Imagine you're in India, where there are always bursts of color, exotic flavors and aromas.
Now let's get more specific. Imagine you're in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) for Rosh Hashanah, where the fragrance of fresh produce fills the air. This bustling port city was once home to 5,000 Jews. Today only 20 remain but their customs live on.
On Rosh Hashanah the Jews in Kolkata would host each other for an afternoon reading of the Book of Psalms -- the longest book in the Bible -- coupled with a light meal of fruit and sweets. For them, reading many (if not most or all) of the 150 psalms was a good starting point for the self reflection that Rosh Hashana is all about. It was also a time to focus on wishes for longevity. As a result, they greeted each other by saying Tizku L’Shanim Rabot – May You Merit a Long Life. The answer to this salutation is Tizke V’Tehiyeh – May You Merit and May You Live.
How to apply this to the classroom? Create a colorful atmosphere by covering tables with vividly colored tablecloths. Then put together a mini-feast of sweets and fruits.
Next, have each student write his/her own 2-line Wish Poem. Put all the Wish Poems up on a bulletin board. Those that want, can add pictures to their poems. Some can read their poems out loud and explain why they made this specific wish.
It's a sweet activity for a sweet year...and it's yummy!
The ancient Jewish community in Kaifeng, China dates back over one-thousand years. While its descendants -- numbering between 500 to 1,000 -- look exactly like the rest of their fellow countrymen, today many are reclaiming their Jewish heritage.
When and how did Jews arrive in Kaifeng? The Emperor's New Throne -- the September story and lesson plans unit of Shabbat Around the World -- transports students back in time through a tale revolving around a special Shabbat Torah reading custom.
Students will read a tale about merchants from Persia arriving in Kaifeng via the silk road during the 10th and 12th centuries. They will meet Eliezer Ben-Ezra, a master silk weaver whose work is highly regarded by the Sung Emperor. An open-minded ruler, he allowed his Jewish population to freely practice their religion. While their synagogue – the Temple of Purity and Truth – looked like a pagoda from the outside, the traditions followed inside did not at all resemble Chinese culture.
During a surprise visit to the synagogue the Emperor sees a special chair that Eliezer is upholstering for a Shabbat Torah custom. Not knowing its purpose, the Emperor declares he wants the chair for his palace throne, leaving Eliezer to find a creative way of serving the Emperor while at the same time preserving a special Jewish tradition.
Shabbat Around the World is a new, innovative digital series highlighting the diversity of the Jewish People. Designed for Jewish educational institutions (3rd and 4th grades), each monthly unit is composed of an original, beautifully illustrated story accompanied by four unique, interdisciplinary lesson plans that touch on history, geography, the arts, and culture of each country. It's a wonderful way to learn about the rich past of the Jewish People while at the same time focus on one of the Jews' most important natural resources -- Shabbat.
It's not too late to get a taste of Shabbat Around the World. If you haven't subscribed, take advantage of my introductory offer available until October 8, 2015.
Since Jewish holiday customs is my thing and the new school year is about to begin, my internal voice asked: "Is there a tradition in Judaism marking the beginning of the school year? A custom going beyond writing the Aleph Bet on a slate, then dripping honey over the letters so that a very young child learning to read can enjoy the experience of licking the letters clean?"
I searched and searched, but couldn't find much more. However, I did discover that the above custom is a Shavuot tradition dating back to 12th century Germany. It was part of a ceremony that included a honey cake and a hard boiled egg cracked open, symbolic for broadening the mind.
It turns out that connecting learning with honey was a practice embraced by many Jews across the globe. Moroccan Jews of the Atlas Mountains embellished the tradition with a parade. Children about to begin learning Torah wore garlands on their heads, marching throughout the village until they reached the school house. Once they took their seats, a taste of honey inaugurated their studies.
To quote the great sage, Jackie Gleason: "How sweet it is!" But is this custom suitable for 21st century learning? I think so. It just needs some tweaking. After all, you can't replace finger licking fun with a virtual experience. It would create too sticky an issue. A beginning of the year learning ceremony is a honey of an idea, worthy of a she'he'che'yanu in the same way the apple is blessed when dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanah.
Speaking of Rosh Hashanah, I have another question. Why not make the beginning of the school year the fifth New Year and add it to the four listed inMishnah Rosh Hashanah? Electronic or paper, everything about the school year is new -- new notebooks, new textbooks, new writing utensils, new book bags...you name it, it's new.
