Apr 20

Joyful expression

ענפים (Anafim, “Branches” for 3rd-4th grade children) have grown a lot this year. For example, they can sit together and work in חברותא (havruta, text study partnership) to explore a new Rabbinic text, connecting it with their own ideas and their peers’ ideas. That requires a lot of different reading, writing, and collaboration skills, not to mention focus!

However, there’s nothing like really feeling free to play and explore. So, as the children imagine and develop characters who have experienced and done acts of אונאת דברים (Ona’at devarim, “hurting with words”), the whole classroom becomes a joyful workshop.

This week, the children eagerly experimented with tin foil, cardboard, plastic, and paper; ripping and cutting and gluing it to create armatures for papier-mâché masks, and splattered paint on giant sheets of butcher paper to evoke the feelings of אונאת דברים (Ona’at devarim, “hurting with words”).

In the words of a fourth grader, “This is the best kind of art!”

Apr 19

Is it Ona’at Devarim (Hurting People With Words)?

A father and son are hunting together. The son accidentally left his safety off and the dad accidentally shot his own finger. Another time, the father and son are hunting again, and the boy says, “Oh, I need to put my safety on.”

The dad replies, “Yeah, we don’t want a remake of last time.”

Is it ona’at devarim (hurting people with words)?

A quick round of thumbs up or down (or middle, for “I’m not sure”) showed us we weren’t in agreement.

“The mishnah (early rabbinic books) said not to bring it up again, and the dad really did bring it up again.”

“He brought it up not like, Oh, you made such a mistake! He just wanted his son to be safe.”

“Yeah, he said: We don’t want what happened last time. He didn’t say, ‘We don’t want what you did last time.'”

“It was a necessary kind of bringing it up again. It was for his safety.”


Next, two boys are playing video games, and one of them is much better than the other and brags when he wins. The other boy says, “Hey, I thought you were going to go easy on me!” The first boy says, “My bad. Sorry. I forgot to go easy on you.”

Later, the boys are getting ready to play again, and the other boy says, “Hey, are you gonna go easy on me this time? ‘Cause you sure didn’t last time.”

Is it ona’at devarim (hurting people with words)?

“I know he brought it up again but it didn’t really seem like the first boy was sorry. He only cared about winning.”

“He cared more about winning than his friend’s feelings. That happens all the time.”

“It was necessary [to bring it up again]. He needed a reminder [to go easy]. Even if it hurt his feelings a little, it’s necessary to say it.”

“If it hurts a little, you’ll think about it. You’ll remember it.”


Wow, middle school. You have such nuanced considerations of what ona’at devarim (hurting people with words) sounds like in our lives today!


Apr 18

Shteelim (‘Sapling’ for Kindergarten) Research Team

Today when the children arrived, before we even got to our space, I shared that I had brought a special surprise for us to explore.

Immediately there was a chorus of, “what is it?!?”

When we opened the door to our space I said,” go take a look, its on the אָדוֹם שָׁטִיח (adom shatiach– red rug).”

Here is what followed:

Child A: I think its a really big Hagaddah (like for פסח (Pesach– Passover))!”

Child B: “Is it like a Torah?”

Child C: “Isn’t it just a really big book?”

Child B: “Oh, (points to the wall where it says אוֹנָאַת דְבָרִים (Ona’at Devarim– hurting with words), is it about our theme?… It must be about our theme!”

The only thing I said was, “It is about our theme! This is a special Jewish book called the Talmud. Early Rabbis so, so long ago also talked about אוֹנָאַת דְבָרִים (Ona’at Devarim- hurting with words), and we can see what they said right here! The Talmud has different parts called books, the book we are looking at is Bava Metzia.” 

Child B: “That’s kind of like how the Torah has, בראשית (Beresheet-Genesis), שמות (Shemot– Exodus)… [singing the 5 Books Of The Torah song]”

We open up the volume.

Child C: “Whoa! look at how the words go all around in different parts. That’s different!”

Child A: “I’m going to see if I can find a “ס” “Samech” (Hebrew letter in their name).”

We spend a few minutes noticing how the words in the Talmud are written.

Child A: “Hold on, I want to write something down.”

Child B: “Me too!”

They go get pencils, paper and clipboards.

I asked, “What will you write down?’

Child A: “Oh.. just some notes… What does it say on the cover?….. I’m going to put everyone’s שם (shem-name) on it so they know this is for us (we can all share these notes).”

Child A wrote, our ideas of the תלמור (Talmud).


Child A wrote, saw a “ס” “Samech”. Child B wrote, Book sections אוֹנָאַת דְבָרִים (Ona’at Devarim– hurting with words).


Two children couldn’t even believe that Rabbis so, so long ago were talking about אוֹנָאַת דְבָרִים (Ona’at Devarim– hurting with words), like we are today.

Child D: “You mean Rabbi “so long ago I don’t even know” also talked about אוֹנָאַת דְבָרִים (Ona’at Devarim– hurting with words)?… I call then them that because we don’t know who they are.”

Child E: “I can’t believe they talked about our theme!”

