Walk & Talk October 27 “We will do and [then] we will understand.”

In one of the most poignant moments in Torah, the newly formed Jewish people responds as one voice when presented with a tremendous opportunity and challenge.

“Moshe wrote down all the things God said. Then he took sefer habrit (the book of the covenant) and read it aloud to all the people. They said, “All that God says—na’ase venishma! (We will do and we will understand.)”

It’s not easy for people at any stage of life to go into an experience where we know our deficiencies and what we don’t know, but we go into the new task with great excitement anyway. That’s exactly what Bnai Yisrael does here. This newly minted Jewish people hears Torah for the very first time, and they UNANIMOUSLY answered that they were prepared to take on a new task and that they were willing to learn the systems, language, and wisdom from it as they went along.

Some questions you might ask your child(ren) about this at home as you’re talking about it:

  • If you were the one making the rules, is it better to understand the rules first or just do them first?
  • What kinds of things do you understand better after you do them?
  • Why might it help to do something as a way to understand it?
  • What rules do we have in our family that you don’t understand? 


How does returning lost objects change the world?

What would you do if you found a lost item that belonged to your enemy?  We’re talking enemy, here, as in a “person you fight” and a “person you hate” (definitions from your kiddos!).  According to the mitzvah (law) we read this week, you have to bring the lost item back to them.  Woah.  Hard!

Here’s a list of the amazing questions your kiddos asked about this text, “When you come across your enemy’s farm animal, you must take it back to them” (Exodus 23:4):

  • What do they mean by farm animal?
  • Why would you find a sheep or a cow just wandering around?
  • What if it’s dead (do you still have to return it)?
  • Where did you find the animal?
  • Where do you give it back?
  • How do you know whose animal it is?
  • Why does it say your enemy and not your friend?
  • How do you know you’re returning the animal to the right person (because they might lie and take something that isn’t theirs)?

And here are some of their amazing answers:

Why does the text say “enemy” instead of “friend”?

  • Even if you don’t like someone it would be the nice thing to do to bring it back.
  • It’s about will power.  You could be thinking, “My enemy doesn’t deserve this.  I could give it to my friend or keep it for myself,” which would be easier, but you should still give it back to your enemy.
  • Also, if your enemy is really rich and you’re really poor, it would be even harder to give it back to them, but you still should.
  • Even if you really hate someone, it’s their property, so you have to return it.
  • Mitzvot seem to be about things that are hard for most people to do.  Like sometimes it’s hard to be nice to your parents!  So finding something that you have to return to your enemy is a harder thing to do than returning something to a friend.
  • What if later your enemy finds out that you don’t give back their lost item?  They might do something to you.

What would be tempting about finding a lost item that belonged to your enemy?

  • I wouldn’t want to give it back to them.
  • I wouldn’t want to see them ever again.
  • I would just sell it for money.
  • I would keep it, and hide it so no one would know.
  • I would be really mad, but I would still give it back and get something else for myself.
  • I would take it back to my house, lock up everything, and keep watch to make sure they don’t come for it.
  • I would drop it from the top of the Sears Tower so it falls and gets destroyed.

What happens to the world if we, in anger, don’t return things to our enemies?

  • Everybody would be taking things from each other all the time.
  • It would be chaos!
  • It would lead people to steal which would make people feel really insecure and unsafe, so they wouldn’t  be able to live their lives (go to school, etc.).
  • People stealing things would influence whatever kind people are left to make bad choices too, until eventually there wouldn’t be any kind people left.

What happens to the world if we always do our best to return lost items even to our enemies?

  • The world would look like a diamond.
  • It would look really clean.
  • People would help find things, so everyone has more food and more things.
  • If everybody returned lost stuff all the time, no matter how little it is, then it would just take up everybody’s time.  Follow up question: how do you know whether something is important enough to return?
  • If everyone returned their enemy’s stuff, no one would be mad at anyone.  I would never have a bad day because of something I lost.  But also, it wouldn’t be as happy or exciting whenever a lost item was found or returned because it would happen so much.
  • It would make people start to be nicer to their enemies.

