Does God Have a Gender? Torah is Confusing

Does God have a gender? If so, what is it? This week we reexamined three familiar texts with an eye towards what God was doing, how we would describe God in those situations, and whether those actions and descriptions seem more masculine, more feminine, or both/neither. The texts we used for this process were from the leaving Egypt story—when God spoke to Moshe from the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-14) and when Bnei Yisrael (the Jewish people) crossed the sea (Exodus 14:23-30)—and from the Yosef story—when Yaakov prayed for El Shaddai (God) to protect his sons (Genesis 43:14).

Here’s a chart of some words we brainstormed to describe God and the gendered associations we have with those descriptors:

Based on the text, what gender do you think the author believes God has?

  • Both/neither, because God does some things that we think boys do and some things that we think girls do.
  • Masculine, because my initial instinct is to imagine men doing these things even if I want to push that away and imagine women doing them too.
  • Either way, not mostly feminine.
  • God is a boy because that’s what everyone says.
  • But God has so many names—God could be anyone!

Do you think this text about El Shaddai, where God is kind, gentle, and protective, depicts God more like a man/dad or a woman/mom?

  • Mom because usually moms are the ones who save you.
  • Both because all parents want to protect their kids.
  • Both because both love you and protect you.
  • I think both because I ask my dad and also my mom to save and protect me.

The conclusion we came to is that depending on which parts of Torah you read and exactly how you’re reading them, God can come across as more masculine, more feminine, or something that’s both/neither/confusing. Or, as one of our Boker students put it, “Most of Torah is just both/neither/confusing.”

Smashing the Patriarchy at Makom Community

What are things you’ve been told you should or shouldn’t do because of your gender? This week at Makom Community we used the story of Leah and Rachel marrying Yaakov to help us unpack some gender role expectations, both in Torah text and in our own lives. During shulchanot avodah (learning centers), we looked at plot points from the story and recorded the expectations for men and women we could noticed in each one. Here’s the chart we filled out with those messages:

Text example

Messages about men

Messages about women

Yaakov went traveling to look for a wife

Men are responsible for finding wives for themselves

Women wait to be found by a man who wants to marry them

Rachel tends to her father’s flock of sheep

Men own flocks of sheep

Women help take care of sheep (that their fathers/other men own)

Yaakov moves the big rock on the well by himself

Men are strong; men provide help

It's not a woman's job to open the well.

Lavan greets Yaakov with hugs and kisses

Men love each other; men hug and kiss to show love; men can express their emotions

Women’s emotions don’t matter to the author (the text doesn’t tell us about them)

Yaakov asks for Rachel as payment for his work for Lavan

Men can pay for women like property

Women can get sold like property or money

Rachel is described as beautiful; Leah is described as having weak eyes

Men care about how women look; men judge women only by their appearance

Women are valued by their appearance rather than their inner-beauty

Lavan and Yaakov arrange for Yaakov to marry Rachel without talking to her

Men are in charge

Women don’t get a say in their marriages

Lavan brings Leah to marry Yaakov without talking to anyone involved about it

Sometimes men aren’t even honest with each other about what they’re doing

Women have to listen to the decisions men make for and about them

Lavan “gives” Rachel to Yaakov to marry

Men give women away like they are things

Women are treated like things

Yaakov marries both Leah and Rachel

Men can marry as many people as they want

Women just have to go along with their marriages whether or not they wanted them

Taking a step back from the text, we also brainstormed lists of the stereotypical expectations for boys and girls that we notice in our own lives. I am pleased to report that there was a healthy level of indignation and frustration from all of our students while we did this exercise. It’s heartening to see that these kiddos both notice lots of gender stereotypes and also think that they’re unfair and wrong. Here are the lists we made:

Boys

Girls

  • Play sports
  • Look pretty
  • Do crazy stuff
  • Have families
  • Be strong(er) than girls
  • Follow their dreams
  • Get away with worse behavior
  • Play with dolls
  • Supposed to be in charge (politics)
  • Should be like Barbies
  • Have jobs that use their brains and strength
  • Let other people be in charge
  • Never cry
  • Should be clean and neat
  • Wear suits
  • Wear dresses
  • Shouldn’t dress up as girls for Halloween
  • Jump rope
  • Can make lots of noise
  • Be quiet

 

  • Like pink, white, and purple (boys get to like all the other colors)

 

  • Can’t have important jobs or jobs like police officers, fire fighters, engineers, etc.

