Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Building up Ki Tetzei

It has been a very busy few weeks. We did not have the time to invest in this week's parasha like we did with this one on shiloach ha'ken or this one on beged ish
But sometimes simpler is better. 
Ruti was playing with the Polly Pockets and setting furniture on the Polly house roof. "You are playing so nicely with the dolls, Ruti," I remarked.
"They are having a birthday party up so high!" she explained.
"What fun. But a little dangerous. What if they fall?" I asked.
"They will be so careful," she reassured me. 
As I had hoped, the 'big girls' overheard the conversation.
"Ema! I learned in the parasha what we need to do! The Polly's have a flat roof-" Gabi started to explain but Cohava cut her off.
"It needs a fence!" Cohava yelled. 
They girls debated different building materials and finally settled on duplo blocks.
Tada! Now the Polly's are keeping the mitzva of putting a fence on a flat roof. But those Polly Pockets still need a lot of work on modest attire...

 Adding a roof to a structure is fun for kids in any construction medium and takes very little time. Once it has been built, the mitzva will be remembered forever. And building together always works on community building and negotiating skills. Everyone wins!

Hiding from Elul

When I realized we were entering the month of Elul, I was overcome with stress. Elul is a month of heightened spirituality, as people work on their Cheshbon Ha’Nefesh, their spiritual account, the assessing of interactions and misdoings with people and with God. Very heavy and daunting. Although one should always be analyzing their behavior, there is a greater emphasis now, in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Elul means preparing for the holidays spiritually, and physically, as I need to figure out hosting and menus and…

After a moment of thinking about what Elul entailed I wanted to run downstairs, hide, sleep, do anything to not have to face the stress of preparing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And then I realized something profound. During this season I have the pleasure of teaching one of the texts we read on Yom Kippur, the Book of Jonah. Whenever I tell the story of Jonah, just before he is thrown into the water and consumed by the big fish, someone always yells out, “But you can’t hide from Hashem!” It is obvious to children, or maybe obvious in the Book of Jonah, but it isn’t so obvious to us in our daily lives.

My desire to hide from my physical and spiritual responsibility is exactly what Jonah experiences. Jonah appears both foolhardy and someone who experiences a great miracle, almost a parody of how we think a prophet should behave. But connecting to this today is not so far-fetched. We run and hide from our spiritual responsiblity regularly. Maybe we have run so far from it, we no longer realize it exists. We don’t need to find ourselves inside a fish, or in any other crisis to stop and take stock of what is really important in our lives. Throughout the story, Jonah struggles to ascertain what is important.

The reading of The Book of Jonah  on Yom Kippur is not arbitrary, although slightly unfortunate. The connection of Jonah’s struggles to our own spiritual journey is obvious. The unfortunate part is that by Yom Kippur afternoon, the inspiration from the text often misses its mark. Most people are distracted and hungry. Those who are able to connect to the message would have benefited most from internalizing the message weeks before and using it to prepare for Yom Kippur.

Jonah's struggle is very relatable. Avoidance and denial are useful in small doses, as taking on everything at once can be overwhelming. These help a person cope and work through situations at a more manageable time. But do not avoid indefinitely. You can take a boat ride but do not avoid something until you find yourself in crisis in the belly of a fish! Now is the time to start tackling the challenge.

I love the Book of Jonah. I am excited about Elul and the upcoming holidays.  But I would still like to go downstairs and sleep...

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Eat. Full. Pray. Parashat Eikev.

Last time I blogged about Parashat Eikev, we looked at the meaning of consequences and we made birkonim [benchers].  The reason we made birkonim is, although this parasha is almost 9/10s of the way through the Torah, we now learn the mitzvah to thank Hashem after we eat. The passuk simply states "וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ". 'And you will eat. And you will be satiated. And you will bless'.

"If this mitzvah was not stated in the Torah, do you think people would have thanked Hashem on their own?" I asked my campers. The answer was almost unanimously 'no'. When I asked them to clarify why, the answers varied.
"Cuz, you just eat and are done and move on."
"If it isn't a mitzvah, you wouldn't do it."
"You'd forget food is from Hashem."

Their answers really surprised me. I guess it is a good thing we are commanded.

It was two years ago that I last blogged about this parasha. The text of birkat hamazon I used was Ashkenazi. This time around, text is not straightforward, as I, and 1/3 of the campers, use Sephardic birkat hamazon.  And everyone already owns MANY benchers.

