Sunday, November 27, 2016

Grade 7-Gesher: WHAT IS BRIT MILAH?

What is a brit milah?

Dr./Mohelet Jennifer Novick was our honored guest speaker in the Gesher class on Tuesday, November 22.  Jen led a fascinating discussion of both the ritual and procedure of Brit Milah, ritual circumcision, for our students as part of our Jewish Life Cycle study.  Some of the content of our discussion follows.  For more information, ask a Gesher student!

The session began with a discussion of “brit” or covenant.  What is a covenant?  The Brit Milah is an agreement between God and the Jewish people. In Genesis, chapter 17, G-d promises to be our G-d and to give us the Land of Israel.  In exchange, Avraham promises, on behalf of all Jews, to let G-d be our G-d and to circumcise our sons as a sign of our agreement.  The circumcision is a permanent marking of the body that cannot be undone.  In fact, the mitzvah to circumcise one’s sons is a hok, a type of law for which there is no logical rationale.  We must do it because G-d said so.

The mitzvah of Brit Milah is specifically for fathers and if the father cannot circumcise his own son he must find somebody, a mohel (male) or mohelet (female), who can do it for him.   One student asked, but my father isn’t Jewish?  Jen answered then it is then the mother’s responsibility. And if the child is an orphan, then the responsibility falls on the Jewish community.

According to the Yorei Deah, giving one’s son a Brit Milah is the most important commandment in Judaism.  It's the one that created the Jewish people and it insures Jewish continuity.  The brit milah dedicates a child as the beginning of the next generation of the Jewish people. 

A student asked, is Brit Milah contradictory to Torah values since we’re not supposed to mar the body? (It is forbidden to cut oneself or tattoo for ritual or aesthetic reasons.)  Nonetheless, we are required to circumcise.  Some commentators suggest that circumcision offers humans the opportunity to partner with G-d in the process of Creation. Similarly, the bracha for bread is ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz (who brings forth bread from the earth). Human beings must harvest wheat, mill the wheat into flour, and make bread from the flour in order to have bread with which to make this blessing.  G-d gives us this opportunity to partner with G-d in order to achieve holiness and to perceive G-d’s presence.

We learned that the Brit Milah service has four parts:  (1) Everybody and the baby are welcomed.  It is a special honor to bring the baby into the room in which the Brit Milah will take place and an even greater honor to hold the baby during the circumcision.  (2) The circumcision  (3) naming the baby and (4) the seudat mitzvah or festive meal (all Jewish milestone events are punctuated by a communal meal).

And we learned that the foreskin is not discarded.  It is buried.

Jen brought some of the tools, forceps and a Morgan clamp, used in the brit milah.  Students were fascinated!

Our session with Jen was extraordinary!  We were engaged, informed and brought closer to this significant ritual.  During the presentation, she suggested that like rabbis and cantors, mohelim are klei kodesh, holy vessels, who bring holiness into the lives of others.  This was certainly our experience!  Toddah Rabbah, thank you so very much.

HaMorah Margalit (aka Gretchen Marks Brandt)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Grade 5: Kitah Hey- Diana's Update

Dear Kitah Hey parents,

Fifth grade Hebrew is going great! The students have been working hard on their Hebrew reading skills, participating in a variety of games including a class favorite, BINGO. After learning the Vayehi Binsoa prayer, I created several BINGO boards that included words from this prayer. Words were called out and the students were expected to find the correct word on their boards. The fifth graders had so much fun with this and I was very impressed with their ability to find the words so quickly. 

Last Sunday, the students spent all of class working on their group art projects where they collaborated to artistically represent morning blessings of their choosing. During this time, the students showed their ability to both delegate and compromise. The projects are coming along beautifully.

This past Tuesday, we continued on with Hebrew games. 

Three different games were designed and played during this time:

#1  As our class will soon begin learning the Hebrew vocabulary for emotions (happy, sad, excited, etc.), I created a memory/matching game to preview this. Emotions with their corresponding picture and Hebrew name were put on cards. Teams played this game against each other, competing for the most matches, in order to expose themselves to this new vocabulary. 

#2  Another game students participated in was a Hebrew word race. Students took turns reading a column of Hebrew words as fast as they could, while timed, to see who would win. Some of the students even asked to race against me! They loved doing this.

