of oils, and various flour items. The girls were responsible for sorting and packing. They took great pride in the activity. We didn't have silver bowls to use. Brown bags had to suffice, but eventually all twelve were packed. 

We loaded it into the car and unloaded it at school in the morning. But carrying twelve bags was too hard for us. Thankfully we saw many 'shevet leaders' walking into school and each carried a bag. The students were very enthusiastic to take part in the mitzvah transport and were intrigued by the connection to the parasha. The teachers were thrilled by the donations for JFS. JFS will be please to stock the food. Whoever needs the food will be relieved to get it. The 'whole nation' benefited from our do'nation'. 

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Flagging Bamidbar

Parashat Bamidbar deals primarily with the logistics of the shevatim, the twelve tribes. How many people are in each family, its responsibilities, and where it is located in the camp. Each tribe's area is marked by an overhead flag or banner. Last year's project involved making chair cushions to mark each seat at the dinner table as one's own.

This year I am intrigued by the actual flags. We know the many purposes of flags today, but when did they first appear in history? My google research doesn't show historians acknowledging the use of flags until 1000 BCE, in Egypt. This would be approximately 500 years after the tribes proudly hung their flags. Did Hashem command us to hang history's first flags?

Midrash describes the colors and emblems on each of the twelve flags. Each flag bore a symbol which represented it's identity. Like a logo. 
Everyone knows what a logo is, and as consumers we are constantly bombarded with them. Why does every business have a logo?

Some of the reasons recommended by business reports include:
  1. To look established.
  2. To attract more clients. 
  3. To brand yourself.
  4. To convey that you are reputable. 
  5. To give clients a sense of stability. 
  6. To be more memorable.
  7. To explain your company name. 
  8. To differentiate you from your competition. 
  9. To stand out in your field. 
  10. To comply with expectations. 
  11. To show your commitment. 

Essentially it is to give pride in your identity and comradery with the people around you. Good reason to have a logo banner? Definately! Modernity's understanding of business psychology really enhances our appreciation of Hashem's commandment to hang banners.

Of course the girls made flags as well. The intent is that our flags will be used as place cards for meals, weeknights and Shabbatot.

The girls sat with index cards and markers, planning their logo and practicing writing their names in Hebrew. 

While they worked on their flags, I made flag poles. I used things I had on hangs, spare flag poles and alligator clips. If there were clothes pins I would have used them instead. 
Hot glue gun attached these together, and clay was used to form the stand. 
The girls were still working diligently on their flags. Future graphic designers. 

Some girls worked more diligently than others.
The clay stands weren't dry in time for dinner, so plates were marked with flags. 

By Shabbat everything should be ready. This is a flag for one of our Shabbat guests. When you come to our house for a meal you can bring your own banner or we will provide one for you.

Shabbat Shalom!