Walk & Talk December 19: What are your actions telling your children about gratitude today?

This week, one of the texts we focused on together was the Levi’im (Levites) re-telling the whole history (as they see it) of the Jewish People. What they highlight and don’t is fascinating all by itself. One piece they highlight is the Jewish People’s inability to be grateful for how bountifully God provided for them while they are wandering in the desert.

Earlier this week, I asked some of our students to write down things they were grateful for. We got some great lists!

Parents, family, siblings, houses, food, friends, learning, books, toys, dogs, cats, and water were on nearly everyone’s list.

Interestingly, not even one student mentioned having a coat or shoes—on a particularly cold day (though they all have great coats and shoes). Once I pointed that out, we had a really interesting conversation about the challenges of being grateful for things we have always had and expect to have.

Here are a few questions that might spark conversation at home (or walking home) this week as you talk with your child about their learning at Makom Community:

  • Who all takes care of you?
  • What do they provide for you?
  • Why is it hard to be grateful when I already have a lot?
  • What can I do to make sure that I both feel grateful and express my gratitude?

Additionally, you and the other grownups in your child’s life might want to create a game plan for how each of you is modeling gratitude to your children and each other in front of your children in the weeks and months ahead. This is certainly a case where actions speak louder than words. What are your actions telling your children about gratitude today?

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Winter Break Camps 2017-2018!

Winter break is just around the corner! We have an exciting lineup of camp days planned for the week, and we’d love for your kiddos to join us. Camp days run from 8:30am to 5:30pm. They include a variety of trips, games, and projects. Below you can find detailed schedules for your perusal. Click here to register!

Each day, we ask you to send your child with lunch, a water bottle, layers, and comfortable walking shoes. We provide healthy snacks throughout the day.

Be in touch if you have any questions about our upcoming camp days! We’re excited to see you and your kids soon! 

 

Tuesday 12/26 – Franklin Institute

8:30 Arrival and Games

9:30 Snack and Overview

10:15 Walk to Franklin Institute

10:45 Explore the Franklin Institute

12:00 Lunch

12:30 More Franklin Institute Exploring

3:30 Walk to Makom

4:00 Reading & Relaxation

4:30 Games and Pickup

 

Wednesday 12/27 – Beach Party

We’ll have a day full of beachy games and sandy projects with homemade pizza for snack.

8:30 Arrival and Games

9:30 Snack and Overview

10:00 Sand Art Project

10:30 Beach Games

11:00 Make Pizza Dough

11:30 Lunch

12:30 Play at Greenfield

2:00 Assemble Pizzas

2:15 Sand Slime Play

2:45 Pizza Snack

3:15 Movie

4:45 Games and Pickup

 

Thursday 12/28 – Jump To It

We’ll start off our day with a baking project in the morning, and then travel on the #7 SEPTA bus to Jump To It—an amazing, indoor, inflatable playspace in South Philadelphia.

8:30 Arrival and Games

9:30 Snack and Overview
10:00 Baking

10:30 Jump Jack Project

11:15 Shaving Cream Play

12:00 Lunch

12:45 Travel to Jump To It on #7 SEPTA Bus

1:30 Jump on Things

3:00 Snack

3:30 Travel to Makom on #7 SEPTA Bus

4:30 Games and Pickup

 

Friday 12/29 – Peter Pan at the Arden

We’ll travel on the #17 SEPTA bus to the Arden Theater for a performance of Peter Pan, and then come back to Makom Community for challah baking and games. Please note that in place of Family Shabbat services we will be doing kiddush and motzi at 5:15pm.

8:30 Arrival and Games

9:30 Snack and Overview

10:00 Make Challah Dough

10:45 Travel to Arden on #21 SEPTA Bus

11:15 Lunch

12:00 Peter Pan Performance

2:45 Travel to Makom on #21 SEPTA Bus

3:45 Braid Challah

4:10 Snack

4:25 Candle Lighting

4:30 Games and Reading

5:15 Kiddush and Motzi

5:30 Last Pickup

 

Tuesday 1/2 – Art Academy

We’ll work on a variety of art projects together including a winter watercolor resist, penguin origami, and designing a group puzzle.

