Friday, March 31, 2017


Mazal tov to the Siegal and Henderson families on Maddy’s Bat Mitzvah (March 18) and Mikayla’s Bat Mitzvah (March 25).  Both girls were spectacular!  It was an honor and a blessing to share their simchas.

In class, we continue to study the weekly Torah portion with an emphasis on engaging our teens and developing personal meanings.  Recently, some struggled with the idea of animal sacrifices and others suggested that we must understand these events through the eyes of the ancients for whom animal sacrifice was a natural method of worship.  Parashat Va-yikra presented the five types of korbanot (“sacrifices” though the Hebrew root means ‘to draw close’).  The mincha offering was an offering of flour, oil, salt and frankincense.  We passed around a bottle of frankincense oil and invited students to sniff.  For some it was a pleasing fragrance, others did not care for it.  We wondered about the Biblical assumption that frankincense is pleasing to God.

Our study of the Jewish life cycle ventured into Jewish marriage and Jewish divorce.  Students wondered why these ceremonies were so highly gender specific and were able to ask the rabbi their questions when Rabbi Liben joined us to share his expertise on the subject.

Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of the Sages, a tractate of the Mishna, has been a focus on Sunday mornings.  Students learn verses from Pirkei Avot and some commentaries on those verses, then they become movie producer-commentators as they create their own short videos about what the verse means to them.  Their videos are amazing and demonstrate thought, creativity and deep understanding.

Two Opportunities to experience Prozdor: 
  • On April 4 (4:00-5:00) at Temple Israel, Dan Brosgol, director of Prozdor will be teaching our 6th and 7th grade students.  Parents are welcome to join the class: Shifting Narratives—Retelling Passover and considering Alternatives and to get a taste of the Prozdor experience. 
  • On April 30 (10:00-12:00), there will be an open house at Prozdor (located at Hebrew College, 160 Herrick Road, Newton) especially for 7th grade students.  Parents and students will have the opportunity to see the Prozdor campus,visit classes, meet with instructors and to speak with students and staff.
We hope that every Gesher family for the continued Jewish growth of their Gesher student. Prozdor provides extraordinary opportunities for traditional and experiential learning and to meet other Jewish teens.

This Sunday (April 2) our focus will be the Prophet, Elijah.  We have spoken about him briefly because he is an honored guest at every brit milah.  He has an important place at our Passover seders as well and so, in preparation for Passover, we will learn more about him and why he attends the brit milah and the seder. Since he is also an important character in Jewish folklore, a proper study of Elijah must include some stories.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Grade K - Gan Class Update 3-26-17

Hello Gan Class Families!

Thank you so much for sending in those egg cartons!  We were able to put them to good use making some decorations for dinner on April 7th!

During Teffilah this morning, we continued to practice leading the chorus of L'cha Dodi.  I can't wait for you to hear us at Kabbalat Shabbat!  We also spent time refreshing our memories about the order of the seder with some cute hand motions and sang the 4 Questions so that we can be ready for the seders in just 2 weeks.

Our new Torah story takes place several generations after Noah built the Ark.  In this story we followed the journey of Abram and Sarai on their way to Canaan.  In future stories, we will know them as Abraham and Sarah.

Today we learned two new letters.  The first was koof which makes the sounds k- and begins the word keshet which means rainbow.  Students have already learned the other two letters in the word keshet and together we were able to spell the whole word!  Our second letter was yud.  Students seemed confident that they would remember this letter because it is so small.  Yud makes the sound y- and beings the word yad.

The Celebrations Topic today had us exploring the world!  We used a mat to mark off all of the places where we knew someone Jewish lived.  Students shared about lots of friends and family members as we filled out the map.  Once we were finished, students realized that Jewish people live all over the world and even though places around the world are different, being Jewish makes us all the same in one way.  Check out what our map looked like...

Please remember to sign up to join us for dinner on April 7th by March 31st.

See you all next week!

Alef--Pesach introduction March 26, 2017

Dear families:

Everyone was here today as we began our study of Pesach!

We started our day in the sanctuary with Cantor Ken.  He led us in the chorus of Leha Dodi, which we will be singing with the gan class at the family Shabbat on Friday, April 7. The service starts at 5:45, followed by a Chinese dinner.  I hope that the class can be there to sing.

With Cantor Ken, we also sang the Four Questions, the Order of the Seder, and Dayenu.

In class, Ariel listed our brainstorming about Pesach.  The students know so much about Pesach rituals.  Then, we looked at the Seder plate and pictures of the foods we enjoy.