The Process of Learning in Pairs

Do you ever read a text, feel full of questions, and wish you had a friend there to help you answer them?  That’s what hevruta study is all about. It’s a method of digging into a text with a partner. Here are the steps of the process:

  1. Read the text.
  2. Ask questions.
  3. Offer answers.
  4. Agree or disagree and discuss.  Use the text to support your position.

The text we studied this week was Exodus 20:15-18:

All the people saw the thunder and the lightening, the shofar, and the mountain smoking. When the people saw it, they stepped back. They said to Moshe, "Tell us what to do, and we'll do it. But don't make us speak directly to God, or we'll die." Moshe answered the people, "Don't be afraid—when you pass the test from God and the understanding of your relationship with God will be on your face, and you won't make a mistake about the mitzvot (commandments) God just gave you. The people stayed back, and Moshe went up to the cloud where God was.


Here are a few examples of the amazing, deep questions your kids posed about this text and the brilliant answers they offered:

Who was being tested?

Answer A: Bnei Yisrael (the Jewish people), to make sure they would follow the mitzvoth.

Answer B: Moshe, to see whether or not he was a good leader.


Was God in cloud form? Or was God inside the cloud?

Answer A: Maybe God is on the cloud while also being a cloud.  Or God was in a different form on or in the cloud without being the cloud.

Answer B: Maybe God was guiding the cloud.


Can God as the cloud fly?

Answer A: Yes! If God’s in the sky and moves around then God must fly.

Answer B: God doesn’t necessarily fly.  God doesn’t use the wind to fly.  God is the wind and gravity and the air everything else.

Answer C: It’s not that God can fly, but just floats around without ever touching the ground.


Was Mt. Sinai permanently God’s home? Or was God visiting Mt. Sinai?

Answer A: Maybe God lives on Mt. Sinai.  Maybe God lives over there.  Maybe God lives on your head.  Maybe God lives in your glasses.  Maybe God is the fog on your glasses.

Answer B: I think God doesn’t actually live someplace, but mostly changes around.  Sometimes God will stay in a place for a long time for a certain reason (like getting the 10 commandments and Bnei Yisrael leaving Egypt).  Like all the places you could think of are places God could be.

Answer C: God is everywhere so God must live everywhere.

Answer D: I think God covers the earth but can send some of God’s consciousness to one place.

Walk & Talk: Standing at Sinai

The experience Bnai Yisrael (the Jewish people) had at Mt. Sinai was strange and confusing, and we had LOTS of fun imagining what that experience might have been like.  

This is the text we studied this week: 

Exodus 20:15-18 

All the people saw the thunder and the lightening, the shofar, and the mountain smoking. When the people saw it, they stepped back. They said to Moshe, "Tell us what to do, and we'll do it. But don't make us speak directly to God, or we'll die." Moshe answered the people, "Don't be afraid—when you pass the test from God and the understanding of your relationship with God will be on your face, and you won't make a mistake about the mitzvot (commandments) God just gave you. The people stayed back, and Moshe went up to the cloud where God was.  

These are some of the questions we discussed this week—some of them generated by Gaby and me while we studied the text in preparation to teach and may be generated by our students as we study together. If you're walking through the city with your child(ren) this week and want to continue the conversation, this will give you some ideas about where to start.  

  • Do you really think Bnai Yisrael will follow all the new directions? 
  • Where is God in this moment? How did God get there? Can God fly? 
  • What is Bnai Yisrael so afraid of?  
  • When is a time that you understood something and it showed on your face? What does that face look like? 
  • Are these rules for God? For Bnai Yisrael? Both? 
  • Why was the Torah given outdoors on a mountain? Why not somewhere else? 

(Quick note: That last question ties to a Midrash that tries to answer the question, "Why was the Torah given outdoors?" The Midrash answers that the Torah was given outdoors to show that it belonged to EVERYONE and not just to Moshe or the elders who were more active in receiving the tablets of law.)  




Gratitude: The Antidote for Coveting

Have you ever caught yourself really pining after something that belonged to someone else? What does all of that wanting do inside us? What might it lead us to do to other people? And how can we deal with it?

This week we learned the 10th and final commandment, “Don’t covet your neighbor’s belongings. Don’t want their things so badly that you start to plot and scheme about how to get them.” Here are some of the questions we grappled with while learning this text, and your kiddos’ brilliant answers:

If you want something really badly, what might you be willing to do about it?

