Mayer Aaron Levi and His Lemon Tree


Mayer Aaron lives in a small village. Like his fellow Jews, Mayer Aaron studies Torah and goes to the synagogue three times a day. Unlike his fellow Jews, Mayer Aaron owns a lemon tree. When the lemons are ripe his wife brews her special lemonade, chills it and puts in jars so that Mayer Aaron can make extra money for the family by selling it in the town square. Mayer Aaron's wife Raizel is very possessive about her lemons, but Mayer realizes they have more than enough. He finds a way to share the extra lemons with the village's poor people without their having to ask him, thereby teaching his wife and children an important Jewish value - giving to the needy. When his children reach marrying age, Mayer Aaron cuts four branches off the tree and plants them in black metal pots, giving each child about to set up a new family branch, a memento of the past and a means of remembering the importance of charity.

What's The Connection Between Mayer Aaron Levy and His Lemon Tree and the Jewish Tradition?
Judaism is a religion and a lifestyle based on three important principles: 1) The learning of Torah; 2) The importance of work, and the role work plays in helping the community at large, as well as bringing order to life; and 3) G'milut Chasadim - actions that help out people in need as well as the community. These deeds help make the world a better place. The story "Mayer Aaron Levy and His Lemon Tree" embraces all three principles. Like all the men in his village, Mayer Aaron Levy spends part of each day studying Torah and going to the synagogue to pray. Mayer stands out because he is also lucky enough to have a lemon tree that helps bring in added income. Earning this money is a family project: Mayer and his children pick the lemons off the tree; Mayer's wife Raizel brews a special lemon juice from the fruits that are picked; and Mayer goes to town to sell bottles of the juice. As opposed to his wife Raizel, Mayer understands that the family has more than enough lemons to make a living. The thought of sharing their fruits never occurs to Raizel, who only thinks of how to better the lives of their children. Consequently, Mayer has to devise a secret method of helping the needy in order to teach Raizel and his family the importance of "tzedaka."

Discussion Questions

  1. What kind of a man is Mayer Aaron Levy? What are the words that you would use to describe him?
  2. How would you describe Mayer's wife Raizel?
  3. Who changes the most in the story: Mayer Aaron or Raizel?
  4. What do you think is the message of this story?
  5. Why do you think Mayer Aaron put the bucket of lemons outside the gate instead of giving the lemons to the needy people by himself?
  6. Have you ever had too much of something and you shared it with a friend? Tell the story.

Step Into the Kitchen

Bring a bag full of lemons and take your class into the school kitchen. Tell them they are members of the Levy family. Together they are going to make Raizel's famous lemonade. Under your strict supervision, have one group of children cut the lemons in half. Another group is in charge of squeezing the juice out of the lemons. Make sure to put the pits in a container on the side. Finally, following the recipe below, a third group stirs the lemon brew over a flame - again under your supervision.

Lemonade Recipe
¾ cup fresh lemon juice
2 quarts water
½ cup sugar

Pour water and sugar into a large pot. Heat until the sugar melts, slowly stirring the water mixture all the time. Once the sugar melts, remove the water mix from the fire and pour in the lemon juice. Mix well and chill in the refrigerator before serving. When you serve the lemonade, cut thin slices of lemon and attach one thin slice to each glass.

This recipe yields 8 glasses of lemonade.

For a different twist, have your students make this easy lemon water recipe.

Lemon Water
Take the number of students you have in your class and double that number for the amount of lemon slices you need. Buy a bunch of mint leaves. Give each student a glass or a sturdy paper cup and have him/her write his/her name on the cup. Then give each student two slices of lemon and 2-3 mint leaves. Have each student pour drinking water into his/her glass. Then have them squeeze the juice from one slice into the water and then add the mint leaves. Have them attach the other lemon slice to the side of the cup. Tell them to put their cups into the refrigerator and let the water cool for a ½ hour before drinking.

Nurture Your Own Lemon Plant
Buy the Following:
• Peat Pots
• Soilless potting mix
• Ziptop bags
• Houseplant fertilizer

How to Plant
Have each student fill a peat pot almost to the top with soilless potting mix. The student should then add water until the mix is thoroughly moist. Then s/he should press 3-4 pits in each pot about ¼ inch into the mix, making sure they're well covered. Once this is done the student slips the pot into a ziptop bag, closes it, puts his/her name on a label on the bag and places the bag near a source of heat (e.g. radiator in the winter, sunny windowsill in the summer). It takes about 14 days for sprouts to appear. As soon as sprouts appear, remove the pot from the bag and place it on a sunny windowsill.

Long-Term Care
Once the plants produce two sets of leaves, choose the strongest seedling in the pot and remove the others. This is the time to nurture the plant with houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength. Make sure the lemon plant is moist. When roots begin to protrude through the peat pots, transplant the entire pot and seedling into a terra-cotta container (the plant's roots remain undisturbed; the peat pot eventually degrades). Make sure to keep the fertilizer out of your students' reach.

This activity was originally published in Family Fun Magazine. 

Play "Pass The Lemon"
Have your students sit in a circle. Give one student a large lemon that must be placed under his/her chin. The lemon must be passed from chin to chin without using any hands. If the lemon falls from a student's chin s/he must get up, decide which character of the story s/he wants to be and spontaneously make up a monologue that fits the character. The characters to choose from are: Mayer Aaron, Raizel, Mr. Seidman, the little girl, her Mama, the lady from up the road, the Levy children, and the narrator who opens and closes the story.

Develop a Tzedaka Campaign
Mayer Aaron Levy wanted to help the poor people in his village. Have a discussion with your class about the needy people in your town, or in Israel. Explain the importance of Tzedaka and together create a Tzedaka campaign. Donations should be made on a weekly basis, on the same day, at the same time. Set a deadline for the end of the campaign. Together, take inventory of everything collected for the campaign, and as a class, go to the proper address to make your collective contribution.

Connect Mayer Aaron Levy and His Lemon Tree to a Genealogy Search

Ask your class who has family objects with a special meaning that have been handed down from one generation to the next. Explain what these objects could possibly be. Bring in the example of Mayer Aaron handing down branches from his lemon tree.
Tell your students to become genealogy detectives by sitting down with their parents or grandparents and ask questions about the object. Once they have the answers they have to write up a story about the object showing how it's been in the family for many, many years. For those who do not have such an object, tell them to use their imagination and write up a fictional story about an object with a special Jewish connection.  

Create a Family Tree

Option 1
Sketch the outline of a family tree. You may want to refer to a genealogy book or website (e.g. Avotaynu, JewishGen) for guidance. Make enough copies of the tree and hand it out to your class. Have them fill in the names of relatives associated with their precious family heirloom. Once again, have them sit down with their parents or grandparents for help in this assignment. For those who do not have such an object, have them create a family tree based on their fictional story.

Option 2
Sketch the outline of a family tree. You may want to refer to a genealogy book or website (e.g. Avotaynu, JewishGen) for guidance. Make enough copies of the tree and hand it out to your class. Have them fill in the names of relatives. Then have each student choose one relative from their tree who did something special for Judaism or the Jewish community - and explain to the class the relative's special deed.

Shabbat Around the World

We Jews are a diverse people, with communities all over the world creating engaging Shabbat customs.

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