8:30 Arrival and Games

9:30 Snack and Overview

10:00 Wintry Watercolor Resist

10:45 Game Break

11:00 Origami Penguins

11:30 Lunch

12:00 Play at Greenfield

1:30 Group Puzzle Project

2:00 Rest & Reading

2:30 Graham Cracker Sculptures

3:15 Movie

4:45 Games and Pickup

Bringing Torah to Life with our Students

One of the greatest joys in my job is helping to bring Jewish text and ideas to life for our students. We've spent two weeks now learning the story of Ezra and the first public Torah reading. Yesterday we had the amazing opportunity to put the text into action and do our own Torah reading with targum (translation) as part of our tefilah (prayer) service. 

After starting off with a few of our regular tefilot, we took a Torah out of the aron (ark). I chanted the beginning of this week's Torah portion, which sets up the story of Josef, and Beverly translated each verse along the way. Throughout the whole process, every kid participated in the service with a specific job like leading tefilot, opening and closing the aron doors, and undressing and redressing the Torah. Before we put the Torah back in the aron everyone also had the opportunity to look closely at the text inside. Here are some of the questions they came up with while looking at the Torah: 

  • Why are the letters so fancy – why do some of them have crowns? 
  • Why are there no vowels in the Torah? 
  • Are those bandaids? (Noticing small straps of parchment holding the bigger parchment panels together) 
  • The pages are all yellow. Is it really old? 
  • How many pages are there in this Torah? 
  • Why is one side of the scroll bigger than the other? 

While the kids reflected that they missed some of the singing and jumping and wiggling that our usual tefilah structure provides, they also concluded that public Torah readings are pretty cool. The experience also pulled out of them tons more excellent questions. Kids huddled with Beverly after tefilah was over to ask more about the Torah and Torah readings as well as the story of Josef. Here are some of those: 

  • Is that the same Torah as back in the old days (like in the Ezra story)? 
  • Did you buy these Torahs? 
  • I wonder how many Torahs are in the world. 
  • I wonder how many Jewish people are in the world. 
  • I wonder how many people in the Torah are doing bad things. 
  • I wonder how the sofrim (Torah makers) make Torahs so they last for so long. 
  • Where are the Torahs? (What's the place called where we keep them? Answer: an aron.) 
  • I wonder how many arons there are in the world. 

Walk and Talk: Appreciating Our Amazing Children & Singing Along

We had a wonderful time gathering for Shabbat dinner last week! Thank you all for everything you brought and did to make that happen.

Between dinner and dessert, we had a few minutes for parents to learn and talk with each other. Our learning focused on Birkat Yeladim—the traditional Friday night ritual for blessing our children, where we bless our children to be like biblical archetypes. We also read a powerful essay written by Rabbi Marcia Falk raising the tension between blessing our children to be like archetypes from Jewish tradition and blessing our children to be successful as themselves and in all that they do. If you’d like to see that essay and the resources for bringing that ritual home, please click here for the PDF.

Also, we hear from many of you that your children are singing the tefilot (prayers) they are learning here at bedtime, in the bath tub, and walking down the street. A few of you have asked that we record the melodies we use so you can sing along, too. Many thanks to Gaby Marantz, our afterschool coordinator for recording these while I was getting over a cold and didn’t have much of a voice. To listen to or download these melodies, click here.

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Standing at Sinai Again.

How do we remember and recreate the experiences of those who came before us? Why is that an important thing to do? Our text this week tells the story of the first public Torah reading and comes from chapter 8 of the book of Nehemiah. We looked at it in conversation with the story of the Jewish people receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai, which we studied last unit, in order to compare the two experiences. Here’s a summarized version of what we read.

The entire people assembled as one person in the square in front of the Water Gate, and asked Ezra hasofer (the scribe) to bring the Torah scroll of Moshe which God commanded the Jewish people. On the first day of the 7th month, Ezra hakohen (the priest) brought the Torah before the gathered people, men and women and all who could understand, to hear it. He stood on a wooden tower that was made just for reading Torah on. With him were a group of helpers called the targumim who translated and explained the reading to the people. As Ezra opened the scroll, all the people stood up.

