Feb 14

Exerting Independence

It is very powerful when a young child exerts their independence around making a choice. In this case, a 4 year old child walked up to our עברית (Ivrit-Hebrew) shelf, looked around and said, “I am going to do this!”

When asked if they wanted a partner, they very confidently said, “no thank you.”

They sat down and proceeded to spend about 15 minutes ordering, matching and reciting the aleph-bet (Hebrew alpha-bet)

It is easy to see the intensity of focus with which they took on this task. What is not pictured is the joy upon completion.

I am looking forward to seeing how שׁוֹרָשִׁים (Shorashim– ‘roots’ for nursery) and שְׁתִּילִים (Shteelim– ‘saplings’ for kindergarten) will continue to challenge themselves as our year continues!

Feb 14

Coming Home

“Oh, I remember this!” “I’m so proud of this!”

Our imaginary characters are back! The energy in our room skyrocketed. Everyone talked at once (which isn’t very different from how the middle schoolers usually interact with each other).

We’ve said good-bye to a few beloved characters. The creator of Big Shaq, our Roman soldier who wished people would see him as less foolish and more like the great fighter he is – our middle schooler decided that Big Shaq would stay in the past. (Amazing, yes?)

Our lonely grandmother, Edna, will be returning. But how lonely is she, exactly? It appears that “she has a crush” on Louis, a gentleman she sees when she walks in the park.

Edna’s not the only one. It’s clear that relationships will be a major part of our characters’ lives.

“Is Bartolo Jewish?” someone asked. Simultaneously, Bartolo’s creator paused to consider while another kid nodded vigorously. The jury is still out on Bartolo. Two boys considering minor league baseball player characters made plans to marry women named Sarah and Rachel.

One thing is very clear to me as we head back into our imaginary world. These middle schoolers are directing their lives, I mean, their characters’ lives. All I can do is help them think through their choices and keep reflecting on them.

Feb 11

Ivrit Update

It’s AMAZING how much עברית (Ivrit–Hebrew) Nitzanim children have learned this year, and it’s only February! First grade Nitzanim’s Hebrew program focuses on playing with the sounds of Hebrew consonants and vowels. We’re onto our FIFTH vowel, and children couldn’t be more proud!

It was time for a little shake up of our Hebrew shelves, and children jumped right into some new games to test out their consonant+vowel confidence. Here are some of our current favorites:

Vowels turners. Children take turns spinning the wheel and saying the sounds of the consonant+vowel.
Singing the Alef-bet together to check out the new vowel sound.
A game of slap! Children take turns flipping over the card. The first person to say the consonant+vowel sound and slap the card gets to keep it.
More happy slapping.

Feb 11

Hebrew Literacy in Shalom Chaverim

This week in Shalom Chaverim, the children were busy exploring Hebrew letters together.

There were Hebrew letters to investigate on the scroll tucked inside a mezuzzah!

There was even a Hebrew letter right on the front of every mezuzzah we investigated– the letter shin, for Shema.

Of course, there are so many different things to learn about Hebrew letters. The children were excited to find their own special letter– the first letter in each friend’s shem (name.) Once they found their own letter, and proudly showed it off, we engaged in some joyful singing and dancing with our letters, sending them zooming up off the top of our parachute.

We continued exploring these same letters today, working together to make a dough.

Then, the children searched for their special letter again– this time in cookie cutter form!

The children proudly devoured their own letters for a special kibud. Yum!

Feb 07

Overheard in Beit Nitzanim

Child 1 & Child 2 are playing tseva (color) pick-up sticks. Children take turns trying to pickup a stick without moving any of the sticks in the pile. If they successfully lift a stick, they must say the Hebrew name of the colored dot on the stick.

Child 1: You have to say the tseva (color) every time.

Child 2: I don’t know what it is!

Child 1: I know where to look.

(Child 1 & Child 2 run across the room to the color chart on the wall.)

Child 1: It’s this one. What’s the first sound?

Child 2: I don’t know. I don’t read Hebrew.

Child 1: Look at the alef-bet chart. Sound it out. Sha…

Child 2: Shachor (black)?

Child 1: Yeah! Let’s keep playing.

What a gorgeous moment between two children! What patience and compassion Child 1 showed for her peer, who insisted that the task was too difficult. Look at all the beautiful things that are possible when children have the skills, confidence, and initiative to be drive their own learning AND feel connected and responsible for the learning of others.

Feb 07

L’hitpalel: A Case Study

This week the Anafim anthropology team began looking into 1 Samuel 1-2:10 to see how it might help them understand לְהִתְפַּלֵל (l’hitpalel).

Some anafimers chose to build to show their ideas about Channah’s תְּפִלָּה (tefillah- prayer).

Some children worked in pairs to build a scene showing where Channah made her תְּפִלָּה (tefillah- prayer). Together they thought about what it might look like for Channah to make a תְּפִלָּה (tefillah- prayer) and why she might have chosen to make one at all.

One group had this to say: She’s doing tefillah to tell Adonai that she wants a baby. She wants a child and God can giver her everything she wants. She feels good during the tefillah because she knows that God is listening and will make a change. [Before she made the תְּפִלָּה (tefillah- prayer)] she felt worried, something might go wrong, but also hopeful. [After she made the תְּפִלָּה (tefillah- prayer) she felt] worried because God might say no and nothing will change.

Other anafimers chose to show their ideas about Channah’s תְּפִלָּה (tefillah- prayer) using watercolor crayons.

Look! Here are two different ideas about how Channah felt on the inside while making her תְּפִלָּה (tefillah- prayer).