#3  The last game the students played was designed just like a game board (boxes filled with previously learned Hebrew words winding around the page). Students took turns picking numbers from a deck of cards to find out how many boxes they needed to move. The students had to correctly say the word they landed on. Each word was worth a certain number of points, needless to say, the students got competitive. They each took their time so that they could carefully read each word.

Who knew learning could be so fun?

A brief note regarding homework:
Because of the art project, we have not yet had time to begin learning the prayer said when taking the Torah out of the ark. We will begin this on Tuesday. The fifth graders will receive a December calendar at this time and a copy of that calendar will also be uploaded here on this blog. 

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving break!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


I am thankful for the Temple Israel of Natick community.
I am thankful to be part of this generous, caring and compassionate
I am thankful to the Gesher (7th grade) students for enthusiastically leading
our Thanksgiving campaign.
I am thankful to the teachers who provided time and space in their classes and encouraged their students and families to support this campaign.
I am thankful to all the students and parents who gave so generously to our
Thanksgiving campaign.
I am thankful that we met our goal and then some!!!
We succeeded in gathering food to provide eight families with Thanksgiving feasts.  We also donated additional funds, stuffing and quick bread mixes.
With your help, WE DID IT!!!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Grade 1: Alef SHEMA 11-20-16

Dear alef families:
Thank you for attending our shema workshop, a continuation of the discussion and book we began last week.  I read First I Say the Shema with the class.    Rachel Arcus-Goldberg led the program, showing breathing techniques using the letters sh-mm-aa to relax.  She also read Bedtime Shema to the class. Everyone decorated a pillowcase imprinted with the Shema.  Students added their names in Hebrew.

Rachel reminded everyone to set the colors by ironing it or putting it in the dryer for 30 minutes.  There are pillowcases in the office for absentees.

Students also made an imprint of their hands on kippot, including for the absentees.  In December, the will paint them.

HEBREW:  Our Hebrew letter for today is ר “resh,” which is the first letter in “rabbi,” Rosh Hashanah, “rechevet,” (railroad), and “ruach,” (wind or spirit).

We began a discussion on thankfulness.  Each child got a paper (which I also emailed to you with photos of today’s program).  I hope that you will discuss these ideas over the holiday.

PLEASE NOTE—There is no Sunday class the next two Sundays.  On December 4, teachers will attend the Limmud educators’ conference.  Our next class is on Sunday, December 11.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Judy and Cheryl (Esther and Tzipporah)

Grade K - Gan Class Update 11-20-16

Hello Gan Class Families!

Its crazy that it is already the end of November and we are three months into our learning journey!

Today the journey continued with a very busy day. We started in the Sanctuary for Tefilah with Cantor Ken where we learned a new song and sang many prayers where we needed to use our bodies to either stand, dance or make motions.  This practice helped us to make an important discovery.  We use our whole bodies to pray!  

Our whole school art project continued with the Gan Class making a personal project.  Each student used the same technique as last week to make a handprint on a kippah that will be theirs to keep!  We will paint them, and the panels for the whole school project on December 11th.  This is the day that you will need to be careful about what clothes you are wearing or you will need to bring a smock.

We read a new Torah story today.  Our third story is about Adam and Eve's two sons Cain and Abel.  Cain was a farmer and Abel a shepherd.  They both decide to give gifts to God. Cain gives some vegetables and Abel gives G-d his very best sheep.  G-d likes Abel's gift better which makes Cain angry.  Cain fights will Abel and during the fight Abel dies.  As a punishment, Cain must move away and he spends years not feeling like he belongs anywhere.

Our new letter today was tav.  Tav makes the sound t- and begins the word Torah.  We went to the sanctuary to make observations about the Torahs that are in the Aron Kodesh and students noticed so many great details.  They were able to compare the Torah's in the Sanctuary to the ones in the Chapel.  We learned many ways to show respect for the Torah including standing when the ark is open, using a siddue or tallit to kiss the torah and decorating the Torah like royalty. 

I hope you all enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving and I look forward to seeing you in December!


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Grade 7-Gesher is Amazing!

Gesher is amazing!