What about the story of the first public Torah reading is similar to the Matan Torah story from last unit?

  • All of Bnei Yisrael is gathered together in both stories.
  • In both stories Bnei Yisrael is described as acting as “one person”.
  • This story happens in the 7th month! There’s a lot of 7 stuff in these stories (like Moshe waiting for 7 days on Mt. Sinai to talk to God, or the law where every 7th year farmers don’t work the land).
  • Both of these stories took place outside.
  • The people stand up at Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah and in this story to hear the reading.
  • Someone was up high in both of these stories on purpose, on the mountain or on the tower.
  • Moshe and Ezra are similar in that they both brought the Torah to the rest of the people.
  • There is a group of people supporting and helping Moshe and a group of people supporting and helping Ezra.

Why might Ezra have set up the first public Torah reading to remind everyone of the Matan Torah (receiving the Torah) experience?

  • These are basically the same experience, but this time the people are hearing more or a different part of the Torah.
  • Maybe to get Bnei Yisrael to remember their ancestors and their experience.
  • Ezra wanted the people to relive the story they’d heard about from their great-grandparents to help them understand what they were doing now with the public reading.

Walk & Talk November 28: When Everything Changes

Jewish History has given Bnai Yisrael (the Jewish People) our share of challenges to overcome. Even with that, Jewish wisdom is timeless and always has what to offer us in every iteration, generation, and stage of our lives. When we meet challenges though, we often adapt and invent new approaches to our inherited Jewish wisdom.

The Book of Nehemiah, Chapter 8, where we open our new unit is a crash moments, where everything changes. (For more about Jewish civilization and how we respond to a crash, see Rabbi Benay Lappe’s talk about this: http://www.svara.org/tedx/.) The first Temple in Israel is destroyed, most of Bnai Yisrael is sent off to Babylon, and only generations later a new benevolent king allows them to return to the Land of Israel to rebuild The Temple. But when they come back, life is not quite the same.

A scribe and temple priest named Ezra begins doing something RADICAL. He gathers men, women, children, and all who could understand in the public square to hear the Torah read aloud. When Bnai Yisrael worshipped in The Temple, they brought animals to the priests, and the priests did the actual service of connecting to God on behalf of the Jewish people. Now, under Ezra’s leadership, there is a new model in addition to that.

Torah is read in the public square in Hebrew (a language most people no longer speak) while a group of helpers called targumim relay a translation into the vernacular (Aramaic) for everyone listening to understand.

Echoes of Ezra’s values at Makom Community
At Makom Community, as we study these texts with you and your children in the coming weeks, you’ll continue to hear how dedicated we are to Jewish wisdom being accessible to all of our students and families. Ezra’s choice to symbolically read Torah in the public square where everyone could hear and participate and then create a structure for access and understanding in the targumim to make sure everyone from every background could understand really resonates with us. Whether it’s always including translation and transliteration in our materials at Family Shabbat Celebrations, writing blog posts so you can keep up with your child’s learning, or looking toward the future where we have increased opportunities for groups of parents to learn together, we know that you and your child(ren) all deserve access to Jewish wisdom. We see the value in supporting you as you welcome Jewish wisdom into your life and let it and the community that comes with it celebrate with you and support you.

A few things you might talk to your child(ren) about this week as we’re all jumping in to new material together:

  • How did Ezra’s first public Torah reading remind people of the stories they had heard from receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai?
  • Why did it matter that Ezra created an experience that reminded people of Mt. Sinai?
  • What was the value of reading Torah in public instead of in a place that might have seemed more special or holy?
  • What values at Makom Community remind us of Ezra’s decision to read Torah in public?

 

 

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Makom Community: Built on Love

What are your top ten “commandments” for participating in community? What are the promises that should hold between any individual and the rest of the community members? Here’s what we came up with for our Makom Community Brit this year(not necessarily in order of importance):

  1. We love everyone in the best way we can.
  2. We show gratitude.
  3. We get to be ourselves.
  4. Mistakes: make them, don’t copy them, and apologize for them.
  5. We speak with truth.
  6. We help everyone get what they need.
  7. We listen and respond respectfully to each other’s ideas.
  8. We all help clean up.
  9. We are good listeners.
  10. We help keep each other’s feelings and bodies safe.