STORY:  We read the interactive Passover Is Here!  As a family remembers when Hebrew slaves were freed from Egypt, a young boy participates in the Pesach traditions.  We lifted the flaps to discover why certain foods are eaten and why certain questions are asked.  Using puppets, we also reviewed the plagues.

CRAFT:  Each child worked on a Seder clock, which shows highlights of the Seder in pictures to help the children keep track of the order of the events. Lois Davison, the school secretary, will laminate them during the week.  We will add the hand afterwards.   Move the clock hand as the Seder progresses.  I hope you will use it at your family table.

HEBREW:   Our letter this week was ח“het”--the first letter of Hanukkah and hallah, and hatool, (cat).

As time permits, we also did puzzle papers and played my learning games.  Among the favorites are my Uh Oh! books and my game Find the Afikomen.  Our final activity was working cooperatively on two-piece puzzles about the Seder.

Shavua tov!

Judy and Cheryl (Esther and Tzipporah)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Kitah Hey- Diana's Update

Shalom Kitah Hey families!

The fifth graders have been having a wonderful few weeks of class. Last week, we celebrated Purim, discussed the story behind the holiday, and had a discussion about the motivations behind certain characters in the story. During Hebrew, we played a huge game of Jeopardy where students created their own teams and competed with their classmates to say the most Hebrew words correctly for the most points. The students absolutely loved the fun competition and requested we play again soon.

This past week was the kick-off of our new elective program at TI. For the next two weeks, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, students will be participating in a small group havruta study of the Ha Lachma Anya text, recited during the Passover Seder. After this, students will go to their electives for one hour to apply what they learned in their havruta sessions to art, Legos, cooking, or technology. 

In the havruta session this past Tuesday and Wednesday, students discussed the idea of matzah as "the bread of slavery" as well as the idea of matzah as "the bread of freedom". The students took a look at several famous rabbis' interpretations and explained the thoughts in their own words. Several of the students I worked with explained that matzah connects to slavery in that matzah is low and flat just like the social class of the Israelites during the Passover story. The Israelites had no power and worked hard all day doing back-breaking work. 

In Tuesday's art elective, students had the chance to reflect on their learning from the havruta session. Students were provided with construction paper, tape, staples, markers, and glue to design an artistic piece that best represented the topic covered. The students' creations were outstanding. So much thought was put into each one of them! A few examples are shown below.

We began discussing the main project we will be working on in the art elective over the next two weeks; a matzah holder. Students will have the opportunity to work with a variety of art materials to best represent the themes covered during havruta study (i.e. matzah as the "bread of slavery", matzah as the "bread of freedom", the difference between the "needy" vs. "hungry", and students' interpretation of the phrase, "Next year in Jerusalem!") This matzah holder, once completed, will be brought home to use as part of the Passover Seder. Can't wait to get started!


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Trope Update from Cantor Ken - Haftarah Blessings

We're snowed out on Tuesday, and if we're back in school, we'll be on for Wednesday.
A couple quick reminders: 

1) A reminder to please make arrangements for the 6th graders to take off school for at least the morning of Wednesday, May 31, for our Shavuot end-of-year celebration, and for parent/s and/or another adult to be able to be with them.  (for those of you who will be out of town on this date, I've noted that, but I'll start to divide up portions for everyone else soon)

2) For those students with Torah readings coming up, please work on those!

3) The students should be practicing regularly and should be getting fluent with the blessings before and after the Haftarah (tracks 14 and 16-21 on this page:, links are also below)

  1. Blessing Before Haftarah 
  2. Blessing After Haftarah 1 
  3. Blessing After Haftarah 2 
  4. Blessing After Haftarah 3 
  5. Blessing After Haftarah 4 
  6. Blessing After Haftarah 5 
  7. Blessing After Haftarah 6 
Thanks, and stay safe and warm!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Alef--Godly Play Shema, March 19, 2017

Dear families:
A busy, delightful day today!  We began with tefillah with Cantor Ken.  We are learning the melody and motions to the v’ahavta, thanks to grade 2.  We also began singing the Four Questions with him.  Our class will officially begin our unit on Pesach next week.

Thank you, Eliza, a grade 6 aide, for assisting us in our activities, today. 

After singing in Hebrew about the weather and discussing our day’s plans, we began our Hebrew lesson. This week, we learnedנ.  Some  נ words are “ner tamid,” and “nerot” (candles).  We also did a paper on locating some letters in the shema like alef, yud, dalet, among others.  The children are doing so well  recognizing the letters and sounds.