 

We concluded our conversation by noticing what we do at Makom Community to challenge those gender norms:

  • We get to be ourselves! [It’s on our brit, two-way promise, from the beginning of the year.]
  • You divide us by age instead of by boys and girls.
  • When you put us into groups, you don’t always pair boys with boys and girls with girls.
  • We’re all able to play with whomever we want.
  • We let boys and girls be equal. No one gets better stuff or special treatment because of their gender.

I’m happy about this list, and I also think it could be even longer. We’ll continue to look for ways to help everyone be themselves, help us all get what we need, and smash the patriarchy along the way.

Gender Roles and Smashing the Patriarchy

What are things you’ve been told you should or shouldn’t do because of your gender? This week at Makom Community we used the story of Leah and Rachel marrying Yaakov to help us unpack some gender role expectations, both in Torah text and in our own lives. During shulchanot avodah (learning centers), we looked at plot points from the story and recorded the expectations for men and women we could noticed in each one. Here’s the chart we filled out with those messages:

Text example

Messages about men

Messages about women

Yaakov went traveling to look for a wife

Men are responsible for finding wives for themselves

Women wait to be found by a man who wants to marry them

Rachel tends to her father’s flock of sheep

Men own flocks of sheep

Women help take care of sheep (that their fathers/other men own)

Yaakov moves the big rock on the well by himself

Men are strong; men provide help

It's not a woman's job to open the well.

Lavan greets Yaakov with hugs and kisses

Men love each other; men hug and kiss to show love; men can express their emotions

Women’s emotions don’t matter to the author (the text doesn’t tell us about them)

Yaakov asks for Rachel as payment for his work for Lavan

Men can pay for women like property

Women can get sold like property or money

Rachel is described as beautiful; Leah is described as having weak eyes

Men care about how women look; men judge women only by their appearance

Women are valued by their appearance rather than their inner-beauty

Lavan and Yaakov arrange for Yaakov to marry Rachel without talking to her

Men are in charge

Women don’t get a say in their marriages

Lavan brings Leah to marry Yaakov without talking to anyone involved about it

Sometimes men aren’t even honest with each other about what they’re doing

Women have to listen to the decisions men make for and about them

Lavan “gives” Rachel to Yaakov to marry

Men give women away like they are things

Women are treated like things

Yaakov marries both Leah and Rachel

Men can marry as many people as they want

Women just have to go along with their marriages whether or not they wanted them

Taking a step back from the text, we also brainstormed lists of the stereotypical expectations for boys and girls that we notice in our own lives. I am pleased to report that there was a healthy level of indignation and frustration from all of our students while we did this exercise. It’s heartening to see that these kiddos both notice lots of gender stereotypes and also think that they’re unfair and wrong. Here are the lists we made:

Boys

Girls

  • Play sports
  • Look pretty
  • Do crazy stuff
  • Have families
  • Be strong(er) than girls
  • Follow their dreams
  • Get away with worse behavior
  • Play with dolls
  • Supposed to be in charge (politics)
  • Should be like Barbies
  • Have jobs that use their brains and strength
  • Let other people be in charge
  • Never cry
  • Should be clean and neat
  • Wear suits
  • Wear dresses
  • Shouldn’t dress up as girls for Halloween
  • Jump rope
  • Can make lots of noise
  • Be quiet

 

  • Like pink, white, and purple (boys get to like all the other colors)

 

  • Can’t have important jobs or jobs like police officers, fire fighters, engineers, etc.

We concluded our conversation by noticing what we do at Makom Community to challenge those gender norms:

  • We get to be ourselves! [It’s on our brit, two-way promise, from the beginning of the year.]
  • You divide us by age instead of by boys and girls.
  • When you put us into groups, you don’t always pair boys with boys and girls with girls.
  • We’re all able to play with whomever we want.
  • We let boys and girls be equal. No one gets better stuff or special treatment because of their gender.

I’m happy about this list, and I also think it could be even longer. We’ll continue to look for ways to help everyone be themselves, help us all get what we need, and smash the patriarchy along the way.

