Beit Sefer Open House

AARC Beit Sefer has had a terrific year–with fun and engaging teachers and madrichim/teenage teaching assistants, lots of parent participation, and integration into the whole congregation. Member Becky Ball, mom to Sam and Joey, has stepped up to chair the Beit Sefer committee which includes Sarah Abramowicz, Candace Bramson, Stacy Dieve, and Allison Stupka (and Clare Kinberg, ex officio in her role as Beit Sefer director).

We’re all working to showcase and grow the Beit Sefer–and that includes an Open House this Sunday (May 1) for prospective students and their parents. It’s during the normal school time–9:30 to 11:30 am.  Here’s the article in the Washtenaw Jewish News (page 8) about the Open House (thanks for writing it, Becky!).  Do you know someone who might be looking for Jewish education for their elementary age kids?  Please invite them!  You can use this letter as a template.  And don’t forget to join us at second Saturday services on May 14, 10 am, led by the G’dolim.

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Purim Gifts: Welcome Baskets for Refugee Families

welcome basketAARC Beit Sefer teacher Sharon Alvandi is a student in the UMich Jewish Communal Leadership Program, and an intern at Jewish Family Service learning to work with refugee families. Sharon has been very inspired by our AARC congregation, particularly the ways that the Beit Sefer students, parents and other community members come together to share learning and activities, investing in the character of the children. Through her work with JFS, Sharon is organizing a way for us to practice the mitzvot of Purim, giving gifts of tasty treats to one another/mishloach manot, and gifts to the poor/mattanot le-evyonim (for more about how these two mitzvot are related see this). Sharon writes:

There are many reasons to celebrate Purim and sort through a narrative that’s truly unlike any other in Jewish scripture. On Purim- the holiday of “lots”- we celebrate more than simply the idea of chance. When we listen to Esther’s story, we collectively celebrate character, resolve, and integrity. By presenting her true self–her Jewish self–to king Ahasuerus to appeal for the fate of the Jewish people of Shushan (present day Susa, Iran), Esther is a model of advocacy for herself and others. As a developing social worker, this story helps me think  about what it takes to act in a way that integrates all parts of who I am.

Purim also commemorates what it means to survive genocide or the threat of genocide. Each day when I work at JFS, I have the opportunity to observe the strength of character of the clients and the meticulous work of the case managers to serve a community of refugees in making the best choices in their first days in the U.S.   

JFS has resettled over 350 refugees since 2009.  Countries range from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Iran, Syria, and Burma. JFS is set to resettle 150 individuals by October 1, 2016. AARC can help with the resettlement of families by joining with JFS  to assemble and donate Welcome Baskets for refugee families in Washtenaw County. We can do more than discuss violence that is taking place abroad. We can  welcome those in our community who have found refuge in a new place. This Purim, we can help make a space of comfort for their true selves.

Sharon has put together a list of personal care and household items the new families need upon arrival to set up their new homes. Check with this registry to see what is needed. We ask that you buy these items new and when you have, check off the registry. We will assemble the Welcome Baskets some time during the Purim Shabbaton March 25-27.

MLK Day and the Ten Commandments

by Margo Schlanger

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, Monday January 18, 2016 , I got together with the Beit Sefer kids the day before, to talk about the Torah and civil rights.

We started with this picture:

Martin Luther King, Jr, with Rabbis Maurice Eisendrath and Abraham Joshua Heschel

Martin Luther King, Jr., R. Maurice Eisendrath and R. Abraham Joshua Heschel, on the March from Selma to Montgomery Alabama, March 1965.

I asked the students what the Civil Rights movement was about.  They talked about African Americans’ claims on equality–voting, jobs, buses, restaurants, and more.

So why did Rabbi Eisendrath think it was important not just to carry the Torah during the Selma march in 1965, but for the Torah’s mantle to show the Ten Commandments?  We looked together at the commandments, focusing on the “Don’t” commandments, illustrated on the Torah mantle with the Hebrew word “לא” (lo — “no” or “don’t”).

Our conversation was mostly about three of the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t lie about important things (“bear false witness against your neighbor”).

What do these commandments have in common? Some people think we can develop from them (and the others in the ten) a full statement of the requirements of a moral life.  But so many things are left out.  If we can deduce a principle behind these commandments, maybe that principle can help.

The students first developed a “results-oriented” justification.  Who would want to live in a world where other people were allowed to murder and steal? they asked.  Then they moved to the justification that ties the Ten Commandments to civil rights–equality.  You don’t kill people, or steal from them, or lie to them, they said, because those other people are equal to you.  Their lives matter, their stuff matters, their feelings matter.

