The class began with a brief instruction: “Build something that makes a statement.”
No pretext- just Legos and table space. Fifteen fourth- and fifth-graders were given that instruction, and after some confused glances, the groups got to work. The designs were ad hoc and the building began in earnest. No further explanation was provided,
After ten minutes, the groups stopped and described the statements that their buildings were trying to make. Given the absence of additional instructions at the outset, the diversity was fascinating. One group made a large red heart “to make a statement of love.” Another group created a scene of stage with an audience of Lego people to show how it took bravery to act and get on stage. A different group made a temple, to create “a holy place for Jews where they don’t have to be afraid.” The answers, and the structures, were full of meaning.
Shalom Steinberg skillfully connected the activity to a prior discussion that the class had about the spiritual realm and physical realms in Judaism. Last week, the Anafim grappled with the idea of the Garden of Eden as a spiritual realm, and the banishment of humankind to the physical realm, and today the kids were presented with the idea that our buildings and structures can make statements about us trying to achieve a higher spiritual state. It’s a serious topic to be exploring with young kids, but when Shalom said, “you all built things that were trying to make spiritual statements,” he was right and the kids were right there with him.
The class then transitioned into a text study of the Tower of Babel. It’s a short text, but timeless. The students were asked three questions to think about during the story.
1) What kind of statement were the builders trying to make when building the Tower?
2) What can we learn about the physical and spiritual worlds in Genesis from this story?
3) What is the Torah trying to teach us in this story? What is God trying to teach us in this story?
The students were particularly interested in the fact that the text tells us that the men of Shinar built the tower to “make a name for themselves,” and that perhaps there was a connection there between man’s desire to be God-like in their creative capacity and God’s fear that Man would become God-like from eating from the Tree of Life. The kids also contemplated communication as a central aspect of God’s great powers- as Becky Price put it, “God said ‘let it be’, and there was” when creating the world.
Becky and Shalom then led some classic drama games involving gibberish and unintelligible speech which were funny and engaging. Another day, another meaningful engagement with text and learning at Kesher Newton. In 45 minutes, the Anafim class moved from the tangible (Legos), to the textual (Genesis), to the sublime (gibberish), and left class having made a new connection between the Biblical text and the human condition.