Gesher students are leading the TIRS Thanksgiving campaign.  Last week, our Gesher students began their first mitzvah project of the year the TIRS Thanksgiving Dinner Campaign to benefit eight Natick families through the Natick Service Council.  They presented the campaign to each of the other classes and are tracking donations while collecting both cash donations and non-perishables in our class too.  With great poise, three students made a presentation on the TI bima last Shabbat (Nov. 12). They are learning the challenges of leadership including clear communication, motivation, and modeling the behavior you wish to see.  They are also learning some of the nuances of providing for others: protecting people’s dignity (thus the recipients are not named), sensitivity to members of our own community who may not be in a position to give (and so, we do not make judgments and some of us will give more). 

Birkot haShachar Arts Program: Gesher is part of the TIRS Birkot haShachar (morning blessings) Arts Program in which each class has been assigned several brachot (blessings) to explore and then to illustrate on large fabric panels.  Appropriately, Gesher received the blessings for putting on tallit and tefillin.  Unlike many of the other blessings in Birkot haShachar, the blessings for tallit and tefillin include the words “asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav, vitzivanu, who has made us holy with His commandments and commanded us to…” Thus, in Gesher, our study of the brachot began with an exploration of what it means and feels like to be commanded and we looked at other blessings that include these words for comparison to the blessings for tallit and tefillin.  Next, in a lesson called “Dressing the Part”, we discussed the influence of one’s clothing on one’s personal experience and how others see them. Students provided suggestions for the purpose of uniforms for athletes, firefighters, physicians, police officers, and the military.  They agreed that uniforms identify the wearer and often protect him or her too.  We thought about how wearing a tallit and tefillin influenced our experience of prayer and debriefed that experience after several prayer experiences. Our third lesson in this series focused on texts and meaning of tallit and tefillin.  Students heard the story, “The Tallit” in which a boy writes blessings to be placed in his tallit.  Students wrote their own blessings.  Then they discussed a midrash,

 A person is thrown from a boat into the water.  The captain stretches out a rope and tells the person to take firm hold of it, for the person’s life depends on it.  The rope is like the tzitzit, the drowning person is like Israel, and the captain is like God.  The tzitzit, which provides a lifeline for adherence to the commandments, is life itself. (Numbers Rabbah 17: 6)

Next we explored the two brachot (blessings) for tefillin, one of which is said when one wraps the tefillin around one’s arm and the other, when one places the tefillin on one’s head.  We noted that the word tefillin is based on the word, tefillah (prayer.) And we looked at another midrash,

How do you know that the Holy One puts on tefillin? For it is said: The Lord hath sworn by His right hand, and by the arm of his strength… “And by the arm of His strength”: this is tefillin… What is written in the tefillin of the Lord of the Universe?  And who is like the people Israel, a nation one in the earth… The Holy One said to Israel:  You have made me a unique entity in the world… as it is said: Hear, O’ Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. ‘And I shall make you a unique entity in the world,’ as it is said: And who is like Thy people Israel, a nation one in the earth” (Berakhot 6a).

We examined the framed open tefillin in our chapel which shows the four scrolls in the tefillin worn on the head and one scroll in the arm-tefillin. 

Students were divided into three teams, one for each assigned blessing, and each team began designing a panel to illustrate their blessing.

Havdalah is a very short and beautiful service that ends the Shabbat.  It includes some verses from the Psalms, blessings over wine, spices and fire and a blessing expressing our gratitude to G-d for making distinctions.  In class, we re-purposed etrogs used for Sukkot worship by inserting cloves in them to make b’samim (spice sachets for use during Havdalah.) Our etrog-b’samim are currently drying at my home and will be sent home with students when they’re ready for use.  In the meantime, here are some beautiful resources for learning the Havdalah liturgy.

Parashat HaShavua:  Our study of the weekly Torah portion has grappled with Noah, a tzaddik in his generation and Lech-Lecha, the beginning of the story of Avraham and Sarah. This week, we will learn more about Avraham and Sarah and meet their son, Isaac too.