In other words, the students ended up in the same place as Rabbi Hillel.  We each stood on one foot while I repeated the Talmudic story:

Once there was a non-Jew who told Rabbi Hillel that he was thinking about converting to Judaism, but first, he wanted to know everything he needed to know, while he stood on one foot.  And so Hillel said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is explanation.”

Planting Parsley in a Leap Year!

parselyThe days are just beginning to lengthen, and though the cold is just settling in, the extra light signals the tree sap that spring will come. And so begins the Jewish cycle of springtime, full moon holidays: Tu b’Shevat, Purim, and Passover.

In addition to the Tu b’shevat Shabbaton on Friday and Saturday January 22/23, Rabbi Strassfeld will help our Beit Sefer students on Sunday January 24 to do some Tu b’shevat planting. Though the holiday is the “New Year of the Trees,” in our cold climate it is a custom to do some indoor planting of parsley in anticipation of Passover. I’ve done this many times and noticed that sometimes the parsley is ready to harvest by Passover, and sometimes not. I consulted with Erica Kempter of Nature and Nuture Seeds about how to better ensure our parsley seeds will grow by Passover (keep them in a warm and lighted place). But the Jewish calendar gives a very strong reason for why some years are better than others for growing indoor parsley for Passover. In each 19 year cycle there are seven leap years during which an extra month is added between the holidays of Tu b’shevat and Passover. Some years there are ~60 days between the holidays, and some years (like this year!) there are ~90 days! A good year for planting parsley on Tu b’shevat to be harvested for the Passover seder plate!

This year, the Beit Sefer students will be planting not only parsley, but arugula and lettuce, too. Here are some instructions if you want to try this at home. This is the year!

Beit Sefer Builds a Sukkah and Shakes a Lulav

 

Beit Sefer students really did the building.

Beit Sefer students really did the building.

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What a beautiful day to build a sukkah.

Enornous toda raba to Carole Caplan who really knows how to build a sukkah!

Debbie Gombert led us in song.

Debbie Gombert led us in song.

We made lulavs from local plants and shook them to the east, north, south, west, and up and down.

We made lulavs from local plants and shook them to the east, north, south, west, and up and down.

Ice Cream Social for Returning and Prospective Beit Sefer Families

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Come join us – and (or) invite your friends with kids – at an Ice Cream Social on July 12, 2pm-4pm at the home of Caroline Richardson and Paul Resnick. Members of AARC, and non-members interested in a Jewish place for their kids to learn – are all welcome. Come meet other parents, the school’s director (Clare Kinberg), and members of the Beit Sefer committee. Find out if the AARC Beit Sefer is right for your family.

Jewish educators think a lot about what makes a Jewish supplementary Sunday school a place kids want to be. Fun; snacks; other kids; warm, reliable, knowledgeable teachers – those are part of it. Just as important though, the Beit Sefer needs to be a place where each child is valued for who they are and what they bring to the community. Find out about our plans to create a caring, ethical Jewish school based on questioning, creativity and a teaching staff who have a real passion for learning with their students.

So:

But even if you don’t RSVP, you are still welcome!

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Mezuzah Making, Beit Sefer 2015

 

 

AARC Beit Sefer in the Washtenaw Jewish News

Over the years, quite a few articles have described our lovely Beit Sefer.Beit-Sefer-all

 

Torah of the future at AARC’s Beit Sefer

Clare Kinberg head shot

Clare Kinberg, Beit Sefer Director

At our Shavuot study this year, a group of AARC members discussed several Jewish texts and traditions surrounding the word “torah.” Sometimes Torah is used to name the five books in the scroll read weekly on Shabbat; sometimes “Torah” includes Talmud and other writings as well. At times Torah is understood as “law,” while, as Rabbi Michal pointed out, “torah” can also mean “aim,” as in a guide for our actions.

One of the Reconstructionist movement’s goals for religious education is to convey Torah as “the ongoing, creative, and sacred search for meaning in life, a record of human encounters with the Divine.” As the new director of our Beit Sefer, I embrace this creative and ongoing Torah as our model. Our goal is to instill in the students the sense that, with the tools of Jewish tradition, their lives are creating the Torah of the future. Just as the Jewish people’s experience of God, Torah, and peoplehood has changed and grown throughout history, the students’ own experiences will change Judaism.

Each aspect of Reconstructionist education is infused with creative, participatory purpose. For instance, the point of Hebrew language study isn’t only recitation of a Torah portion. We study Hebrew in order to participate in community and express ourselves: in ritual, prayer, and text study, fostering connections with Jewish civilization of the past, the present, and the future. These goals may be lofty for a supplementary elementary school, but we can achieve sparking the desire to reach for them, and the basis of the tools to get there.