Image of God vs Adam's Rib: Wrestling with Creation

We came into this fourth unit with a whole slew of excellent questions that our inquisitive students have been wondering about all year. Here's a sampling:  

  • Who’s telling the story? 
  • Who do they think is listening? 
  • Where are the women in the stories? 
  • Why don’t we hear what they say, think, and feel? 
  • How do all of these fathers, brothers, and sons know what’s expected of them? 
  • Why are the women shown as basically property of the men and never do anything for themselves? 
  • Were the people who wrote the Torah sexist, or were they just writing in a time and culture where it was normal for women to be men’s property and stuff like that? 
  • Why do the stories all focus on heroic men? Are there any stories about heroic women? 

Woah, right? To begin answering some of these questions, we dug into the two seemingly contradictory accounts of the creation of people. In the first chapter of Genesis, "God created Earthling. Betzelem Elohim (in God's image) God created him. Male/masculine and female/feminine God created them." If you find this description confusing, you're in good company. We've got what seems like one Earthling, that is somehow god-like, is both male and female, and is maybe also plural. 

How are people like God? What does it mean for both maleness and femaleness to be included here? 

  • People are all different. 
  • They can destroy. 
  • They can build. 
  • They can love. 
  • No one is more important than anyone else. 
  • Everyone is holy and godlike. 

In the second chapter of Genesis, God creates the Earthling, and notices that the Earthling is lonely. God wants to find an ezer kenegdo (a challenging helper) for the Earthling. God brings him all the animals, but they don't fit the bill. So God puts the Earthling to sleep, takes out one of his ribs, builds it up into a woman, and brings her to the Earthling. That's a totally different story from Genesis 1! 

Here were some of your kiddo's initial reactions: 

  • I don’t like that in this version women are just another form of man. 
  • Yeah, taking a part of a man and making it a woman, that’s not how it works! We’re separate people. We’re independent women! 
  • I like Genesis 1 more— they're created at the same time and they're equals. 
  • How can the Torah say both of these versions? It doesn’t make sense! 

One of the ways we resolved some of this discomfort was by reflection on what it means for someone to be an ezer kenegdo, a special kind of partner who both helps and opposes or challenges the person they're helping: 

  • You’re helping them, but also challenging them by competing with them. 
  • You can challenge them by loving them. Sometimes love is a challenge, like when people have feelings and they don’t know what they mean. 
  • Someone who loves you unconditionally and will also disagree with you. 
  • Someone who connects with you. 

In order for a person to be a good ezer kenegdo for someone else the people need to be pretty equal. When we reflected on who these people could be for us, we realized that our answers didn't necessarily have anything to do with gender the way the Earthling's ezer seems to. 

Who can be an ezer kenegdo for me? 

  • My brother. 
  • My friends and family. 
  • All of the people I love. 
  • A few of my friends because we can disagree. 
  • My teacher at school. 

Learning from our Students: Erev Yosef Wrap Up Projects

Yishar koach—well done, Erev friends! I’m so excited to get to tell you all about the excellent projects our 2nd through 5th graders created to help us review the Yosef story we’ve been learning for the past few months. They are an amazing, creative bunch! Here are the four different activities they came up with.

Two students worked together to make a Yosef-themed game of charades. They took twelve moments from the story and wrote them on cards. One or two kids at a time would look at a card and try to act out the moment in the story for the rest of the group. Everyone else’s job was to guess what part of the story was represented. It was a great, silly way for us to review the whole Yosef story.

  

Two other students worked together to reimagine the Yosef story as a game of chess. They unfortunately didn’t get a chance to implement their game. The plan was for two kids to play using special Yosef pieces made out of legos while two other kids explained each move as a part of the story.

Three of our drama enthusiasts collaborated to turn parts of the Yosef story into a musical. They wrote scripts and songs, divvied up roles for all the participants, and directed everyone in their play. After the performance was over, they led the group in a discussion reflecting on the feelings of the characters and the lessons we could learn from the play.

The last pair of students drew on their expertise in the world of RPGs to turn two of their favorite games into Yosef adventures. One created a Dungeons and Dragons type game, and the other integrated the Yosef story into a version of Pokémon.

  

We are so proud of the ideas these kiddos came up with, the dedication they put into planning their activities, and the practice it took to run them for their friends. All of this, of course, would not have been possible without the Boker (pre-K through 1) kiddos participating respectfully and enthusiastically. They listened well to their friends’ instructions and went along with the plans. I love getting to watch these kids work together and teach us all!