Instead we made holders for the birkonim. Some campers argued they already have one of these too, but no one already owned one for weekday, Shabbat, and Pesach.

 The campers each received three blocks of wood of differing sizes, with a large pile of extra wood pieces in the middle. Scattered around were cups of wood glue with paint brushes. The project was meant to be 'non-cookie cutter' and open-ended.

(You'll note the kids made great projects but clearly never learned about wiping a brush!)

We left our work to dry before painting them.

The work was varied and very beautiful.
 Then we started painting and glittering!


Thursday, 7 August 2014

Vaetchanan- Two of the very most important!

Parashat Vaetchanan  is full of wonderful content. It makes up for those weeks were teachable content for children is hard. But teaching all of it at once is too much. I decided to focus on the recounting of the Aseret HaDibrot and the words of Shema, two of the cornerstone of our Torah lives.

Can you name all of the Ten Utterances [commandments] in order? I am not a big believer in rote memorization but this is one everyone should know since they are the direct words of Hashem to us. It isn't like naming the presidents or capitals, or even the seven dwarfs. But memorization is only going to happen if it is fun. 

I started by teaching the kids the 'calling counting game'. Sitting in a circle, the group must count to ten out loud. But only one person can say each number. If two people call out 'three', you have to return to one. Understand?

Once the children got the hang of the game, we swapped out the numbers for the Utterances. We shortened them, to make the game faster. 

1) One Hashem 2)No others 3) His Name 4) Shabbat 5) Mother & Father 6) Murder 7) Marriage (the boys group said adultery but thankfully there was no discussion of the meaning or implication of either) 8) No Stealing 9) No Lying 10) No Jealousy 

The boys group got the hang of it pretty quickly. The girls struggled because everyone wanted to call out all the answers. But everyone had fun and most kids learned the order. The content of what each really means and all of the commentary on it was well beyond the scope of this lesson. They have plenty of time to learn all the details, but now they know the Ten in order. 

Sleepy, Grumpy, Dopey, Happy, Sneezy, Bashful & Doc

Then onto Shema. I think most of the children have a solid knowledge of the words of Shema and their significance. But I was uncertain how many knew the words are from this week's Parasha. 
"Oh, is that the only part of davening that comes from the Torah?" one girl asked after I explained the origin. 

But everyone knew that the words of Shema are in the mezuzah. So we made mezuza cases. 

Because this was science week at camp, the cases were made out of test tubes. 
 With lots of glitter and glue and stickers, and stuff.

 Everyone enjoyed the creative time. 

 And the results were beautiful! We hot glue gunned the tubes to tongue depressors so they can easily stick to the walls. 
 "Hey, where are klafs? I need to fill mine," one camper asked. Sorry, that is the parents' responsibility. 


Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Water Play in the 9 Days

Observing the nine days is always hard. Obviously, it is meant to be challenging and meaningful. But it is hard to keep kids at home and camp cool during the summer, without swimming. At camp there was always efforts at 'instructional only' swim to take away from the leisure component, but it was a stretch. 

But this year, I have a real plan!!!

I saw 'water blobs' on pinterest and everyone promised they were easy to make. Not true. It was a pain. But mostly worth it. Here is how waterless water play works.

Steps one
Cut a large sheet of very heavy duty painter's plastic. Large, like 10 feet X 5 feet. 
Grab a roll of parchment paper, and set up your iron/ironing board.

Fold the plastic in half, making one large square (now we are at 5 X 5). Around the edges of the plastic, fold half an inch, twice. Place this folded edge under the parchment paper and iron on medium low heat. It takes some effort to get the hang of it, but in no time you will be fusing the edges. 

Go all the way around, leaving about a two inch hole. This took me a long time, but I am not adept at ironing. 

Step 2:
 This is optional, but I gave the ironed plastic sheet to children and let them decorate it with permanent markers. I planned to let them fill it with glitter and pompoms, but there wasn't time. 

Step 3: Find an open spot in the yard and set out the plastic sheet. Make sure the hose reaches the bag and that you have duct tape ready.

Step 4: Fill it up!
Place the hose in your two inch gap. Have someone else working the hose. When it is full, slide the hose out (after the other person turned it off) and quickly duct tape the hole closed.

 Step 5:
Invite kids to play on it!
The girls were absolutely thrilled. They cheered, insisting it was the most incredible thing they had ever experienced. Seriously. Over and over. Each new girl to come out and test it was awed and gushed with enthusiasm.

 100% Kosher 'Water' Play in the 9 Days!

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!