Thoughts on Beit Sefer, and delicious challah recipe

By Leila Bagenstos

challahThis year, I helped Morah Sharon Alvandi with the Beit Sefer G’dolim class. The class had eight kids, ages 10-12. We did a lot of things over the year: learning about Jewish communal responsibilities and communities around the world, improving Hebrew skills, and mastering the core Shabbat morning prayers.

The kids worked really hard to learn about the Shabbat service’s structure and prayers, and yesterday, they led the central part of the AARC’s Second Saturday service.  The afternoon before, we gathered to bake for the kiddush that followed the service. We made brownies and cupcakes, and I showed the kids how to bake challah.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 4 (.25 ounce) packages quick-rise yeast
  • 4 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup pareve margarine (but I use butter instead), melted
  • 5 eggs
  • 12 cups bread flour, or as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds (but I don’t use these)
  • Prep time: 40 minutes / Cook time: 30 minutes  / Ready in 2 hours, 40 minutes

  • NOTE:  I usually only make half of this recipe.  It makes 4 loaves.  if you make half, you can still make 2 loaves.
  1. Sprinkle the yeast over the water in a large bowl, and stir gently to moisten the yeast. Stir in salt, sugar, margarine [but I use butter], and 4 eggs, and beat well. Gradually mix in the flour, 1 cup at a time, up to 12 cups, until the dough becomes slightly tacky but not wet. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Grease baking sheets, or line them with parchment paper and set aside.
  3. Cut the bread dough into 4 equal-sized pieces [I make a half recipe and make only two loaves]. Cut each piece into thirds for 3-strand braided loaves. Working on a floured surface, roll the small dough pieces into ropes about the thickness of your thumb and about 12 inches long. Ropes should be fatter in the middle and thinner at the ends. Pinch 3 ropes together at the top and braid them. Starting with the strand to the right, move it to the left over the middle strand (that strand becomes the new middle strand.) Take the strand farthest to the left, and move it over the new middle strand. Continue braiding, alternating sides each time, until the loaf is braided, and pinch the ends together and fold them underneath for a neat look. Repeat for the remaining loaves.
  4. Place the loaves onto the prepared baking sheets, and let rise until double in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  5. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Whisk 1 egg with vanilla extract in a small bowl, and brush the loaves with the egg wash. Sprinkle each loaf with about 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds. [I skip the sesame seeds]
  6. Bake in the preheated oven until the tops are shiny and golden brown, about 30 minutes. [I’ve found this is actually closer to 25 minutes.] Let cool before serving.

 

Budding Trees and Blooming Flowers

Count the Omer with Homer

Count the Omer with Homer

What is the tradition all about of Jews going on outings to fields or parks on Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day following the first night of Passover? This year the 33rd day of counting the Omer won’t be till May 26th… but in traditional AARC practice, we’ll celebrate at a conveniently-close-enough time (May 15th, 9:30-11:30am)!

Lag B’Omer is a day of rejoicing in nature, especially for children; a day of appreciating the budding trees and the blooming flowers. For Torah background on Lag B’Omer, “Judaism 101” has a good entry:

According to the Torah (Lev. 23:15), we are obligated to count the days from Passover to Shavu’ot. This period is known as the Counting of the Omer. An omer is a unit of measure. On the second day of Passover, in the days of the Temple, an omer of barley was cut down and brought to the Temple as an offering. This grain offering was referred to as the Omer.

For a good overview of contemporary practices, Big Tent Judaism uses a very nice entry taken from Sacred Celebrations: A Jewish Holiday Handbook, by Ronald H. Isaacs and Kerry M. Olitzky.

Many synagogues hold picnics and outings on Lag B’Omer, with food, music, dance, sporting events (often in the form of the competitive Maccabiah), and other festivals. It is often the last social get-together before the summer vacation. Jewish weddings are often held on Lag B’Omer as well. Some synagogues hold a bonfire and cookout on Lag B’Omer which often includes Israeli singing and dancing.

In Israel, Lag B’Omer is a day for bonfire celebrations. The most famous is held at the village of Meron, near the northern city of Safed. Shimon Bar Yochai is said to be buried there, and huge crowds gather at his tomb for this very happy celebration. It is said that while Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was hiding in his cave he wrote a famous holy book of mysticism called the Zohar. On Lag B’Omer, many of the Hasidim study portions of the Zohar during the special celebrations at Meron.

Finally, some synagogue schools have turned Lag B’Omer into a day for honoring their religious school teachers. Special assemblies and parties are held, and awards are often given to the teachers.

AARC Beit Sefer will try out several of these practices on Sunday May 15th, 9:30-11:30, when we meet at Carole Caplan’s farm for a special last session of the year. Other members and friends of the congregation are welcome to bring a dish and join the Beit Sefer families in the fun. Contact Beit Sefer Director Clare Kinberg for info, ckinberg@gmail.com.

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.

WJN-May-16-web-BeitSeferOpenHouse

 

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

IMG_1244Icecream1-brightened

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

mezuzah making 1

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.

mezuzah making

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…]