Thursday, 13 August 2015

The Best Way to Pray

This summer has been incredible! I could talk about many different aspects; from the weather to the activities, from the misadventures to memories. However, you might get bored reading such a detailed account. Instead, I want to reflect on my summer as it relates to tefilah, prayer.

 We started the summer at Sephardic Adventure Camp [SAC]. Our camp has the wonderful components of many summer camps, like boating, sports, and art. But it is the tefilah at SAC which makes camp truly unique. The campers learn the words and tunes of our heritage, with remarkable decorum and dedication. The highlight of this experience was when Hazzan Ike Azose came for Shabbat and beautifully strengthen the joy and understanding of the melodies of our Seattle Sephardic community. This communal celebration of youth in prayer seems like the best form of tefilah.

Days after leaving camp, I stood in front of the Kotel, the
Western Wall. Around me were people of all backgrounds, from all different corners of the earth, standing together in separate prayer. Although we stood together, each person uttered their prayers at their individualized pace, choosing what words to say. We stood together in the same place, with the same purpose, but each pursuing it in their own way. Maybe this is the ideal for tefilah.  

The next day, Tova, my youngest, sustained an injury which initially appeared severe. While clutching her to me, I called
out to God in frantic distress. My words were hurried, with all of my emotions pouring out. Thankfully, the injury was relatively minor. Maybe impromptu, heartfelt tefilah is what He most appreciates.

As I approached the end of my time in Israel, I began feeling very anxious. Not simply because I was leaving, but the prospect of the journey to Seattle with four children and no husband was VERY daunting. People had many recommendations: hire a flight companion, drug my children with sedatives, buy lots of new toys. None of these seemed like viable solutions. Instead I prayed. Usually when I pray for something specific it is the recovery for someone ill. In comparison, I felt petty praying for something as minor as the behavior of my children on an airplane trip. But I spoke to God like a friend, telling Him my problems and asking for His help. I am proud to say that my girls were as good as four small people can be on a 20+ hour journey. They slept a lot. They played nicely. They were well-behaved.  

Now my girls are settled back in Seattle, attending day camp at Yavneh. During the morning tefilah, my girls get very frustrated. “But they are praying wrong because they are Ashkenazi!” they complain. I repeatedly explain that there is no wrong form of prayer. Reflecting on my summer of prayer, I don’t think there is a most right form either. The value of our Sephardic communal prayer at SAC or SBH, the differential communal prayer of the Kotel, the sudden heartfelt cry of distress, and the personal requests are all invaluable.

As summer winds down, the season of prayer does not. The next Hebrew month is Elul, the time leading up to Rosh Hashana. During this time we entreat God, in preparation for the coming year. Think about how speaking to Him best suits you. There is no wrong way to pray.

Having a Field Day with Re'eh

Over the summer, parasha projects are not just for my offspring or my students. It includes all of my campers. This was the case last year, but Eikev was the last week of camp and we did this. This year for Eikev I tried to focus on the connection between food and the land of Israel and make "Al Hamichya" cards. Honestly, the campers couldn't sit still long enough to appreciate the connection and the lesson/project was not a real success. Therefore, Re'eh's project did not allow them to sit still at all!

Re'eh includes 55 mitzvot, many of which are outlined elsewhere in the Torah, so I focused on the topics I knew they were already acquainted with, to work on reinforcement.  

The camp was split into two teams, each with a counselor to guide them. (Interestingly, the counselors' names are Yehoshua and Ezra. I used this as an opportunity to tell the campers about the leadership of Yehoshua Bin Nun and Ezra HaSofer.  They were intrigued). 
I explained Hashem's directive of "Re'eh" as I did here. I explained that we would have a series of competitions to see who was best at keeping the mitzvot.

The first competition was on the mitzva of destroying all of the idols in the land. Before the kids came outside we hid 25 of the same item in the backyard (we had some old hand fans, but any item would work).  The teams went on a scavenger hunt to find the idols. 
Kids love a good treasure hunt and this was not exception. They gave the "idols" to their captain for destroying. 
The next game involved the laws of kosher animals. We reviewed what qualifies an animal as kosher. what fish need, and the interesting details about birds. 

 I printed pictured of many different kosher and not kosher animals (and laminated them for future use). On one end of the room all of the pictures were arranged. On the other side the teams were set up for a relay race. The runner, with bowl in hand, chooses an animal picture, puts it in the bowl, runs back, and passed only the bowl to the next teammate. 

Choosing an animal wasn't so easy.

 When everyone had a picture, each camper had to say if their animal was Kosher and why.

Next we discussed the prohibition of cooking a kid in its mother's milk and who keeps how many hours between meat and milk. 

Each team was given a bowl of mixed pony beads and a chart for which colors were milk, meat, and pareve. They each had cups for these 3 categories and competed to see who could get the right beads in the right cups the fastest. 
[In addition to the Kashrut lesson, this is great for skill building in fine motor, sorting, and team work. Also, later the girls enjoyed making jewelry with the sorted colors.]

The end of the parasha focuses on Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. I asked the campers what these festivals are called collectively. Of course Gabi was the first to yell out, "The Shalosh Regalim!" I asked if they knew what this meant, and some campers knew, "the three foot festivals" and why. 
To celebrate this, we had a three-legged race!

This very active parasha competition went very well. May your week be active, but only filled with positive competitions. 