Life Cycle: We are honored to have a special guest in class this Tuesday, November 22. Dr. Jennifer Novick, a trained and experienced mohelet, will teach our students about Brit Milah.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Grade 2: Kitah Bet Happenings

Kitah Bet students began designing their parts of the Community Birkot HaShachar quilt. Our class is working on creating designs for the first four blessings of Birchot HaShachar.  A week ago Sunday, we practiced singing these blessings and discussed their meaning at some length.  We also spend time laying the groundwork for small group work by talking about what skills are needed to help us work together. The children came up with many key components of successful group work such as the ability to share and to compromise. In addition, the children talked about the value of group work; how much we can learn from each other when we work together. Yesterday during class, Kitah Bet students were divided up into 4 groups, one group for each of the brachot.  Each group answered questions about their bracha and brainstormed ideas for a design.  Then they began the actual design work. We will continue to move forward with the work on the quilt next Sunday when the students will finalize their designs and complete the first part in the quilt making process. Both the students and teachers are excited about moving forward with this project. 

Shavua Tov,  Hamorah Joanne and Hamorah Margie

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Grade K - Gan Class Update 11-13-16

It was a very special morning at Temple Israel as the whole school began an amazing art project. Every student in the school is involved in creating a several panel quilt about the prayers included in Birkot HaShachar, the morning blessings.

As Gan Class students, we have just begun to become familiar with many of the prayers included in BiKot HaShachar so we spent the morning experiencing them in different ways.  We first read a story about the different prayers we say each morning to learn about the prayers and how each helps us to thank God.
Image result for modeh ani book 

Next, we joined Robin in the Sanctuary for interactive Tefillot where we all prayed on the bima together.  We practiced saying the blessings and thinking about what they meant by making personal connections.

In our classroom, parents helped us to create the borders for the quilts.  Each student made a hand print with glue.  In the coming weeks, we will paint over these hand prints to make a beautifully decorated piece of fabric that will be added to the quilt.  We will also be working on a project that we can take home to enjoy.

Another part of our learning today was focused on the Birkot HaShachar prayers in our Siddur. Students practiced finding the pages, looked at and reflected upon the pictures that accompany the prayers, and practiced Modeh Ani. We discussed the meaning of many of the prayers and students were able to make personal connections to thanking God for food and clothes, having healthy bodies, telling the difference between night and day, and opening our eyes.

Finally, each student illustrated and shared something that they are thankful for.  Many students gave their peers compliments on their drawings and ideas.  

As always, please let me know if you have any questions or concerns about the Gan Class.

Have a wonderful week!


Grade 1: Kitah Alef Shema introduction November 13, 2016

Dear kitah alef families:

This morning, the class was busy with several activities to prepare for future programs.

STORY AND CRAFT: First we read My Bedtime Sh’ma Coloring Book, Starring Me.  We discussed bedtime routines, such as reading stories, putting on pajamas, etc.  We looked at the letters in shema and how to read them. We close our eyes and say the shema; then we go to sleep.  Then students added their own faces, to personalize the books.  Please look at the back cover for more ideas for bedtime.

In class we discussed some of the morning blessings, discussing how we might show being thankful for having what we need, for creating me in G-d’s image, for making me Jewish, among others.  Our tefllah with the gan class revolved around the birchat hashachar (morning blessings.)  Students told Robin what they are thankful for. 

Back in our room, students applied glue to their hands and then pressed them on fabric, to be part of the border on the school’s morning blessing artwork.  In a few weeks, they will paint the panels.

HEBREW: Our Hebrew letter this week was ה hay.  Some words that begin with ה are Havdalah, har (mountain) and Yom Huledet (birthday). We are beginning to decode words like abba, bat, shamash, among others.

TORAH:  We completed the pamphlet on Moses and Miriam.  We talked about the many people who protected baby Moses—Miriam, his mother, the midwives, Pharaoh’s daughter.  We discussed  people in our lives that protect us, like firefighters.

PLEASE JOIN US NEXT SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 20.  At 10 a.m. there is a program just for the parents.  At 10:30 join us to learn more about the shema and to create something to use for bedtime. I look forward to seeing you then.  Since we will be using fabric markers, which do not wash out of clothing, please let your child wear clothing that may get stained.  Thank you.

Thank you also for contributing to the gesher class’s Thanksgiving food drive.  Please bring in your donation next week.  I will bring instant mashed potatoes.

