Thursday, 30 August 2012

Some things don't mix--- Parasha Ki Tetzei

Parashat Ki Tetzei has some lovely lessons for children... and some very inappropriate ones. Starting with the eshet yifat toar (the laws of ravaging a female captive of war) and followed by the ben sorer (the execution of a rebellious child) the list of inappropriate ones is pretty high.  

But there are some good ones. The second aliyah discusses hashavat aveyda, the importance of returning lost articles. This is always an interesting topic to discuss with children because you end up knowing who lost what at school over the past month.

The third aliyah commands people to put a guard rail around their fence, so that people do not fall off.  
"But no one goes on our roof to fall off," Cohava noted.
"That is true. We don't have a flat roof that people would go on. But where do we have a fence to keep people safe?"
"The pool!" Gabi yelled.

Next the aliyah describes things which don't mix. Plants should not be joined. It is forbidden to wear Shatnez, a garment which combines linen  and wool. Then comes another fashion rule. Men wear men's clothes. Women wear women's clothes. My girls thought it was funny that this is a mitzvah. 
"Why would Abba wear a dress? Maybe Purim but that is silly!" Gabi remarked.

When Cohava was in Kindergarten, it was reported to me that she was bullying a child and made her cry. That wasn't her usual nature so I queried it.
"She called Sarah a boy," the teacher explained.
"Why would you call her a boy?" I asked Cohava.
"She is wearing pants and a shirt with buttons. That makes her a boy," Cohava explained simply. I still don't know if she was being a bully or if her 3 year old logic was sound.

This mitzvah is the one we choice to celebrate in our project of the week (it was certainly easier than installing a roof fence). 

With some old dresses and puff paint, the girls went wild, making their clothes, unique to them. I want them to appreciate and enjoy wearing dresses. If I had a son, the mention of tzitzit in the next pasuk would be his project.

Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Shhh...Don't tell Abba [father's day]

This coming Sunday is Father's Day in Australia. Other than the school's curriculum Father's day is not something we usually do, but this year we actually did something. 

I was at Kmart on a search for something for this week's parasha project, but was unsuccessful. However I did find 'bamboo cookbook stands'. They were on clearance for $3 each. Apparently no one has a used for a cookbook stand. 

But every ben Torah needs a shtender [book stand] ! 

The girls got to work painting.

We hid them outside to dry for the night. 

My husband has had a very busy week, so the next evening he was out again so we had more work time. 

With permanent markers the girls decorated. Cohava worked hard, writing "Torah" over and over, as well as the alef bet and numbers. 

Gabi said hers was a picture of our beit knessset, with Torahs and happy people. 

Ok readers, you cannot tell my husband about the project. Maybe on Sunday I will get a picture of him using it.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Two Torahs Parashat Shoftim

Parashat Shoftim starts with some very big and important ideas. The establishment of judges and magistrates in Israel and the proper way to uphold justice are outlined in the first two pesukim, followed by the command, "Tzedek tzedek tirdof... (Righteousness righteousness shall you pursue)." This is a topic that I am very passionate about and lectured on at various universities. However, it is not a concept easily transmitted to a child. I skipped explaining it to the girls, along with the prohibition of planting idolatrous trees(?!?).  

We skipped to a topic that all children love, royalty! The second aliyah begins by explaining the laws relating to establishing a king in Israel.

1) He must be Jewish.

"Of course he must be Jewish. Only Jewish people should be in Israel," Cohava replied. I decided not to dispute the point.

2) He cannot have too many horses.

"Four is not too many," Gabi clarified.

3) He cannot have too many wives.

I thought the girls would immediately say that you can only have one wife, but Cohava believes otherwise.

"He can have three wives and then no more," she said.  

"But more wives mean more queens! I want to marry a king and be a queen!" Gabi explained, having a stronger grasp on the monarchy than I realized.

4) He cannot try to get too much money.

"Because he must give it all to tzedakah," Gabi clarified.

5) He must write two sifrei Torah.

I asked them why the king needed two.

"In case he loses one he had a spare," Cohava replied. "But if I were the king I would make 172 or maybe a google so I could give one to everyone is Israel."

"I want two Torahs!" Gabi exclaimed. "And they need a keter and cover and a necklace and a yad and they will be soft and beautiful."

This inspired Cohava.  "The king needs one Torah that lies down and one that stands up! He needed an Asheknazi one and a Sephardic Torah!"