Water for Your Feet, Feed for Your Donkeys: Hospitality and Gratitude

Would you give up your favorite spot on the couch for a guest? In our text this week, all of Yosef’s brothers return to Egypt to get more food, including the youngest and new favorite Binyamin. When Yosef sees them approaching, he tells his servant to invite them over for lunch. The servant gives the brothers water to wash their feet and feed for their donkeys. The brothers lay out their gifts and present them to Yosef bowing low to the ground. We inferred the importance of expressing hospitality and gratitude between hosts and guests. But in modern day Philadelphia we don’t often arrive at our friends’ houses with hungry donkeys. So what do we do instead? Here’s what your compassionate kiddos had to say.

When you invite a guest over, what do you do to make sure they feel welcomed and comfy?

  • I let the guest choose what movie to watch or what snack to eat.
  • I give them the most comfy chair to sit in.
  • I would watch TV that I love to share that with them.
  • I would try to open up and make a connection.
  • I say “hi!” in an excited way.
  • I would give them a good blanket to get cozy with.
  • I would take their coats when they come in.
  • I would put a Welcome sign that says “Thank you for coming!” on the front of my door.

When you are a guest in someone else’s house, what do you do to show gratitude for their hospitality?

  • I let the host make some choices about what we’re doing.
  • I would try to connect with them and talk.
  • I would great them warmly, with hugs!
  • I would bake them something or bring them a gift.
  • I give them a hugs and kisses!
  • I make a picture and a card for them.
  • I would say, “Thank you so much.”

We Are Honest People: How to Spot a Liar

When famine hits the whole region of Canaan, Yaakov sends 10 of his sons down to Egypt where he’s heard there is food. Little do they realize that their long-lost brother Yosef oversees distributing rations. Yosef recognizes his brothers and starts playing tricks on them. He accuses them of being spies trying to see the land in its vulnerable state. The brothers insist that they are “honest people.” Yosef holds one brother, Shimon, hostage. Then he insists that the others need to come back with the youngest brother Binyamin to prove their honesty and get Shimon back. The others return home and tell Yaakov about their interactions with the Egyptian vizier, continuing to insist that they are honest and need to prove their honesty to Yosef. Our observant students think they know all the telltale signs of a liar. Read more about those conversations below.

How are the brothers feeling when they tell Yaakov about their interactions with Yosef?

  • Guilty about having sold Yosef.
  • Guilty about lying to Yaakov about what happened to Yosef.
  • Guilty about their money being put back in their bags.
  • Guilty about leaving Shimon behind in Egypt.
  • Like they were stuck in a hard place because of Yosef’s demands.
  • Responsible for the brothers that hard things are happening to (Yosef, Shimon, Binyamin).

What do the brothers mean that they keep insisting that they’re honest people?

  • That they’ve never really done anything wrong.

Who are honest people I know? How do I know they are honest?

  • My dog, when she doesn’t poop in my room.
  • My friend, because she doesn’t yell at me or try to twist my arm.
  • I can tell someone is honest by looking in their eyes. If they won’t look at you, they’re probably lying.
  • I can tell if someone’s honest from the way they talk. If they trip over their words, then I think they’re lying.
  • If you look at their eyes and they’re smiling, it gives away that they’re lying.
  • If they look to one side instead of right at you, they’re probably lying.
  • Fake smiles mean that someone isn’t telling the truth.

Now Hiring!

Makom Community Teachers 2018-2019

2 Part-Time Positions

~20 hours/week

Beginning May 29, 2018 OR August 15, 2018

Note: One of these positions is short-term parental leave coverage through September 2018, and the other is a school year position through June 2019.

 

This may be the position for you, if you meet the requirements below and you…

• Want to be involved in cutting-edge of urban Jewish learning for children and their families;

• Looking to be an innovator of the field of Jewish Education;

• Want to be part of a team that values your creativity and will challenge you to grow professionally and personally;

• Looking to be inspired and empowered by peers and experienced educators;

 

Key Duties & Responsibilities: 

JOB RESPONSIBILITIES:

• Facilitate Jewish learning for children in grades PreK-5 (ages 4-12) Monday through Friday during afterschool and camp programming;

• Facilitate specialty programming for afterschool children based on your specific expertise i.e. music, drama, sports, movement etc.;

• Partake in regular goal setting and reflections for personal and professional growth;

• Explore Jewish texts and key Jewish concepts in preparation for teaching;

• Develop new skills and ways of thinking related to working with children and families;

• Typical schedule Monday to Friday 2pm to 6pm.