GODLY PLAY: We engaged in the story of The Shema: the Promise of Israel.  In Egypt, Israel (Jacob’s new name) feared that his children would become like the Egyptians in dress, in language, and religion.  They assured their father with the shema: “Listen, Israel, Adonai is our G-d, Adonai is one.”  Reassured that his descendants would remember the G-d of Abraham and Isaac, Jacob softly said the second line of the shema, “G-d’s glorious kingdom is forever.”  Then Israel died.  Though the Israelites remained in Egypt for 400 years, many of them as slaves, they kept their Hebrew names and their religion. 

These words and the rest of the shema are on the klaf (parchment scroll) we place in the mezuzah we hang on our doorposts.  We examined my mezuzah and its scroll.  This scroll is parchment, written by hand by a sofer in the traditional way.

The children respond so well to the wondering portion:  I wonder what part of the story you liked best, I wonder where you are in the story.

REINFORCEMENT activities included a description and illustration of what they think of when they say the shema.  We also made a model of a mezuzah to hang at home.

Shavua tov!  Have a good week!

Judy and Cheryl (Esther and Tzipporah)

Grade K - Gan Class Update 3-19-17

Hello Gan Class Families!

I am so glad that the forecast of snow didn't prevent us form having another wonderful morning together.

During Tefillah this morning we began learning the chorus of L'cha Dodi a song from Kabbalat Shabbat.  We will have the opportunity to help lead this prayer on Friday, April 7th at the Religious School sponsored Shabbat dinner.  We will continue to practice each week with Cantor Ken to make sure we sound spectacular on the 7th!  To prepare for Passover, we have also begun to practice the Four Questions.  Many of the Gan Class students were already familiar with them.  Cantor Ken taught us some hand motions to help us learn the meaning of each of the questions.  

We illustrated our ideas about the Tower of Babel story after a quick review of all the stories we already know.  Students are looking forward to meeting some new characters in our Torah stories next week,

There were two new letters today.  Mem makes the sound m- and begins the word mezzuzah. Aleph is very tricky.  Like ayin, it has no sounds when its all alone.  A word that we learned that begins with aleph is aron kodesh which is the ark where the torahs are kept.  We practiced all of our letters and sounds with Bina and worked on our letter recognition skills through some word work activities. 

In our Celebrations curriculum, we explored the building in search of mezzuzot.  We first learned about the mezzuzah and how it contains the Shema.  We searched the Temple and found 28 mezzuzot of different shapes, sizes and materials. During our exploration, students noticed that not all of the doors had a mezzuzah and wanted to know who they could talk to about changing that.  We also learned about the Shema.  This important prayer is around us all the time. We discussed what the prayer meant, and how it helps us connect to God and the Gan Class students had some excellent ideas!  We also practiced saying the Shema with our fingers in the shape of a shin.

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

Have a wonderful week!


Sunday, March 12, 2017

alef--Purim 3-12-17


First, thank you so much for including me in your mishloach manot baskets.  It was most thoughtful of you.  I will share the goodies with my husband.  The hamantaschen were delicious!

Today was the culmination of our unit on Purim.  Some of us wore costumes (I was Super Hamantashen.).  See the letter I sent you, with a picture of the class, Cheryl, and me in our costumes.  Cheryl is the Morton Salt girl—“when it rains, it pours.”

We retold the story, booing Haman.  We reviewed the mitzvot of Purim: hearing the megillah, celebrating, giving mishloach manot (at least two different foods) to friends, and giving tzedakah to the poor.  Using the Hebrew alphabet, we reviewed everything from Esther to Teresh (one of the king’s would-be assassins).

STORY:   We read a book called Can You Guess? Purim Big Book. We reviewed Purim—Esther, Mordecai, Ahashuerus, Haman, Vashti, Adar, the gregger, and more.  The children applied objects to this Purim book.

CRAFT:  Students created a gregger to “give Haman a headache.”  We used them in the tefillah at the end of the day.  First we said several tefillah like the shema backwards.  Then Robin, Cantor Ken, and Rabbi Liben led us in a reading of It Happened in Shusham as the megillah.. They used their greggers to drown out Haman’s name.

HEBREW:  Our Hebrew lesson today was the vowel sound “ee,” represented by a . under any letter.  Some examples are “eema” (mother), “tzipporah” (bird), and “mayeem” (water).  We also learned  עayin.  Some words beginning with ע are etz (tree), etz hayyim (rollers for the Torah), ayin (eye), and eparon (pencil).