So, I'd like to suggest a delicious honey joy snack ceremony for the new school year that will include these wise words from King Solomon: “Educate the child according to HIS way, so that even in his old age, he will not turn away from it” (Proverbs 22:6) -- along with this quote from the Babylonian Talmud: "I have learned much from my teachers. More from my colleagues. But most of all — from my students" (Ta'anit 7a). There's an inherent equality in these two quotes that puts everyone on the right footing. Wrap the ceremony up with special blessings for learning developed by your students and I think you'll have a new school custom sweeter than honey.
Wishing students, teachers & parents a Shanah Tova!
There's no doubt about it. When students are engaged, curious and excited, they're in love with what they're learning. That's why I have developed Shabbat Around the World. It's an exciting, innovative curriculum that shows students how to enjoy Shabbat through fun and interesting customs. It also gets them actively involved and eager to know more about their Jewish heritage.
To accomplish both these goals, I've written ten monthly stories transporting students to a different country each month. These stories open their eyes to different cultures, different customs. In addition, along with a professional Jewish educator steeped in developing lesson plans, I have created 4 interdisciplinary lesson plans per story. Combine the stories with the lesson plans and you have the perfect teaching blend: history, geography, literature, the arts and culture, coupled with creative assignments, internet searches, video clips and more.
So, if you want to give your students a new take on Shabbat, Shabbat Around the World is the curriculum for you.
In the meantime, have a Shabbat Shalom.
There's nothing like a win-win situation, and I have one for you.
The first 15 schools to subscribe to Shabbat Around the World will receive a free copy of My Very Own Jewish Calendar for
5776 – 2015/2016.
On the teaching end this combination is a win-win. Shabbat Around the World highlights the diversity of the Jewish People through 10 original stories and 4 unique, interdisciplinary lesson plans per story that touch on history, geography, the arts, and culture of each country. My Very Own Jewish Calendar provides interesting and unusual facts on all the Jewish holidays, as well as Jewish values.
On the learning end this combination is a win-win. Shabbat comes to life for students through customs that are fun and interesting, many of which can be adapted in their own homes. Factual curiosities regarding the Jewish holidays make them cool and engaging.
Need some examples? I don't want to give away the exact custom, but let's just say that Colombian Jews know how to make the Ha'Motzi blessing over the Shabbat Challah a fun event. And the holidays? “Awesome” is the word for describing a Reuse & Recycle custom connecting Sukkot with Passover.
For more information on Shabbat Around the World go to http://www.tlwkidsbooks.com/lessons-plans
All you have to do is simply click for more details, a sample story, sample lesson plans, and an order form.
Blintzes and cheese cakes aside, is there a culinary creation that has true symbolic meaning for Shavuot? When my friend, Rabbi Lee Diamond, recently asked me if I ever heard of a Shavuot custom from Tripoli that entailed baking a Challah type bread called Los Siete Cielos, I knew he was on to something.
We began googling. First of all, the meaning of Los Siete Cielos is The Seven Heavens. Lee searched the source for רקיע שביעי ( he found it -- Talmud Hagiga 12 : עמוד ב). I looked for the meaning behind the bread.
Here's what I found: To begin with, this is not a custom exclusive to Libyan Jews. It's a Sephardi custom also practiced among Jews from Greece, Turkey and parts of Morocco. This seven "layered" challah represents the seven celestial spheres that opened up when God gave Moses the Torah on Mount Sinai. Alternatively, they could stand for the seven spheres Moses had to go up in order to reach God. In fact, while researching this custom, Lee found that some Challot had ladders for climbing. Have a close look at the photo that I found. Yup. That's a ladder on the side.
I don't know about you, but I wouldn't even attempt a recipe for this challah. It looks far too intricate for me. But if we're into baking traditions for Shavuot, I discovered another custom -- Sinai Cake. While this goodie also seems to have Sephardi origins, I found an easy (Askenazi?) recipe at ChallahCrumbs.com
Add a little lightning and two graham cracker "tablets", and you're good to go.
Symbolic yumminess. I love it. Enjoy!!!!
Carob fruit for Tu B'Shvat. But Carob fruit for Lag B'Omer? A fitting fruit if you ask me since on Lag B'Omer so many Jews hailing from the Middle East honor the memory of Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai -- one of Rabbi Akiva's outstanding students and author of the Zohar.
What's the carob connection? Legend has it that Rabbi Bar-Yochai and his son hid from the Romans in a cave, where the two learned Torah for 13 years. The miraculous appearance of a carob tree and a spring of water next to the cave provided the nourishment they needed to survive.