I can’t wait to see what else the Anafim anthropology team discovers about לְהִתְפַּלֵל (l’hitpalel)!

Feb 07

Growing up?

Snippets from this week’s conversations about becoming B-Mitzvah (which happens whether or not we choose to celebrate it, which is important, because not all of us are sure that we want to have a public ritual)…

“I really think Torah should be part of your Bat Mitzvah. It’s not just about reading Torah. But a Bat Mitzvah without Torah…Torah’s like, so important.”

“Being an adult means you’re more responsible for yourself. There’s no one to fall back on.”

“You’re not just responsible for keeping your kids safe, but you have to be there for them.”

“After your Bat Mitzvah, you should take more responsibility for housekeeping, like doing the dishes and cleaning up and stuff. You should do what you can to help out.”

“After becoming Bat Mitzvah, you should participate in Torah study. Like, on days when the Torah is read, you could go study Torah. It’s a skill you have, and you shouldn’t be excused from doing it.”

“You shouldn’t be treated like an adult. You can do more, but you shouldn’t be expected to do it all.”

Feb 05

New ways לְהִתְפַּלֵל (L’hitpalel)

In שׁוֹרָשִׁים (Shorashim– ‘roots’ for nursery) and שְׁתִּילִים (Shteelim– ‘saplings’ for kindergarten), we have opened up the second category of our theme, לְהִתְפַּלֵל (L’hitpalel). We are considering the following question: what feeling do I feel when I try this way לְהִתְפַּלֵל (L’hitpalel)? Sometimes the answer to that question is a mark (mark making), or a word and sometimes the answer is actually a different question, what does my face or body do when I try this way לְהִתְפַּלֵל (L’hitpalel)?

This is what happened when we did תפילה (tefila), meditation:

Some children sat up tall and stayed still.
Some closed their eyes, and moved around…
Some children stayed in a laying down position, some stretched out, while others kept their arms and legs close together, some wanted to be covered up….

Here are some of the words that children used to describe what they felt when they did this kind of תפילה (tefila), meditation:



Kind of tired



I wonder what new feelings we might feel as we continue to explore during our theme!

Feb 05

Building Connections in Anafim v’Alonim Between L’hitpalel and Channah’s Tefillah

For the past few weeks in Beit Anafim v’Alonim (branches” and “oak trees” for 4th and 5th grades) we’ve been exploring our current theme,   לְהִתְפַּלֵל (L’hitpalel) through a text about Channah and her תְּפִלָּה‬, tefillah (prayer).  The text can be found in the first book of Samuel.  This week children explored the feelings and ideas they thought Channah had in her תְּפִלָּה‬ (tefillah) to Adonai. This is the text Anafim v’Alonim explored this week:

1 Samuel 2:1-8

2:1. And Channah made a tefillah. She said:

“My heart celebrates in Adonai…

I rejoice in your salvation!

2. There is nothing as holy as Adonai!

There none besides you.

There is no rock like our God!

3. Don’t talk so much, you oh-so-high and mighty ones;

Don’t let arrogance come from your mouth,

For Adonai is a God of knowledge,

And [Adonai] weighs all actions…

5… The woman without children has given birth to 7, and the woman with many children is left alone.

6. Adonai makes death and makes life; Brings down to the underworld and raises up…

8. Adonai lifts up the poor from the dust, And the needy person from the ashes,

To make them sit with princes, and inherit thrones of kavod!

Below are some of these rich ideas children developed through their painting and building…

Many children expressed joy and happiness because Channah’s womb was opened by Adonai and she was grateful.  Some noted that Adonai must hold a lot of power not only to open and close a womb but to determine life and death.  New questions and ideas are surfacing  לְהִתְפַּלֵל (L’hitpalel) after exploring Channah’s תְּפִלָּה‬, tefillah (prayer).

  • “Is there a connection with Adonai and תְּפִלָּה‬ (tefillah)?”
  • “Can  לְהִתְפַּלֵל (L’hitpalel) happen without תְּפִלָּה‬ (tefillah)?”
  • “Can תְּפִלָּה‬ (tefillah) happen without Adonai?”

Such rich questions, there is so much more to come as we continue into our deep exploration of  לְהִתְפַּלֵל (L’hitpalel).

Feb 01

Individual and Communal Responsibility

Who gets to decide if I go to war? We opened our segment on “Conscientious Objector” with a deep looking at Picasso’s Guernica, and most middle schoolers zeroed in on that part with the mom holding her dead child. Oh, my goodness.

Should my country get to decide if I serve? Should I have the right to refuse to serve in a particular war, or do I have to believe that all fighting is wrong? We looked at the draft in WWI Britain and in the U.S. during the Vietnam War. What did it take to declare yourself a conscientious objector, and how were you treated? What inspired people to serve?

“Thank goodness my dad and brother wouldn’t have to serve,” said one girl. (The middle schoolers had, in typical middle school fashion, divided themselves into gender-separated groups.) And, when I pressed both groups to say a little more about the Selective Service registry today, we weren’t ready. No one wanted to set themselves inside that Guernica painting. We moved on.

As we work through these topics in which values we care about come into conflict, yet decisions must be made, common questions are emerging: how does being Jewish influence my decision-making? what do I do when my Jewishness conflicts with American society? how much of “me” do I allow to be shaped by a larger group, and in what situations do I do that?

We play games every time we’re together (we’re reteaching the middle schoolers how to speak kindly to one another), but when we’re back in the Middle School room, we’ve been pretty serious lately.

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