Judy and Cheryl  (Esther and Tzipporah)

Grade K - Gan Class Update 3-12-17

Chg Purim Gan Class Families!

We had such an exciting morning celebrating Purim together.  There was a spectacular array of costumes in our classroom from favorite movie and TV characters to princesses, fairies and delicious food.

Today we revisited the story of the Tower of Babel.  Students are enjoying retelling the Torah stories each week and each time we review them together students are able to share more details from the week before.  Next week we will illustrate a picture about this story and meet a new family in our Torah stories.

We continued to learn about the letter vav.  We made a great connection to Queen Vashti from the Megillah.  Queen Vashti's name begins with the letter vav.  Students practiced pairing letter and sounds as a group with Bina before engaging in some great Purim activities.

To learn about Purim, we read together a really cute story about Talia.  Her grandmother tells her the story of Passover while they are making Hamantashen but she thinks that her grandmother called them haman-tushies!
Image result for talia and the haman tushies
One of the things that Jewish people do on Purim is make Mishloach Manot to give to others.  Today each student created a Mischloach Manot to give to their families for the holiday.  Students painted paper plates to look like a hamantashen and then filled the middle with goodies to share with families.  This was a fantastic opportunity to discuss how important it is to give things to others even if you want to keep them for yourself.

Have a wonderful (and not too snowy) week!


Kitah Bet children and teachers had an awesome morning today celebrating Purim.  The children heard Purim stories and played hangman with Hebrew words.  They continued to expand their knowledge of Hebrew letters and worked on their Hebrew reading.  With Hamorah Joanne, the "betnickim" made stick puppets resembling the main character stories in the megillah and reviewed Purim customs through Purim themed crossword puzzles.  We ended our morning with a very silly tefillah program with Rabbi Liben and Robin. Since on Purim, everything is supposed to be "hafuch" or topsy-turvy, we started with the prayers at the end of the morning service and ended with the prayers at the beginning of the service. We also said some of the prayers completely backwards. Finally, the children helped to re-read the Purim story using rebus pictures.

Chag Purim Sameach to one and all!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Grade K - Gan Class Update 3-5-17

Hello Gan Class Families!

I hope you all had a wonderful break!  Yesterday marked the first of  six classes in a row!  This is very exciting because both Purim and Passover take place during these six weeks.

Our day began with Teffilah in the Sanctuary.  In addition to the morning prayers, we sang some Purim songs with Cantor Ken.  Students are learning many of the prayers and are becoming familiar with the siddur.

The story of the Tower of Babel was the focus of our Torah curriculum.  In this story, the people wanted to build a tower that reached the sky.  God did not want them to do this so he made it difficult for them to build by confusing all their speech.  Without good communication, they were not able to build the tower.  To experience this, students engaged in a building activity.  They were asked to work together to build the tallest tower they could without talking.  Below is a picture of their tower.
After all the blocks were used, students were asked to share about their experience.  Many said that they could have built a better tower if they could have talked to each other.  They thought that it was hard not knowing the ideas of their friends.

Vav was the letter of the day.  Vav makes the sound v- and begins the word vered which means rose.  Students were excited to use their bodies to shape the letter vav as its much easier to shape than some of our other letters.  To practice our letters we learned a new game, Around the World.  Students are shown a letter and the first to share its sound is challenged by another student. We are looking forward to playing this game again!

The Gan Class students already knew so many wonderful things about Purim.  They are excited to dress up and eat hamantaschen.  Next week we will spend most of the day experiencing Purim.  Students should feel free to wear a school appropriate costume and be prepared to make some noise during our Megillah reading!  Directly after Religious School is the Annual Purim Carnival which will be from 12:00-1:30pm.  

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


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Alef--Godly Play on Purim March 5, 2017

Dear families:
We began with tefillah.  Led by Cantor Ken, we sang the morning blessings, the shema, and “hallelu” with all the instruments.  The second grade led the V’ahavta, using the hand motions that they had learned. After singing Hatikvah and This Land is Your Land, we went back to class.

 HEBREW: We learned the letter tsadee,  צ the first   letter in tzedakah, “tzfarde’a” (frog), and   “tzipoor” (bird).  Besides taking turns reading from our text, the children review the letter packs in   pairs.

As I explained to the children, every school has periodic fire drills, just in case.  Today, we knew about it in advance, and we had time to put on our coats and hats.  We walked silently to the basketball net near the playground.  Then we returned to class—and snack with our usual brachot.