  • Ask to borrow it and then just act like you forgot about it, because maybe they won’t remember about it either and you get to keep it.
  • Do something to trick them into giving it to you.
  • Make friends with the person who has the thing so they’ll share with you.
  • Tiptoe into their house while they’re sleeping and steal it!
  • Ask where they got it and get it for yourself.

How does it hurt you to want something you can’t have?

  • I feel jealous.
  • It makes me upset and thinking of all the things I don’t or can’t have.
  • I would be angry at the person who has the thing I want or at the person who gave it to them.

If you notice yourself wanting something that belongs to someone else, what can you do about it?

  • Do something else like go to the playground.
  • Forget about it and do your own thing.
  • Ask if you can use/borrow what someone else has.
  • Try to just be happy that they have it.
  • Try to be happy with what I have.
  • Focus on one thing you’ve always loved and thought was beautiful that you have.

We concluded the conversation by brainstorming what we could take away from this commandment to put on our Makom Community brit. We came up with this rule: “Remember that everyone has everything they need and things that are good.” What a profound idea for us to focus on when we catch ourselves thinking about what we don’t have! We’re so excited to see what excellent ideas your kids come up with for the rest of our brit. Stay tuned!

Don't Steal-- It's Easy! Right?

What would the world look like if we successfully followed all of the aseret hadibrot? And if we followed none of them? Today we focused on #8, “Do not steal.” We delved into whether it is an easy commandment to follow, what kinds of situations make following each commandment challenging, and how our mistakes affect the people around us.

We opened snacktime learning by asking our students, “Is not stealing an easy commandment to follow?”

Unanimously: YES!

We challenged that understanding with three test cases:

Case #1: “You did a HUGE shopping run at Target with your dad. As you’re unloading the cart at your car, you notice that the water bottles you bought are under the cart and you haven’t paid for them. Is it stealing?”

“It’s not stealing because you can go back and pay for it.”

“I’m not sure if it’s stealing… maybe it’s in between stealing and not stealing.”


Case #2: “Your little brother plays with a toy as your family picks up a few things in CVS. After you leave, you realize it’s still in his pocket. Is it stealing?”

“Depends on how old the little brother is. If the brother is old enough to understand stealing, like 4th grade, he’d know he was doing it. If he was 2 or 3 and didn’t know what he was doing, it isn’t stealing. I’d either tell my parents or bring him back in the store myself.”

“It isn’t stealing. He was borrowing. As long as he brings it back, it’s not stealing.”

“It is stealing! He didn’t tell anyone he was borrowing it. You can’t just take things.”


Case #3: “At snack, you are really ready for seconds, but the teacher says it isn’t time yet. While she’s reading the next piece of text, you reach up, grab some anyway, and eat it quietly. You know that once you take it, there will not be enough for your whole table to have seconds. You think no one will notice. Is it stealing?”

“Yes! It’s BOTH stealing and lying because you didn’t tell anyone what you were doing, and the teachers don’t know, and it’s like you’ve done it secretly. It’s Ly-eal—a combination of lying and stealing.”

“Lying isn’t not telling someone, it’s telling someone something that isn’t true.”

“If someone asked, “What happened to the snack?” and you don’t answer, that’s definitely lying.”

“If you just don’t tell, it’s secretive and sneaky, but not lying. “


“So is not stealing an easy commandment to follow?”

“NO!” (in unison)


“Why not?”

“Because at the beginning before you thought about it, I was like—no one steals. Easy. But when you think about it, accidents happen, and you don’t realize it’s even happening. And because someone could think you were stealing and got accused of stealing for just walking out of the store without realizing something was still in your hand… that’s tricky!”

“In the middle—not that easy and not that hard. It takes a lot of self-control not to steal.”

“It’s hard to not take things in a store where all the things I want are where I can reach and are so interesting!”


“What are the consequences of stealing?”

“Getting in trouble.”

“Getting your hand chopped off –in history.”

“Everyone gets mad at you.”

“Sometimes they take the thing back.”

“You could go to jail.”