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Beit Sefer and Mezuzah Making, 2015

Another hallmark of Reconstructionism is incorporating contemporary ideas and discoveries in science and psychology into Jewish practice. Starting Fall 2015, the AARC Beit Sefer will begin to use Project-Based Learning (PBL) as a teaching approach in our K-6 religious school curriculum. An inquiry- and innovation-based teaching method, PBL is a perfect fit for a Reconstructionist religious school. PBL lessons open with a driving question – something the students feel they need to know. The teacher then guides the students through a journey of discovery, using a variety of resources, such as storybooks, excerpts from texts, experimentation, parents, teachers and other students. Students choose how they will present the information they have discovered; the culmination of each project is sharing it with a larger audience. Questioning has always been the basis of Jewish learning, so combining these contemporary teaching methods in the Jewish classroom is a natural.

In the AARC Beit Sefer classrooms, the students will work in pairs or small groups, using our community’s deep human resources of artists, techies, musicians, teachers, etc. to investigate the yearly cycle of Jewish holidays, life cycle rituals, the practice of mitzvot, Jewish history, liturgy, and literature.

An example of a PBL lesson for the Kitanim, [Read more…]

What goes into a Mezuzah?

mez pro 3 What goes into a mezuzah? Just ask an AARC Beit Sefer (Religious School) student! On April 26th and Mary 3rd, AARC member and Beit Sefer mom Marcy Epstein led an all-school mezuzah making workshop. The students learned about the difference between the mezuzah case and the scroll inside, and how we have come to name each part as the mezuzah. They discussed why and how Jewish homes have mezuzot on our door frames and demonstrated the ritual of kissing the mezuzah both entering and exiting the rooms of our homes. The students explored the letter Shin and many of the words that it represents, and then they learned about the prayer on the mezuzah scroll, the Shema and the V’ahavta. Marcy shared how these two prayers became so important that we would want them ever present in our homes.mez pro 4

The students rolled out their airdry clay and formed them into beautiful original cases, working with shapes and wood pieces for texture. Then Marcy and the teachers made the letter Shin for each child and set their mezuzot cases to dry, reminding them that over the week they might think about what prayer they would like to say while entering and exiting their bedrooms. The next week, the kids painted and embellished their beautiful cases. They then copied the Hebrew of the Shema and first words of the V’ahavta onto origami paper “scrolls” along with their own original prayers and set them inside the mezuzah cases to make their personalized mezuzot. By adding their own prayers to the scroll in the mezuzah, the students learned about Jewish “lifehacks,” explained by Rabbi James Brandt, director of the Jewish Federation of the East Bay in a January 2015 Jewish Week article “as this generation’s equivalent of ‘do-it-yourself Judaism,’ represented by the groundbreaking 1973 publication of the The First Jewish Catalog (co-edited by Michael Strassfeld), which offered a model of creating Jewish life ‘outside the official system.’”

mez pro 1Marcy hopes that our families might share a mezuzah hanging with the kids, not only so they can know where on the door frame to look for a mezuzah, but also to celebrate their warming embrace of the ancient ways with modern import reflective of their lives.

So, if you ask the students at the AARC Beit Sefer, you might find that in addition to the shema on a scroll, what goes into a mezuzah case is love, care, creativity, and their own heartfelt (or silly, but definitely personal) prayers.mez pro 2

 

Beit Sefer Tzedakah Project

By Rebecca Ball

Photos by Sara Goldshlack

Beit Sefer

Being new to the AARC Beit Sefer, and to attending a Beit Sefer in general, my family and I weren’t necessarily sure what to expect this year. We have not been disappointed! The learning and camaraderie and overall fun that my sons have experienced has been so positive. I am extremely impressed by all the thought and work that has been put into the curriculum and activities the students are enjoying.

One activity in particular that has been quite rewarding has been the school-wide Tzedakah Project. For this project, the students decorated their own tzedakah boxes to bring home. They earned money at home by doing chores and other tasks for their parents. The students discussed in class the things they did to earn the money, such as making dinner for the family or shoveling snow or cleaning their rooms. After several weeks of earning money, the students brought in their boxes and voted on the agency to which they would donate. They chose the Humane Society of Huron Valley, and were proud to discover that they had raised over $125 for the animals! Beit Sefer Tzed project

The school then had a volunteer from the Humane Society come to visit with an adoptable dog. She described to the students the programs and supplies towards which the students’ money would go. The children had the chance to pet the dog and learned about showing compassion towards animals. Many were even interested in learning how to volunteer at the facility. The authentic, real-world experience that this project provided helped our young people to live the experience of tzedakah rather than merely hearing about it. Giving tzedakah is a righteous act in Judaism, simple justice and possibly the most enlightened of all the commandments. Our Beit Sefer has beautifully illustrated this joyful obligation for our children.