Here's the next Tu B'Shvat/Lag B'Omer connection that I'm spinning in my head. Most of us are familiar with the Tu B'Shvat Seder -- a veritable fruit feast. Oddly enough, one of the Lag B'Omer customs practiced by Jews from Tunisia, Libya and Morocco is to hold a feast honoring Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai because Lag B'Omer was a memorable date in his life -- on this same date (not year) he became a certified teacher, got married and passed away.
And you thought this minor holiday is only marked by bonfires!
This week I'm going to help you welcome the Shabbat with news about my new, innovative digital story and lesson plan series -- Shabbat Around the World. In fact, if you look to the right of this post, you will see that I am already featuring it on my website, where it is available exclusively.
I've wanted to do this project for a while. The reason is that I am a huge fan of Shabbat and I want Jewish children to become Shabbat enthusiasts as well, especially since the concept of a day of rest is one of Judaism's greatest gifts to the world.
As you know, I'm a collector of customs and I have been collecting unusual, fun, interesting Shabbat customs for the past six years.
I have hired a wonderful illustrator -- Iris Gat -- and you can already see a sample of her work on the pages you will link to.
I also know my limitations. I am not an educator, so I've hired Barbara Garber -- an American Jewish professional learning consultant who is trained in Understanding By Design curriculum development, has extensive experience in developing lesson plans and activities, coaches teachers and gives professional workshops. Along with my idea input, Barbara has developed unusual, interdisciplinary lesson plans. You can see two sample lesson plans on my website as well.
So let's get going together. As you begin planning next year's curriculum, consider this innovative way of presenting Shabbat through a series that introduces students to unique customs focusing on the Jewish nation's diversity.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.
Last week I went to see Woman In Gold. Aside from the fact that I'm a big fan of Helen Mirren, I wanted to see the film because it is set in Vienna -- my late father's "hometown." The same city he was forced to flee in 1939 after delivering the last sermon in Vienna's Stadttempel.
He never returned -- that is until 1967, and I went with him. It was an unforgettable trip. Not because of the city's beauty. Not because of the city's culture. Not because of the famous Viennese Sachertorte. No, none of this. It was unforgettable because of the callous verbal treatment cast on him by Viennese detecting his accent when he spoke (only) English. It was unforgettable because of the glaring neglect of the Jewish cemetery where his father, my grandfather, lay buried. It was a horrible, emotionally fraught visit that didn't end soon enough, but resurfaced when I saw the film.
While recalling the visit I had another flashback to a much more recent encounter. It took place last year, when I attended a play in Jaffa (Israel) presented by the blind. A large group of Jewish American tourists were also in attendance, some of whom were meeting each other for the first time. Assuming that I was part of them, they asked me where I was from. When they heard Kfar Saba, and that I had been living in Israel for 36 years, they smiled and that was about it. I couldn't help myself, so I struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me, who happened to be a teacher. I asked her if it was true that today's Jewish Americans don't have the connection to Israel that my generation had. When she nodded yes, I asked her why. Lo and behold, one of the reasons she gave was: "the further away the Holocaust is, the less Israel becomes a significant factor."
Clearly, a piece of our puzzle is missing -- the memory factor. Part of being Jewish is always to remember. After all, didn't we just finish remembering the Exodus from Egypt? Didn't we remember the plight of the Jews of Shushan a mere month ago? Didn't we remember the rededication of the Second Temple on Hanukkah? Five months earlier, didn't we fast on Tisha B'Av as a way of remembering and mourning the destruction of the First and Second Temples, and our subsequent exile from the Land of Israel?
That's why the Holocaust shouldn't be allowed to gain an emotional distance. It merits being an enduring part of our collective memory line-up, requiring its own form of commemoration. In 2002 the Conservative Movement in Israel (known as the Masorati Movement) took an important step by creating “Megillat Hashoah” — “The Scroll of the Holocaust”. They did so out of a firm belief that historic events are remembered in Judaism only if it they are connected to a religious ritual. After all, they asked, what will happen when there are no more living survivors? Will the ceremony of lighting six torches in Yad Vashem's courtyard continue?
I think they were, and continue to be, on the right track; one that gives me an idea for a class project -- certainly too late for this year, but not for next. How about creating a class Shoah Scroll? Have students research long lost relatives who could have become part of their personal narrative had the Nazis not had other plans. Let your students write commemorative pieces for these relatives and add personal blessings for longlasting memory. At the end of the project -- put the scroll on display for Yom Ha'Shoah.
Once comfortably planted on our commemorative shelf, the Shoah's distance will never be too great and Israel will regain its significance.
P.S. You may want to have a look at my book Keeping The Promise to help kickstart your Megillat Hashoah. This award-winning book tells the gripping story behind the Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) that Ilan Ramon took up into outer space.