Friday, 17 April 2015

Shemini: Kosher Puppets

This morning on the way to school my daughter's expressed great jealousy towards my students. Some complaints were legitimate, while others were far-fetched. The most legitimate complaint was that since I returned to teacher I barely do parasha projects with them. I brought home for the girls the same project I did at school. 
Shemini has a lot in it; consecration of the Mishkan, the misdeeds of Nadav and Avihu, and laws of keeping Kosher. Whow! We focused only on kosher, specifically on animals. 
To be Kosher animals must 1)chew their cud 2) have split hooves. My girls can recite this parrot like, but understanding cud chewing needs further exploration. To make these two elements fun, we made cud chewing puppets.

One coloring page was split hooves and the other was an animal face. 
 The cow was from here. And the sheep here
  Then I got these split hooves to add to it. 

 Everyone enjoyed the coloring, cutting, and gluing onto a brown lunch bag. 
The result is a kosher puppet with split hooves, that chews its cud (opens and closes its mouth). 
I showed the girls this pig picture and we discussed how split hooves aren't enough. We couldn't make a pig puppet.
 But we made some lovely kosher puppets!

Saturday, 31 January 2015

I am a Seahawks Fan. I am a Jew.

Let me start with a confession: I am not a sports fan. The value of watching adults chase a ball is lost on me. However the value of the camaraderie between sports fan is something I hold in the highest esteem.  A fan shares great fervor with countless other fans at every win, and feels a shared sense of pain at a loss. The passion and devotion for each player is shared by each fan, regardless of socio-economic background, upbringing, or geographic location. Being a fan unites people who might otherwise have nothing in common.

Being a Seahawks fan is truly special. From everyone’s role as ‘the 12th man’, to being a team of winners, we have a special status. Last year an estimated 700,000 strangers joined together to welcome home the victorious Seahawks. Some fans wear their loyalty, in Seahawks colors and attire, while others carry the loyalty in their heart. Either way, the people of Seattle and Seahawks fans internationally share a special bond, a brotherhood.

How does this special bond compare to the bond of being Jewish? People often ask if Judaism is a religion, race, or ethnicity. It encompasses all of those and beyond. Let’s compare it to the camaraderie of Seahawks fans. Although the enthusiasm for Jewish holidays does not rival the excitement for the Super Bowl, the unity is still there. The thrill of a success and the pain or embarrassment of another Jew’s mistakes is felt within us. The same diversity in background exists in the Jewish community. A Jew is a Jew no matter where they come from or what they look like.  And even when we don’t realize it, we have a shared bond.

I recently heard a story about a congregant of SBH who was playing poker at a casino. He excused himself from the game by saying, “Sorry, I need to go pishar.” A stranger at the table looked up and said, “Did you just say ‘pishar’?” The man was flustered. “Sorry. I meant umm…” “Are you Sephardic?” the stranger continued,”That is the word I use for going to the bathroom! It is Ladino, but no one else…” The two men hugged and became firm friends.

We share a language, a culture, a history, a religion, a brotherhood. All the Seahawks fans who did not attend that massive rally are still fans, just as Jews who do not regularly attend synagogue are not less in their Jewish identity. Some Jews wear their devotion in their attire, like a Seahawks jersey, but many more carry their Judaism in their heart.

Football season ends very soon. Many will put away their jerseys and focus their energies on other commitments and interests until next year. But the Jewish calendar never ends, and we continue from one celebration to another. From Shabbat to Purim to Pesach, enjoy celebrating the camaraderie, the brotherhood of being Jewish.  The seating capacity at Sephardic Bikur Holim isn’t the same as CenturyLink Field, but we can help you find a good seat.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Plagues of Fun: Vaera

In Parashat Vaera we learn about seven of the ten plagues. I like to teach them as thoroughly as possible now, so when we learn about Pesach in a few months (I don't want to think about how soon that is going to be!) this part of the lesson is review.

Everyone makes frogs, and there are countless cute methods, by my plan was to try something else. We went for boils and hail!

Big Boils!
We mixed up a batch of red puff paint glue.

elmers glue
shaving cream
tempera paint

Pour a tablespoon of glue into a medium sized bowl. Add an equal amount of paint. Then add about half a cup of shaving cream. Stir really well. It looks like a dessert item and paints like a dream. When dry, the paint has a raised, puffy texture, sort of like a real boil!


Using Q-tips, we applied boils to a picture of Pharoh.

The children loved doing the project and kept saying, "Sorry Paroh!  Does that hurt? Maybe you should let Bnei Yisrael go free! Sorry Paroh!"

Tada! The students loved this painting experience so much they did it to a few other papers too.

Bouncy Ball Barad!
You can make your own bouncy balls. They do not work as well as store bought ones, but they are equally cool. 'Barad' is hail. Big balls of ice (or in this case, rubbery material) which fall from the sky. During the plagues the ice had fire within it as well, so we made red and white bouncy balls.


 Each child had a cup with warm water and a tablespoon of borax (the safety concerns of Borax were addressed) and they stirred it with a popsicle stick.  While they stirred, I mixed one part corn starch to two parts elmers glue. They I added about a tablespoon of my mixture to each kids cup. They stirred and counted to ten and pulled out a stringy glob and rolled it into a ball. Meanwhile I added red and orange paint to the remaining glue compound (for the fire part of the hail). This was added to everyone's remaining borax water. Then the two globs were to be joined in one ball.                                                                      
When I tried it at home the students immediately began bouncing the balls around the room and throwing them onto the Pharoh doll. Everyone had a blast. When I did it at home, Tova spent a lot of time yelling, "Ball ball!" while her big sisters experimented about where the ball best bounces.

 The balls do go a bit flat if left out. They can easily be reshaped. Keeping them in the fridge minimizes this problem.