“How would you feel if someone stole from you?”


“I would gear up in my superhero suit, fly out, and put them in my jail. And then they would always stay under there.”

“You would feel vengant?”


“I would want to punch them in the face.”

“You would feel violent? You would want to hurt them. Why is that, do you think?”

“I’m asking a serious question. Because when we study the 10 commandments, we’re thinking about what the world could look like if we do them and what the world could look like if we don’t. So how would you feel if someone stole from you?”

“I’d feel sad. I’d miss it. Especially if they stole my baby sister.”

“I’d feel sad, mad, and jealous.”

“I would be mad, and I would miss what they took.”


“What does a community look like if people are stealing from each other?”

“People might steal each other’s money and then they wouldn’t have any food to eat.”

“I wouldn’t trust them, and I wouldn’t want to be around them.”


“What options do you after any of these scenarios?”

“If you notice it soon enough, you could ask your parents to pay for your little brother’s toy.”

“If you are still in the parking lot, you could go back in and pay for it.”

“If you are home, you could call the store and ask them to come take the water back.”

“If you are home, you could call the store and pay them over the phone for the water.”


Stay tuned for another Walk & Talk soon for more ideas of how to talk to your wise children about what they’re learning at Makom Community!





Are you a perfect promise keeper?

Are you a perfect promise keeper? Jewish tradition has some great wisdom to share with us about making and keeping big, important promises. This week we learned from your amazing kids how that wisdom plays out in their lives.

On Tuesday we dove into the third commandment, don’t make a promise using God’s name unless you’re going to keep it. We talked about promises that we make and why they’re sometimes difficult to keep. Here are some highlights from our conversations (real quotes from your brilliant kiddos!):

What happens if you break a promise?

  • The person you made the promise to might get mad.
  • People’s feelings might get hurt.
  • The person who didn’t get what was promised might be mean to the person who made the promise.
  • People won’t trust the person who broke the promise.

Who gets hurt if you break a really important promise?

  • Both people involved in the promise.
  • The person who broke the promise gets hurt because they might be called a liar.
  • The person who was promised something might also be called a liar if they tell other people about the promise and it’s broken.
  • The person who broke the promise because people might get mad at them.
  • The heart of the person who was promised something.

The Boker group concluded their conversation by starting a brainstorm list of promises we can make at Makom Community. They continued to add to it during Shulchanot Avodah (learning centers). We’ll be using this list later in the unit as we build a final version of our brit (two-way promise).  Here are some of the ideas they came up with.

At Makom Community, we promise to:

  • Be good.
  • Keep promises.
  • Follow all the rules.
  • Help our friends.
  • Clean up.
  • Don’t hit or kick.
  • Be nice.
  • Take turns.

Walk & Talk

We love how engaged Makom Community parents are, and we know you want to talk with your students about everything they are learning and experiencing at Makom Community!

In the coming weeks, we will be studying the 10 Commandments. During the week of September 18, we are delving into the first four commandments:

  1. I am God.
  2. No idols.
  3. No empty promises.
  4. Remember Shabbat and make it holy.

Looking for some conversation starters around these? Interested in a way to talk with your child(ren) about their learning while you're walking around the city? These questions would be a natural continuation of what we’re talking about during afterschool enrichment:

1 & 2: I am God. Don’t pray to idols.

  • Is “I am God,” a commandment? Is it telling us to do or not do something? If not, why is it here?
  • Where were Bnei Yisrael coming from where they saw everyone pray to lots of different God? (They had just left Egyptian slavery, where praying to idols and people as many gods was the culture.)
  • When are times that we, as a family, work to do things in our way way?

3: No empty promises

  • When do we make promises to each other?
  • What promises are easy to keep? Hard to keep?
  • How can we help each other keep our promises?
  • How do we tell each other when something is an especially important promise?

4: Remember Shabbat and make it holy

  • What does our family already do to make Shabbat special?
  • What can our family add to make Shabbat even more special?
  • How can we include friends, neighbors, or strangers into our Shabbat practice?
  • What do you do at Makom Community to get ready for Shabbat? What your favorite parts of that? Would any of them transfer well to our house?