As you turn the pages, a chilling, true Holocaust Bar Mitzvah story unfolds, ending with an uplifting message.
Last week my friend Ruth posted a BuzzFeed piece on 10 suggested Seder upgrades. The first was a DIY charoset bar. I posted back that I may do a Charoset Around the World post. So Ruth, this is for you!
Remember: Charoset symbolizes the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. Since I always come up short with Ashkenazi customs (maybe that's because the list is on the short side?!) I want to give Jews with European roots a boost by starting with a classic Ashkenazi recipe.
- 5 fuji apples, skin removed
- 1 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
- 5 tablepoons sugar
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
What about Egyptian Charoset for more of an authentic touch? Claudia Roden -- cookbook author, cultural anthropoligist and the doyenne of Sephardi cuisine -- hails from Egypt. Here's her Egyptian recipe:
1/2 lb (250g) pitted dates, chopped
1/2 lb (250 g) large yellow raisins or sultanas
1/2 cup (125 ml) sweet red Passover wine
1/2 cup (60 g) walnuts coarsely chopped
Since I've devoted two posts to Italian seder customs, let's look at their culinary side. Mama Mia! You'll enjoy this Italian Charoset recipe.
1/2 pound pitted dates
1/2 pound shelled walnuts
3 large apples, peeled and cored
1 large unpeeled seedless orange, thoroughly washed
2 large bananas
1/2 cup sweet Passover wine (see note below)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Matzo meal as needed
Not to be outdone, the French have their own twist. Mais oui!
French Provencal Style
1 pound chestnuts
1 cup blanched almonds
2 medium tart apples, cored and chopped
1 cup pitted dates
1 cup dried figs
1 cup raisins
1 to 3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
I found this recipe in a Moment Magazine article -- The Sweet Story of Charoset. It includes several recipes, so check them out. The one from Curacao particularly caught my eye -- perhaps because it looks like it could solve the side effect so many of us have from heavy matza consumption.
Curacao Charoset Balls (Garosa)
(makes 25 to 30 balls)
14 pitted dates
10 pitted prunes
8 figs, stems removed
cup golden raisins
cup cashew nuts
lemon, unpeeled and cut in chunks
cup sweet red wine
cup honey, or more as needed
2 tablespoons cinnamon to coat
And now for my favorite recipe -- which of course comes from my book Passover Around the World.
On page 12 you'll find a story from Gibraltar. It's called Preparing the Seder Plate, with the subtitle: Why is a Brick Being Used to Make Charoset? The answer: Remember the mortar? Yup. Once the dates, apples, nuts, almonds, bananas, wine, sugar and cinnamon are mixed, they take a brick, break a few small pieces off (I assume with a hammer) and finely crush them into powder. The grated brick dust is then added to the ingredients, providing the final touch for a true taste of mortar.
Palate pleasing? Not sure. But it certainly gets the message across.
Speaking of messages -- I wish all of you a fun and meaningful Seder that captures the attention of your children.
Yesterday I introduced you to an Italian Passover custom connected to Ha Lachma Anya. Later on in the day, Esther Fellman -- a friend of mine who hails from Guatemala -- commented on it. She wrote: "We do this custom. It came from my Halabi grandfather. We have a small conversation as we pass the matza from shoulder to shoulder -- and we break off the afikomen from this matza."
Esther's grandfather came from Aleppo, Syria. She explained that originally the "conversation" custom was said in Arabic. When the family moved to Guatemala, it was translated into Spanish. When she explained the contents of the conversation I realized that it is a variation of the Turkish theatrical custom appearing on page 16 of my book Passover Around the World. And then I had an Aha moment -- why not ask Esther to write out the conversation in English and Spanish. With so many Spanish speaking Jews across the globe -- and maybe in your own neighborhood and/or classroom -- this could be another added dimension to your seder night. So here it is....
Q. "Where are you coming from?"
A. "From Mitzrayim" (Egypt)
Q. Where are you going?"
A. "To Yerushalayim" (Jerusalem)
Q. And what are you carrying?"
A. "Matza and Maror!"
Q. “ De dónde vienes?”
A. “De Mitzrayim.”
Q. “Adónde vas?”
A. “A Yerushalayim.”
Q. “Y qué llevas?
A. “Matza y Maror!”
When the conversation is finished, someone announces:
"Whoever is hungry, should come down and eat!” Or, as they say in Spanish:
“El que tiene hambre, que venga y coma!”
Thanks Esther for enhancing our multi-cultural Passover celebration!