Shavua tov—have a good week.  See you next Sunday!

Judy and Cheryl (Esther and Tzipporah)

Gimel Goings On

Shalom Kitah Gimel,

Gimel students have been hard at work over the last couple of weeks with many exciting things!

Students are moving full steam ahead with learning to read and sing the Birkot Hashachar and I am excited to see that many are utilizing Google Voice.  I just love getting those calls and listening to your son/daughter reading!

Homework Calendar
Please remember to initial your child's homework calendar whenever they read to you.  Also, even though the calendar says call Google Voice on a Friday, students are welcome to call any day during the week and Sunday.

Station Rotation
Last Sunday students participated in different station rotations during Hebrew.  There were three stations:
  1. Reading Station where they met with me to review lines learned in Birkot Hashachar and to learn new lines.
  2. Game Station:  Students played a game called "Roll a Word" where they roll a die and read the word it lands on.  All the words were from Birkot Hashachar.
  3. Independent Work Station:  Students worked on a word find activity where they had to look for specific letters and vowels in the first of the Birkot Hashachar.

We began exploring the concept of courage in the story of the midwives who saved Moses' life. Students completed journal entries where they described what courage looks like, feels and sounds like to them.  For a movement activity students did "trust falls" in pairs and then as a class discussed what gave them the courage to fall.  Next week we will read and discuss the story of the midwives through role play and conversation, and talk about how being part of a community can give us courage.

All School Birkot Hashachar Quilt
We began our exciting morning with an all school active Tefillah!  Students were then divided into groups to put their handprints onto the border of our quilt.

Back in the classroom we talked about what we are looking forward to about the day and some of the things we are grateful for in our lives.  Ideas such as friends, family, food, water, air and books came out of this conversation.

Gimel class will be focusing on 4 of the morning blessings for the quilt, which thank G-d for taking care of different aspects of our lives.

Hevruta (Group) Study
Students were divided into 4 groups and each group was given a worksheet to complete about the blessing assigned to their group.  Students were asked to think about how their blessing looks by color and shape, how it feels by thinking about its importance, and how it sounds by thinking about instruments, animal souunds and sounds in nature.  They then used this information to start designing their panel on newsprint paper.  Next week we will reflect on the designs, finalize our designs and start transferring them on to the fabric panel and outline them with glue.

I can't wait to see the final product!



Kitah Hey- Diana's Update

Dear Kitah Hey Parents,

Your students have been busy at work over the past week at Temple Israel. Last Sunday, the fifth graders spent the first half of class practicing their Hebrew decoding skills. The students participated in a number of exercises which aided them in reading the words in the Vayehi Binsoa prayer which we are currently studying. After getting the words down pat, they learned the full tune for the prayer and sang it beautifully. I'm so proud of them!

On Tuesday, Dan Brosgol from Prozdor came to the temple to teach the fifth grade a little about Israel and the differences between the Israeli and American government and their election processes. The class also learned about Israel's "Right of Return". They worked in groups to think critically about exceptions they felt should be in place in regard to this right. Their ideas were very interesting and were very similar to the exceptions laid out in the Constitution of Israel.

The students ideas:
1. Only adults, or children with guardians, should be able to take part in this right
2. People with a criminal record should not be allowed to take part
3. Only Jews and new converts who are sincere about their Judaism should be able to take part

In Hebrew class on Wednesday, we read a tale about a brilliant rabbi. One day, the ark in the rabbi's synagogue spoke to him and told the rabbi that he would be granted one wish. The rabbi explained that there wasn't anything he needed to wish for because he was happy with his life. The ark began to cry, saying that the rabbi could have ended world hunger or stopped all suffering if he hadn't been so selfish. After reading this story, the fifth graders worked independently and then shared their ideas about the lesson this story teaches. One student explained that the story teaches that everyone's well-being matters just as much as our own and that, in order to be righteous, wishes should be used to benefit all people. Another student explained that the story teaches us to point our hearts in the direction of those in need. The fifth graders were also asked the question, " Why do most Hebrew prayers use the words 'we' and 'our' instead of 'my' and 'I'?"  One student explained that this is because the Jewish people consider themselves a community and that "we are one". Such beautiful responses.