We want to share with you a bit of the process that we went through to agree on this list.  Here are three pieces of the conversation that we had about the ideas on our brit. The first one is a discussion about possibly adding another item to the list and ultimately determining that it was already included in other parts of the brit.

Student 1: We should add, “We use kind words.”

Student 2: Our brit already says that we speak the truth, so we don’t need to add something about also using kind words.

Teacher: Maybe the truth isn’t always kind. How do we do both? Let’s keep thinking about that one.

Student 3: This list says “we respond respectfully.” Being kind is part of being respectful.

Student 4: “We love everyone in the best way we can” includes using kind words. Using kind words is one way we can do that.

Student 5: The brit says that “we help keep each other’s bodies safe.” If that also includes feelings, then that would entail using kind words. Using kind words is a way we can help keep each other’s feelings safe.

Teacher: Let’s add “feelings” to that idea.

The next two snippets of conversation are discussions we had about what it practically looks like to do some of the ideas from our brit on a day-to-day basis at Makom Community.

How do we implement “We love everyone in the best way we can?”

  • We don’t hurt people (bodies or feelings) on purpose.
  • We include everyone.
  • Almost everything else on the brit is included in this one! Most of the other ideas are ways that we can love everyone. That should be Makom’s tagline!

How do we get to be ourselves?

  • We don’t boss other people around.
  • We don’t have to copy what someone else is doing – you do what you want to do.
  • We don’t make mistakes on purpose to help us be the best version of ourselves.

Curbing Anger with Compassion

How do you respond in the face of someone else’s anger? The story of het ha’egel has a beautiful example in it of a leader (Moshe) defending the people in the face of God’s fury. God finds out that Bnei Yisrael make and pray to an idol and gets really, really angry. Moshe notices God’s anger and stops God from acting on it in the heat of the moment. 

Together we thought about how we tend to see people respond when someone gets angry.

  • One person gets angry and yells at someone, and then that person gets angry and yells back, and then just everyone is angry.
  • When I get angry, I scream, and then my brother doesn’t like it and also gets angry and then hits me.
  • My mom reminds me to take breaks when I’m getting really frustrated with my homework.
  • One character in a book I read was glaring at another one trying to get her to also be upset, but she just smiled back at him and eventually he walked away.

Focusing on the responses that helped to de-escalate the anger, we came up with a list of ways we could help ourselves or someone else calm down when we notice that some emotions are getting too big:

  • Run away – give them some space.
  • Suggest to them to close their eyes, imagine their happy place, and count to ten while taking big, deep breaths.
  • Get an adult to help.
  • Give them a hug if they want or try to make them laugh.
  • Take a break – do something fun and distracting

By the very end of the story, God’s anger has mostly dissipated and God wants to reestablish a gentler, caring relationship with Moshe and Bnei Yisrael. God describes Godself in the following way: “compassionate and considerate, slow to anger, and excessive in kindness and truth, who keeps kindness for thousands of generations, forgives badness and mistakes, and who makes things clean” (Exodus 34:6-7).

  • We ended our conversations this week by brainstorming ways we can enact this kind of godliness in at Makom Community and at home:
  • We can be holy by remembering God.
  • We can be helpful by looking for ways to pick someone up who falls down.
  • We can be kind and helpful by standing up for someone who’s getting hurt.
  • We can be forgiving of someone who makes a mistake that hurts us.

We also can do our best to respond to anger with kindness and compassion. So this week I’d like to conclude with a challenge for us all to be a little more like the gentle, caring God described at the end of this story: Try to notice when you and the people around you are starting to have emotions that are just too big, and see if you can respond to those big, angry feelings with kindness.

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Compassion: The Key to Failing Forward

 

This week we started learning the story of het ha’egel, the big mistake Bnei Yisrael made by making and worshipping a golden calf (Exodus 32, 33:1-4).  Mistakes are tricky things! It's easy to feel upset with ourselves and others for doing the wrong thing. But do strong negative reactions provide us with the best mindset for learning and growing from our mistakes? 

