Exploring Holiness

What is holiness? Where can we notice it in the world around us?

Last week the Garinim (kindergartners) jumped into an exploration of holiness with a walk to find things that made us say “wow,” a handful of activities and experiments with light, and an artistic analysis of music.

Kiddos LOVED getting to play with light on Tuesday. We made tissue paper collages to put up as sun catchers on our window, used the light from the projector to capture our silhouettes in self portraits, and created interesting shadows and light patterns using a flashlight and a prism.

  • I especially loved the collage because we were not only doing something fun but also giving the world some fanciness.
  • I liked the silhouette self portraits because they describe a lot about us.
  • I learned that if you shine a light from a certain angle on an object that the object and its shadow won’t look the same as they would from any other angle.

We came up with this definition for holiness:

  • Special or unique
  • Surprising or amazing – something that makes you go “wow!”
  • Something that reminds you of God or is connected to God somehow.

Is light holy? How so?

  • Yes because it helped us make art and the art made us say “wow.”
  • Sort of, but also sort of not.
  • Yes because it comes from the sun and we can’t live without it, and also it can be dangerous like a fire or lightning.

On Wednesday we switched over to exploring holy sounds. We listened to a variety of music and sounds, evaluated how holy we thought those sounds were, and then created paintings and pastel drawings based on what we were hearing:

  • Nuvole Bianche
    • It sounds holy because it sounds like it’s for focusing on work you need to do.
    • Not holy!
    • In the middle.
    • I painted this line smooth and then this line bumpy. This part is like someone dancing ballet very carefully.
    • This part has birds and dots and then it sounded like twisting around.
  • Laughter, applause, crying
    • These sounds aren’t holy.
    • It’s just laughing!
    • Not holy – just normal.
  • We Are Good, We Are Flawed” and “Lincoln’s Nigun
    • This is too slow to be holy.
    • This one is holier because it has words.
    • This one seems holy because it’s nice and calm.
    • Not holy – just sounds like regular music.
    • I painted a dragon for this one and a calm swirl.
  • Buddhist chants
    • This is holy because it’s a little weird.
    • Holy because it’s in a different language.

 

Shorashim (1st and 2nd graders) started off our week thinking through what makes something “holy.” We explored holiness through light, sound, and image.

Once we got past the joke of “having holes,” it became clear that this is an especially tricky concept to understand. “Special” was the most common word that kids used, while there was some initial skepticism that everyday things could be holy too. For example, several kids proposed that a hotel is holier than one’s home, because staying at a hotel feels more special. On the other hand, we noted that a home could be holy because eventually you have to go back to your home to see pets or others you love.

We asked kids: when you think of the word holy, what do you think of?

  • Cool things and talents
  • That which we say a bracha for, like food
  • Goodness
  • Abraham
  • Not meanness and strictness
  • Being nice and kind
  • That which makes you joyful and happy

First, we explored holiness through light and did a light spectrum activity and found a few rainbows!

On Tuesday we read Stranger In The Woods and reflected on the different types of sounds we hear in the book. Kids connected with the sound of the chickadee-dee-dee!

We then reflected on how music can be a powerful tool to help people connect with their something bigger. We played snippets of songs and asked kids to give us a word or two to describe the song or how it made them feel:

  1. Clair De Lune by Claude Debussy
    1. Calm, relaxation, tired
  2. Sunrise, Sunset from Fiddler On The Roof
    1. Relaxed, calm, sad
  3. Lay Me Down by Sam Smith
    1. Good song, nice, smooth, far away, excited

We then took a group poll and it seemed that kiddos liked Clair De Lune the most.

Other songs that Shorashim kids find holy:

  • My Shot from Hamilton
  • I’m Still Standing by Elton John
  • Rent from Rent
  • Lean on Me

On Wednesday, we delved into the world of cats. Cats are very holy in our Shorashim class, it was even incorporated in our class brit. We read a few poems from Cats Are Cats and read a few fun facts about cats. 

Of course not all kiddos like cats so we brainstormed a few other images that come to mind when we say the word “Kadosh” or “holy”:

  • Unicorns
  • Squishies
  • Tomatoes
  • Stuffed animals
  • Friends holding hands
  • Trees

We then created “Holy Art” where kiddos drew what was holy to them and then teachers melted crayons onto it to create an abstract masterpiece. 

We concluded that none of these definitions were quite perfect but decided that there is no checklist to declare something holy, rather it’s a feeling we have in the moment. 

 

From viewing the light spectra through glasses of water, to listening to music, poetry about cats, and the sounds outside, to making art with the word Kadosh (in English or Hebrew), we gradually came toward the idea that holiness is something that comes through shared experience and communal understanding, a social construct.

 

On Monday, the Nitzanim (3rd and 4th graders) explored the question: What is holiness? 

Kiddos drew and built their interpretations of what holiness is to them. We also did a practice in noticing with an art exploration of Chagall’s painting, “La Vie.” We discussed what colors, objects, and meanings we could identify in the painting.

Some reflections from our discussion:

  • It was validating to hear other people noticing the same things we did
  • It felt weird to hear interpretations different from our own
  • We felt surprised to hear different interpretations

We reflected on how practicing noticing our environments can impact our experiences:

  • Noticing trees in the neighborhood helps with navigation
  • Noticing the school building can make us nervous

Later on we created paper luminaries! Kiddos cut cool shapes and added awesome colors to these paper lanterns and when we tested them out with tea candles, our work was glowing!

On Tuesday, kiddos signed up, practiced, and MC’d in our very own Nitzanim talent show! From comedy, to singing, to doing a rubik’s cube in a little over a minute, our kevutzah is filled with talent that we find very holy! 

As we continue to consider the meaning of holiness, our Wednesday crew used building materials to bring a scene to life that they see as holy! We can’t wait to continue interpreting these concepts with our kiddos. 

 

We’re looking forward to exploring the concept of holy and what it means to each kiddo as we officially start Unit 2 next week!

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