We began learning about Purim, that jolly holiday.  We celebrate by listening to the megillah, eating hamantaschen and special meals, wearing costumes, sending mishloah manot (baskets of goodies) to friends, and giving tzedakah.

I did the GODLY PLAY lesson on Purim.  As you can see by the photos below, I tell the story, using simple wooden figures and little scenery, so that each student can imagine what it looks like. After the story, I ask “wondering” questions like which part of the story did you like best, where do you see yourself in the story, what part was exciting, etc. The students are very attentive and have thoughtful answers to the questions.

Two activities followed.  CRAFT:  As a project, the children created drawings to make their own picture megillah.  During free time, students could do a word search, read books, or play Purim games.

BIBLE: With Cheryl, students read and discussed the pamphlet Esther; they thought of things that Jews everywhere do, and how to be loyal to Judaism, such as lighting candles, giving tzedakah, etc.

Our last activity was singing some Purim melodies: “When You Hear the Name of Haman,” (to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”), “My Hat, it has Three Corners,” and “For Purim Day,” (a song I wrote to the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus”)  

The children are encouraged to come in costume next week.  There will be a regular session on March 12, with the Purim carnival after school.

Shavua tov!

Judy and Cheryl (Esther and Tzipporah)

7th Grade/Gesher is Amazing!

Parashat Mishpatim, with its 53 ordinances, challenged us to consider the meaning of many laws.  Lyzer the Miser and Shrewd Todie, a short story by Isaac Balshevis Singer, provided wonderful material for exploring some of the laws related to borrowing and lost property. The expression, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” led to a discussion of how such a law could be enforced and the short story An Eye for An Eye indicated one answer.

A carpenter fell off a ladder on which he was standing to fix the roof of a house and was hurled into the street.  He fell upon a passerby who was instantly killed by the fall of the crushing weight of the carpenter’s body.  The carpenter himself was seriously hurt.
The son of the dead man brought the carpenter before the judge.  It was not money the son wanted.  The carpenter was a poor workman who barely made a living.  There was nothing to be gained by forcing him to pay heavy damages.  After all, the carpenter could never make good on such heavy payments.  “No, judge,” said the son of the slain man, “I do not ask for money damages.  What I want is the kind of compensation promised by the Bible—measure for measure, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  This man took my father’s life, and so it is just that he be killed in turn.”
The judge, who was a wise man, tried his best to influence the son of the dead man not to be so cruel to the unfortunate carpenter.  The law would be guilty of an unpardonable sin, explained the judge, if it condemned the carpenter to the harsh and cruel law of a punishment equal to the offense—an eye for an eye.
“Would it not be better,” said the judge, “if you forgave this man to whom this double accident happened?  He caused the death of another man, but only by accident; and he himself has been severely injured.”
But the accusing son stood his ground.  He insisted that judgment be administered in accordance with what is stated in the Bible—an eye for an eye!

After long and deep thought, the judge gave his decision:  “Well, if you want me to stick to the words of the Bible—which no Jewish court ever did, for they were always moved by pity and forgiveness, not by harsh and cruel application of the laws—then this is my judgment:  the sinner must be punished in the same way that he sinned.”
He added:  “Therefore, the son of the dead man must climb to the top of the ladder where the carpenter was standing at the time of the accident.  The son must fall from the roof and land on the carpenter, who must stand below him under the ladder in the exact spot where the dead man stood.  Only in this way can we carry out the actual words of the law—measure for measure, equal punishment carried out in equal measure, an eye for an eye.”
The verdict was never carried out.  The absurdity of an “eye for an eye” as a method of judging was clearly evident to all.

We explored PURIM through a number of modalities:  A Venn diagram activity comparing and contrasting Purim and Passover; a text study in which students identified the sources of texts: The Book of Exodus, chapter 1; Megillat Ester; Hitler.  The texts were shockingly similar demonstrating disturbing patterns in Jewish history.  And a “You Be the Judge” activity which asked, can the 10th individual for a minyan be compelled to attend to permit the other 9 to hear the public reading of the Megillah?  This led to a Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Sages) text study including “Do not separate yourself from the community” (2: 4).  Chapter 2 verses 4 and 5 included several other provocative ideas: 
  • “Do not judge your friend until you’ve stood in his/her place,”
  • “Do not say when I have time, I will study Torah.  Perhaps you will have no     time,”
  • “In a place where there are no people, strive to be a person.” 
Students worked in pairs and chose one of these texts about which to create a short video to teach that text to our class.

Best wishes for a joyful Purim.  Remember to come in costume both Saturday night, March 11th and Sunday morning, March 12th.