 

Education, Knowledge, Skills & Abilities: 

The ideal candidate will possess the following:

• Must have a Bachelor’s Degree;

• Minimum of 3-5 years’ experience working with children in formal or informal educational contexts;

• Strong Jewish background and connection to Jewish tradition;

• Must be familiar with Hebrew; highly creative, and passionate about kids’ learning;

• Works well independently and on a team;

• Must be a flexible thinker, designer, and facilitator, and holds high standards for themselves;

•MUST have or obtain all appropriate background checks within 30 days of hire.

To Apply:

Send your resume and cover letter to Beverly Socher-Lerner, Founding Director. beverly@makomcommunity.org

 

 

Attending Makom Community: Being present, paying attention, looking after

At Makom Community, we pride ourselves on the ways we all take care of each other. The brit (two-way promise) that we created at the beginning of the school year exemplifies how we are all dedicated to helping everyone in our community feel safe, loved, and able to learn and grow together. We focused in on a moment in our text this week to talk a little more about that. 

This week's text started out with Yosef in jail. Then we read that "Pharaoh was angry with his two courtiers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and put them in custody in the house of the chief jailer, in the same prison where Yosef was confined. The chief jailer assigned Yosef to them, and he attended them" (Genesis 40:2-4). Keep reading to find out what your compassionate, caring kiddos have to say about Yosef attending to other prisoners. 

What does it mean that Yosef attends to people in jail? 

  • He helps deal with their problems. 
  • He walks around to all of them and gives them things that they need, like food and stuff. 
  • He helps people and is always there for them. 
  • He gives them advice, like about how to make a case to get themselves out of jail. 
  • He reads them stories about his life. 
  • He takes care of them. 

How does attending people shape Yosef’s relationship with them? 

  • It makes them friends with each other. 
  • He’s not necessarily someone they know really well, but they trust him. 

How can I attend to people? 

  • I can help someone if they’re sick, hurt, or sad. 
  • I can start a silly dance party to cheer someone up! 
  • I can be quiet and just look at them so they know I’m listening and paying attention. 
  • I attend to my brother by offering to play with him. 
  • I offer hugs to my sister, and then only give them to her if she says yes. 

Snow Day Shenanigans!

What a hilarious snow day we had! By the time it was snowing enough to be fun to play outside, the visibility wasn't great, and the falling snow was icy. So we had a short snow walk (not quite two blocks) to check out the weather, and hunkered down inside the rest of the day. One of the major highlights on the day was watching the small ways throughout the day that campers of all ages led activities for each other.

We played games as friends arrived this morning. Then we created Picasso portraits-- they were surreal! Some of them were self-portraits where the artists were robots, had mountain hats, or were otherwise wearing rearranged faces. I loved seeing all our campers' creativity shine through as they worked. Next, we made chocolate chip cookie cake from scratch, which was DELICIOUS. A second grade camper decided to take the lead with reading the recipe, and a friend lined up all the ingredients we'd use in order to make the group cooking project easier.

After art and baking, we had an extra moment as we transitioned to drama. One of our 3rd grade students announced that we were going to play "whisper down the lane." She carefully made sure that everyone knew how to play and everyone who wanted to start or end got to do that, too.

Then we got dramatic! We divided our campers into groups, handed them various props, and asked them to create a skit that used each prop. We had aliens attacking the planets, family trips to the beach, cleaning contests, and such hilarity! I got to see some kindergarten and first grade campers really lead and shape the skits they created. It was amazing how seamlessly everyone listened to their insights and let them lead.

We had a lovely, relaxed lunch together. Toward the end of lunch, one of our kindergarten students announced, "I'm thinking of a food. You guess!" He let friends guess, and then other kiddos offered to let friends guess. They continued playing that for a while until it was time to get up and wiggle!

We went to the classroom for freeze dance and activity dice. Even being inside most of the day, we still need to move! Anytime the music stopped, we did, too. Then we rolled dice and used a list posted on the wall to know whether we should do 10 jumping jacks, spin for 10 seconds, give everyone a high-five, or crab walk around the room. 

The snow was finally accumulating, so we suited up and headed outside! It looked wet and beautiful... but what we couldn't anticipate is that the falling snow was icy and just not that comfortable to be out in. After we walked a couple blocks, we huddled and decided to come back in.

Then we enjoyed our homemade cookie cake and settled in to watch one of my favorite childhood cartoons-- Animaniacs. All that laughter was a great top off to a fun and silly snow day! 

 

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