"I think that is a lovely idea! And although you aren't kings, you helped write the new Ashkenazi  Torah at Yavneh. Sassoon Yehuda is working on writing a new Sephardi sefer Torah and you will help with that!" I said.

"And then I can be king!" Gabi joked.

"But the king really really wrote it, like the sofer, right?" Cohava wondered.

"Yes and so can you," I told her. And thus began this week's parasha project.

We got the ink (okay not actual kosher ink, but some fountain pen ink) and big sheets of paper (but not klaf) and  some ridiculous tiny colored feathers.

I was impressed with their writing. Cohava is very good at letter formation from her practice at school. Gabi was very keen to try lots of different letters.

 And Ruti hid under the table, supervising.

The papers are hiding in a safe place for now. Before Simchat Torah we will make the proper casings for our Torahs (but will they be Sephardi or Ashkenazi?).

Shabbat Shalom!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Rosh Chodesh Elul

 Today the girls were hard at work in the playroom.  I didn't think anything of it, and used the time to do some work around the house.
Suddenly Cohava ran into the kitchen and yelled, "Chodesh tov! Look what I made!" Cohava has reached the developmental stage where her pictures are clear and detailed. "It is my Rosh Chodesh Elul project. It is Abba blowing shofar.  Will you take a picture and put it on the blog?"
Gabi arrived a few minutes later with a similar picture and the same request. I am really proud of them. This blog started out as my project, with me directing their learning and creative activities. Now that are taking over!

Chodesh tov!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Look! Re'eh!

Parashat Re'eh begins with a clear directive from Moshe. "Re'eh [see] I put before you today a blessing and a curse." The blessing, it goes on to explain, is keeping the mitzvot. The curse is not following Hashem's commandments.

The opening of this parasha is wonderful for children, as they are not yet able to understand abstract thought. The world is pretty black and white to them, so blessings/mitzvot are good and curses are bad is simple for them to understand.  They are not bogged down in the grey yet, and I think children understand this and are able to fear the potential consequence more than an adult.

With Elul approaching, we have been discussing moznayim [scales] and how mitzvot are weighed against averot. The opening message of Re'eh reinforces these themes.

Moshe goes on to explain that when the Jewish people enter Israel there will be some sort of mountaintop ceremony in relationship to those blessed and those cursed. On Har Gerizim the blessings will be given. On Har Eval (evil?) the curses will be dispensed. This connection between behavior and location also resonates with children. The good people are on the good mountain. The naughty ones are 'in time out' on the other one.

This week I attended an amazing educators' conference organized by the ZFA. The keynote speaker was Rav Benny Lau. He explained that there is no reason to explain the entire parasha, or even large sections to small children. A pasuk, a word, a single idea that they understand properly is far more important than getting caught up in stories and not internalizing much. They have a whole life ahead of them to learn the whole pshat, and later learn mefarshim and midrash. This is a major paradigm shift for me. I will be trying it out over the coming weeks.

Therefore all my girls learned about Re'eh was what I explained above. And Cohava was so excited about the shin in her hair, that we did something very similar this week. They each wore two 'mountains' on top of their head. You can ask them which mountain is which.

 If you want to know more about Re'eh in a kid friendly format check out this fun music video.

I guess Ruti read the end of the parasha about the shalosh regalim and walking to Jerusalem for them.She just started pulling herself up. She might be walking by Sukkot, but not all the way to Yerushalayim.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Consequences! Eikev

In parashat Eikev Moshe explains consequences to the Jewish people in a number of different ways. The land of Israel will flourish if the Jewish people are good. Our success in military conquests is reliant on our being good to Hashem. The second paragraph of Shema is in the sixth aliyah, a clear statement of our need to serve Hashem and the consequences. Be good = good out comes. And the converse.

Last Shabbat I brought up the topic of consequences during my children's program. It went something like this:

Me: "I want to talk about a big word you might not know: consequences."

Gabe (3 year old boy) : "Uh-oh!"

Louis (his 5 year old brother): "Consequences means you are in trouble"

Gabe: "Big trouble!"

Me: "Not necessarily. Whenever you do something, it causes something else. What it causes is called a 'consequence'."

Gabe: "Consequences means no DS."

I tried to explain other contexts but it all fell on deaf ears.

Me "Consequences can be good."

Louis "Nope. Rewards are good. Consequences are bad."