Matza may or may not be your favorite "bread" staple, but it certainly is packed with symbolism. For Jews around the world, the first fast food known to man epitomizes slavery. That's why at the Seder table Italian Jews pass a plate of matza from shoulder to shoulder as the Seder leader reads the Ha Lachma Anya -- the Haggadah section written in Aramaic that literally means "This is the bread of affliction."
By placing the matza on a plate, Italians emphasize how weighed down the Hebrew slaves were. Passing the plate from shoulder to shoulder is their way of implying that participants should shoulder the burden as well. It's also a unique way of following this Haggadah directive: "In every generation a person must see himself as if he personally came out of Egypt."
In other words, yes it's a story of yesteryear but we are part of the picture. This special Italian custom is a graphic reminder of that fact.
Are you thinking what I'm thinking? That a plate might be too heavy and unstable to pass from shoulder to shoulder? There's nothing wrong with modifying this custom to suit your needs. How about wrapping the matza up in a large napkin and passing it from shoulder to shoulder? Personally, I think this little twist is a more realistic interpretation of feeling that you're leaving Egypt. Somehow I can't see the Children of Israel making sure they don't forget to take their ceramic dishes (or fine China!).
With a little under two weeks to go until Passover, let's recap the new traditions I've introduced over the past three weeks that can help liven up your seder: 1) Your guests stand behind their seats while the Seder plate is brought in with great flourish and placed on the table; 2) today's custom of passing the matza from shoulder to shoulder; and 3) commemorating Miriam with tambourines and choreography when you have finished reading the first half of the Haggadah.
Don't stop here. Remember, my book Passover Around the World provides numerous other customs.
Continue enjoying your Seder planning!
Last week I suggested that you integrate choreography commemorating Miriam at the Seder "Half-Time." This week I'm going to start with the beginning of the Seder by opening up a window to a wonderful Italian custom. It's a Mama Mia one in every sense of the word. It reflects joy, anticipation and is "performed" by Mama.
Among many Italians it is customary not to have the Seder plate positioned on the table, waiting for the guests to arrive. Instead, the guests stand behind their chairs, waiting for the Seder plate to make its grand entrance -- and a grand entrance it is. Covered with netting, it is carried in by an honored elder -- usually the woman of the house. She places it down with great flourish. Sometimes the guests sing songs as she places the Seder plate at the head of the table and removes the netting.
Definitely a fun way to begin the seder. Why stop here? Continue the Seder grand opening by mixing 'n matching customs. Go to page 16 of my book Passover Around the World.
You'll discover a custom performed by Turkish Jews. It's a playful play and a wonderful way to draw children in to actively participate in the Seder.
While the Haggadah tells the story of our Exodus from Egypt, the trick is keeping children engaged in order to absorb the meaning of this holiday. There are loads of ways, many of which are found in my book. In the meantime, I'll be back next week with another fun Italian custom that I've just discovered.
To all parents and teachers -- Happy Seder Planning!
Since today is International Women's Day and we're celebrating the achievements of women, let's give Miriam the prophetess credit where credit is due. Without Miriam -- Moses' big sister -- there would be no Passover. Rather it would have turned into a non-holiday that was passed over.
While Moses and Miriam are not mentioned in the Haggadah, there's no denying that Moses is the star of this story and Miriam is an Oscar winning Best Supporting Actress, with the accent on support. First she supported Moses by hiding him in the side of the river. Then she watched Pharaoh's daughter discover him in the reeds, and suggested to the princess that she use Yocheved -- Moses and Miriam's mother -- as her wet nurse.
Later on in the story, Miriam seamlessly transfers her support to the Hebrew slaves, encouraging them to embrace freedom by taking a tambourine in hand at the Red Sea after Pharaoh's army drowns, and sings a song of victory. Possessing innate leadership qualities, she sets an example for the Hebrew women, who take up their own tambourines, following Miriam's lead in dance and song.
And so we have the foundation for a wonderful custom relayed to me years ago by a neighbor of Iraqi origin. At her family's seder table, all the women rose from their chairs once the family completed reading the first part of the Haggadah. No, it wasn't to serve food. At least not right away. Armed with their own tambourines they tapped their timbrels, shook the "zils" (pairs of small metal jingles positioned around the tambourine) and paid homage to Miriam -- leader, prophetess, first Jewish percussionist and choreographer.
Sounds like fun? You bet. For more fun customs to liven up your seder have a look at my book Passover Around the World. Go through it page by page and script an unforgettable seder that the family will talk about for years to come.
P.S. Here's another Passover tidbit. The Hebrew word for tambourine is תוף מרים -- Tofe Miriam -- which literally means Miriam's Drum.
* Painting of Miriam by Anselm Feuerbach (1829–1880)