We’d love to hear how these conversations go with your child(ren) walking home, over dinner, or at bed time. It would also be great to know if you found this helpful. We’re exploring different materials for parents to bridge the experiences our students have here with their home lives. Please let us know if this supportive of that process. 


What makes us treasured and holy?

In our text this week, Bnei Yisrael (the Jewish People) is gathered in the desert at the bottom of Mt. Sinai, unsure of what’s coming next on their journey after slavery. God speaks to Moshe and tells him that if Bnei Yisrael will keep the brit (two-way promise) with God, then they will be for God a “treasured possession,” a “kingdom of priests,” and a “holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6).

To understand what this means, we started off by asking our students how people make them feel special:

  • By noticing something special about my body
  • By doing everything I want
  • By giving me gifts and money
  • By telling me when I’m being good

Why would someone want you to feel special?

  • To show that they love you
  • Because they care about you and want you to be happy
  • To feel connected to you

What does it mean for Bnei Yisrael to be God’s treasured possession?

  • I don’t like that God calls them a possession. People aren’t objects. You can’t own them. It’s like they’re in Egypt (enslaved/owned) again!
  • I think it’s a compliment. A treasured possession is something you love with all your heart, something you feel proud of.
  • It’s kind of like it’s saying Bnei Yisrael are things instead of people, like they’re nothing compared to God, but in a nice way so it’s OK.

What does it mean to be a holy nation? How can we be a holy nation?

  • Listen to each other
  • Respect each other’s opinions and feelings
  • Be nice even to people you don’t know
  • Be part of a chain of treating people well—if you treat one person well, then they’ll treat the next person well etc.

After sharing these amazing, insightful ideas, our students had the opportunity to continue engaging with this part of the text in two shulchanot avodah (learning centers): one where they made books about what makes us special, and another where they could set intentions for how this year at Makom Community will be a special and holy one.

Can’t wait to hear what these kiddos will teach us next!


AMAZING first week!

New students and returning students are here, and we are so excited to welcome them in and get the year going! Next week, our kindergarten students will join us, too.

This year, we have a large enough enrollment in afterschool enrichment that we created two learning groups functioning in parallel. We have Boker for our Pre-K, K, and 1 students, and Erev for our students in 2nd through 5th grades. We have snacktime learning on different sides of our large classroom with our age groups. All our students are studying the same text together, in age appropriate ways. We are opening our year studying the experience of Matan Torah (receiving the Torah). Toward the beginning of November, that will culminate in a project where we create our own shared expectations for Makom Community for the year.

Following snacktime learning, we move to shulchanot avodah (learning centers), where all 8 of our weekly projects are in our large classroom. There are 4 smaller tables with activities geared toward our Boker group and larger tables with activities geared toward our Erev group. The beauty of that is that we saw some of our students choose any of the 8 projects on all the days they are here. Most often, our older students stay at the projects that we pitched older, and vice versa. But when a student is especially interested in a certain topic or modality of learning, they have the flexibility to sit at any table and work at any project. While this student-led learning is happening, our teachers circulate to provide support.

We are learning lots of new tefilot (prayers) together each afternoon. We have also added a brief mindfulness meditation to tefilah each day. Our new tefilot (prayers) are getting us thinking about when we are happy, what is wonderful in the world, how to be mindful, and how to gather as a community. There’s always so much to learn, and this helps our new and returning students share the experience of learning new tefilot together. I imagine you’ll be hearing these melodies on your way home and in the bathtub!

This week, in snacktime learning we studied Exodus 14:15-31, as Bnei Yisrael (the Israelites) were getting ready to cross the sea to freedom and the unknown. It lent itself phenomenally to processing the beginning of the school year. Your children had incredible, wise things to say about these questions—so feel free to ask them to share over dinner or while you’re out walking in the city in the days ahead:

  • Do you think Bnei Yisrael felt ready when they left Egypt?
  • Were you feeling ready for the school year to start?
  • How were you feeling about the school year starting?
  • How did your feelings about the school year change after the first few days of school?
  • What can we at Makom Community do to help you have a great year?
  • How do I react to something that scares me?
  • How can I help other people in Makom Community when they are feeling scared?

Can’t wait to see what they have to teach us and each other next week!