So maybe I need to rethink the connotation of consequences in the eyes of children. But a child's innocence in understanding reward and punishment is something we should try to emulate. Although we do not know why 'bad things' happen, they are an opportunity to take stock of our behaviour.

The beginning of the parasha includes the mitzvah to say birkat hamazon.

Therefore this week's parsha project is making birkonim (bentchers). This is another one I consider of great enough importance and relevance to make the classroom curriculum. 


I modified the text of birkat hamazon, according to the abbreviated version we use in the classroom and added transliteration.  I like this opportunity to make it exactly how we thank  Hashem.  My home version, for my daughters, will be very different reflecting the unique way we do birkat hamazon at home. My husband's minhag is to say ashkenazi birkat hamazon followed by Bendigamos. And then the songs we like. Ours is still a work in progress but my students should be taking theirs home for Shabbat.

I printed the template (I'll try to upload it tomorrow) and set the kids to paint with a diluted food coloring. When those were dry, the children decorated the open parts by pasting on shapes. At lunch I took photos of them eating their bread. Tomorrow they will be laminated. 

Hopefully the consequence of this is children (and parents) taking more interest in birkat hamazon.

 I distributed the birkonim to the students at the end of lunch on Friday.  They were exuberant, singing louder than ever before. They enjoyed looking at the text (often upside-down) and exclaiming over letters they recognized. 

Gabi joined my class for lunch, so here is her in action:


Cohava came home on Friday with the perfect project. She had made a birkon holder!  The girls were very exciting about housing Gabi's project inside of Cohava's.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

This is what it is all about! Vaetchanan

Every parasha is important, but I feel extremely passionate about parasha Vaetchanan. The parasha begins with Moshe pleading with Hashem for the opportunity to enter the land of Israel. Hashem allows him to see the land, but refuses him entry. Although it is important to see that actions have consequences, this always makes me heartsick. Everytime I disembark from an El-Al plane I feel a bit guilty at the ease we have of getting to Israel and that Moshe, the greatest person, never was able to set foot there.

The parasha continues by reviewing many mitzvot, including the Aseret Hadibrot, the "Ten Commandments".
Finally comes what I consider the pinnacle, Shema!

Everyone knows the Shema is of great importance. But which part? The Oneness of the Almighty? Loving Him with all of you? Teffilin? Mezuzah? Yes, all very important, but the part that somehow gets lost is: Veshinantam Levanecha! And you shall teach it to your children!

Teaching it to the children is the inspiration for my blog and most of my daily activities. Rashi says 'your children' refers to your students but it doesn't matter. Your own children, your grandchildren, your neighbor's children, your students, any child you are connected to. Teach them! Teach them Torah, inspire them with ideas, encourage them to ask questions.

But what if you don't know the answer to their questions?!?  How embarrassing would that be? Maybe better not to talk about it at all. Just leave it to the Jewish Studies teachers.
 Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks shared an anecdote of the response his father gave him to his many questions. "I never had a Jewish education, so I cannot answer your questions. But one day you will have the education I didn't have and you will teach me the answer to those questions," his father explained. Rabbi Sacks certainly fulfilled his father's expectations!

My passion for parashat Vaetchanan caused me to add it to the curriculum for the entire Early Learning Centre where I work. In this way I am assured that I am not only teaching my biological children, but the also the 100 children who come through the school each year.

The children learn about the meaning of shema, mezuzot, teffilin, and the job of a sofer. And they make their own mezuzot.

Rav Eli Gutnick, the community sofer, came to school to describe his work. He is extremely talented (not just in his ktav) and does an amazing job explained his work in a way which is exciting and relevant to children.

 In my class, the children make their mezuzah cases out of wood. They paint the wood silver and decorate it with glitter and sparkles. A mezuzah case can be made countless ways.
 The klaf is the important part of the mezuzah. Using parchment looking paper (either from a shop or by staining regular paper with tea), a feather, and fountain pen ink the children have the opportunity to try their hands' at sefirut.
 I make a clear pocket on the side of the case to hold their scroll. And I explain to them about only a real sofer writing a real scroll and how theirs is a toy.

Cohava is intrigued by teffilin and wearing a shin on one's forehead. Therefore I made one for the back of her head. She has insisted on wearing her hair like this all week, in honor of what she calls, "Parashat Chanan Ha'Ganan."

Shabbat Shalom!