BHC Elementary Educators Mifgash – Friday, May 28, 2015

Defining Jewish Identity: Temple Emanuel, Newton - Zichron Yosef, Haifa
The following blog was written by Ilene Beckman, Director of Temple Emanuel’s Religious School, and Yona Rosenman, 5th grade Educator. Temple Emanuel and Zichron Yosef have been collaborating for 6 years, and their partnership is an integral part of the 5th grade curriculum.  Both teams plan throughout the summer to continue to infuse new themes and resources into their learning.  They have also broadened their connections to multiple grades.  Their constant approach and dedication allows these two communities to continuously deepen their connections.


Today was a particularly special day for us (Yona and Ilene) as we visited our own partner school, Zichron Yosef. This was not our first visit so the experience was one of reconnecting with dear friends, while delightedly responding to curious questions, and participating in eager conversation with, our students’ pen pals.

The added value of an ongoing, and meaningful partnership such as ours includes the opportunity to go deeper and learn more during each visit. Today offered just such an experience as we encountered a similarity which one might not expect: the challenge of finding one’s identity as a Jew. One might not expect this of Israelis but it is nonetheless a real question as issues of peoplehood, nationality, and religion endeavor to mesh, or perhaps, collide.

Defining Jewish Identity: Temple Emanuel, Newton - Zichron Yosef, HaifaWe observed a serious discussion among 6th graders grappling with this very quandary. Asked to select from an array of objects that could be perceived as “Jewish” or “Israeli” (ranging from a bag of potato chips to a book about Albert Einstein), each child was asked to explain his/her choice, engaging in respectful inquiry with classmates. Even at this young age, it was clear that the students were quite aware of the multiple factors that will face them as they each continue to mold a sense of identity in the years ahead.

As if to prove this very point, later this afternoon, all of the Boston mifgash participants were joined by their Haifa counterparts to address this issue through a series of Enduring Understandings which led to a vigorous conversation as we attempted to weigh themes that impact how we address Jewish identity both personally and with our students. If you had to choose the most important one, which would it be? Mutual Responsibility? Universalism vs. Particularism? Israel and Jewish Peoplehood?  Not an easy choice!

Perhaps a lifelong process of identity-building awaits all of our kids but how beautiful it will be if we share the struggle, continue to engage in the process, and appreciate the blessing of a rich heritage that is worthy of the effort.

At the end of the day, we were able to put our hard work aside and celebrate our collaboration at a festive dinner in a beautiful, quintessentially-Haifa venue: in a garden setting, overlooking the magnificent port of Haifa.

Jerusalem, Here we come!

Ilene Beckman and Yon Rosenman
Temple Emanuel, Newton

Defining Jewish Identity: Temple Emanuel, Newton - Zichron Yosef, Haifa

Here is the summary of the lesson Ilene and Yona taught to the students at Zichron Yosef:

Our lesson will be directed at a Haifa 5th grade English class. Our goal was to find a way to incorporate that learning and to find points of commonality between our Israeli partner students, and our own students who are learning Hebrew. Using music and song, the children will understand that the language of Jewish music and tefilah (prayer) intersect in unique and beautiful ways that we can all appreciate and experience. For Israeli children, the language of liturgy and text surround them in the seemingly secular music of their modern lives. For our students, the language of prayer is an important Jewish touchstone and community-building experience in synagogue life.  The common link between both experiences is the beautiful words that give voice to our shared heritage.

Defining Jewish Identity: Temple Emanuel, Newton - Zichron Yosef, HaifaUsing a “rap” version of the traditional Pesach song, Echad Mi Yode’a, our Israeli friends will be able to appreciate that the seder is a universal experience for all Jews everywhere who participate in both Hebrew and their own native languages. We will bring and share an array of American Haggadot to illustrate this practice. The Shabbat morning prayer, Adon Olam, will serve as an example of liturgical music that can be popular and beloved in both cultural and religious settings. Both groups of students are well versed in this text, but in unique contexts. We have video-recorded our kids singing both of these pieces which we will share with their Haifa counterparts. Finally, together we will enjoy a favorite YouTube of ours by the Fountainheads of Ein Prat whose joyous musical interpretations of holiday themes resonate even with our kids at Temple Emanuel. If the Haifa kids are not familiar with this group, we will be totally delighted to share this home grown treat!


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Looking forward to sharing a meaningful Shabbat with our wonderful partners and friends from Haifa!


Marla Olsberg
BHC Project Manager
School to School Partnership