We examined the feelings that we have right before we make a mistake—anger, sadness, fear—and how those feelings don't set us up to make the best decisions. Bnei Yisrael, driven by fear, justified their need for an idol to Aharon with the following arguments: 

  • Moshe was gone and he was their connection to God, so they needed a new one. 
  • They didn’t have a leader—they were lost. 
  • Moshe was not God, but maybe they sort of confused God and Moshe, so they thought they needed to replace both of them when Moshe didn’t come back. 

God finds out about the idol and gets so mad as to want to destroy the whole people. Moshe finds out and gets so mad he breaks the first set of stone tablets, grinds up the golden calf, and makes Bnei Yisrael drink it in their water. Aharon calls them a people driven towards evil. The tribe of Levi'im believe Moshe is justified when he instructs them to kill 3,000 members of the community. Talk about a negative reaction! 

In all of this, the text is silent about how Bnei Yisrael is feeling. We proposed some ideas, and then dug into the emotions we ourselves have right after we make a mistake—feeling drained, sad, guilty, regretful—and how those feelings frame the way we think about ourselves: 

  • Sometimes I tell myself that I can learn from this and do better next time. 
  • Sometimes I’m hard on myself for the mistake I made. 
  • Sometimes it’s good to know I’m in the middle, sometimes I’m kind to myself and sometimes I’m not because I’m in the middle of figuring it out. 
  • Sometimes I tell myself that I’m stupid for the bad thing that I did. 
  • When I do something bad, I get more upset than you’d think. 
  • I feel mad and angry and frustrated with myself. 

We wrapped up our learning by talking about what it means to be compassionate: 

  • Being kind 
  • Being loving 
  • Being nice 
  • Wanting good things for someone 
  • Helping 
  • Not bragging or boasting about things you have that other people don’t 

The moments when we make mistakes are maybe the moments when it's both the most difficult and the most important for us to feel compassion towards ourselves and others so that those mistakes can turn into productive lessons. Even God doesn't manage to feel compassion towards the Jewish people initially after het ha'egel, but eventually God does (Exodus 34: 6-7). And since we're all created betzelem elohim, in God's image, we can do it too. 

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Walk & Talk: What’s harder—forgiving ourselves or forgiving someone else?

Last week, I watched a pair of siblings playing together after their homework was done. The older sibling was intentionally annoying the younger sibling, and the younger sibling responded by pushing the older one. Then we stopped to talk about it. Their reflections were interesting. Their followup was impressive. 

The younger sibling was able to admit that he should have spoken up instead of being physical, and he apologized. The older sibling admitted that he knew he was aggravating his younger sibling, and he apologized. Then, I watched as their interactions really changed as after their conversation. I could tell they were carrying it with them—and I wondered: Were they also being really hard on themselves about it? 

The older was overly cautious to ask the older one before every time he began a new aspect of the project they were working on. The younger was hyper aware of his body as he squirmed not to hurt his brother (even though that hadn’t been their initial issue). They had both forgiven each other, but neither had quite let go of what they had done wrong in the moment. 

This week, we are studying Het Haegel—the mistake of the Golden Calf. Bnai Yisrael (the Jewish people) get nervous waiting for Moshe to return from Mt. Sinai, and build an idol of a golden cow, declare it a god, and pray to it.  

Following that experience, Bnai Yisrael’s relationship with God and with Moshe is never quite the same again. They suffer a plague and a few thousand people die as a consequence of this grave mistake. This experience forever shapes how Bnai Yisrael sees themselves, and they end up in a cycle, generation after generation, of forgetting about their brit (two-way promise) with God, falling off the wagon, asking for forgiveness, and trying again. 

Like Bnai Yisrael, we all make mistakes throughout our lives. We are spending some time this week looking at how we can be compassionate to ourselves when that happens and get back to enjoying our lives and making good choices.  

Here are a few questions you might want to ask your children about that: 

  • How do I usually think about myself after I make a mistake? Is it kind? Is it cruel? 
  • What can I do to calm down when I feel out of control? 
  • What's the best way I could think about myself after I make a mistake? How could that help me move forward? Avoid that mistake in the future? 

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