After spending a few more minutes taking notes we got ready for כיבוד (kibbud – snack), where we would talk a bit more about אוֹנָאַת דְבָרִים (Ona’at Devarim– hurting with words).

I wonder what adventures the Shteelim Research Team will have next week!


Apr 17

What if…?

We’ve been asking and answering a lot of “what if” questions recently. It helps us begin to put boundaries around our understanding of (Ona’at Devarim–hurting with words). It’s a little tricky, but children are eager to share their ideas and opinions about our new theme.

This week, we’re wondering who bears the responsibility for the Ona’at Devarim. Is it Ona’at Devarim if no one knows that a person has been hurt? Is it the responsibility of the person who’s been hurt to tell others that she’s been hurt? Is it Ona’at Devarim if no one hears you?

Nitzanim children have MANY ideas.


Consider… two children were talking about a birthday party in the bathroom and a third child, who isn’t invited to the party, overhears them? If the third child gets upset that she isn’t invited to the party, but she never tells the other two children, is it still (ona’at devarim–hurting with words)?


Child A: No because they could have been just talking and getting their plans ready not they knew she was watching

Child B: It’s not because they didn’t purposely mean to say it in front of her, and also if they said, “You’re not coming to a play date,” that would be Ona’at Devarim.

Child A: They thought it was just them in the the bathroom. 

Child C: They don’t know so it wouldn’t be ona’at devarim if they don’t know. The whole point of it is if they know it they would feel bad but they don’t know that she’s sad. 

Child D: I think it was kind of because they didn’t know and it was on accident but she should speak up. 

Child E: So my idea is it’s not ona’at devarim if they don’t tell her because even though it’s still hurting her feelings she should just tell them and be brave to do it. 

Morah Sara: Is it ona’at devarim if people don’t know that they hurt someone’s feelings. What if I call someone a cheater but they don’t hear me call them a cheater so then they can’t get upset. Is it still ona’at devarim.

Child E: Yes because they still said something mean about her. 


Wow, Nitzanim! You’re really thinking deeply about our new theme!


Apr 17

Shorashim’s Wheat Works of Art!

Shorashim has been learning about Megillat Rut.  In the story, Ruth gleans barley from a field.

Being city children, we needed some tactile experience with some barley/wheat to understand what exactly she was doing in that field.  

We not only got to see, feel, and smell the wheat plant, we got to paint with it!

Without any instruction as to how to paint with our wheat, our Shorashimers had fun being creative!

Some painted with the top…

…others wrote with the tip of the stem…

…while some just twirled and swung the whole plant around to create a splatter effect!

Check out our completed wheat works of art on the wall in Beit Shorashim!

Apr 13

Hurting with words, helping with words

The fourth-grader collapsed with a sigh next to where I was sitting with a third-grader in the hallway.

“I can’t figure it out!” the fourth-grader said to me. “I designed my character to be a really, really nice guy. Someone who always helps other people, always wants to do the right thing. So I figured out who hurts him with words, but I don’t know what situation he would ever hurt someone else with words in!”

As part of our new אונאת דברים (Ona’at Devarim– hurting with words) theme, ענפים  (Anafim– “branches” for 3rd-4th grade children) were coming up with stories about a character who both hurt someone else with words, and had themselves been hurt with words.

“I don’t know what to do,” the fourth grader continued. “He’s really nice. He would never say something mean.”

I asked the third grader if he had any ideas that might help.

“Well,” he said, after a pause. “Maybe, you know, when someone said something funny about someone else, and everyone started laughing, even a really good kid who didn’t mean to, might let a little peep out, even if they knew they shouldn’t laugh.”

The fourth grader’s eyes lit up. “Oh yeah!” he said. “That’s perfect! That’s exactly what I’m gonna do.”

“Hey, what do you think of my character?” asked the third grader, holding up his drawing.

The fourth grader paused. “I really like it!” he said. “I think it’s good!”

“Do you think it’s fuzzy enough?” asked the third grader.

“It looks very fuzzy. Just right.” said the fourth grader, as he got up to return to his table.



Apr 12

Stories about Ona’at Devarim

This week in Shteelim we have started doing the work of figuring out what אוֹנָאַת דְבָרִים (Ona’at Devarim- hurting with words) is and how it happens. We started by listened to stories (some even from personal experience!) where hurting with words took place. We identified אוֹנָאַת דְבָרִים (Ona’at Devarim- hurting with words) in these stories and how the situation was repaired (if it was repaired), then we created our own stories.

Here are some stories that we created about hurting with words.


Sometimes we accidentally hurt with words.


Sometimes, even friends hurt each other with words.


We try to remember to fix it when we hurt someone with words…


We had so many creative ideas for stories about hurting with words! Next week we will explore a few new categories of אוֹנָאַת דְבָרִים (Ona’at Devarim- hurting with words).


Apr 12

Raising Middle Schoolers’ Compassion

By the time you’re in middle school, you’ve got a lot of examples of things that aren’t nice to say. And, you know not to say them.

Adding thought bubbles to imagine what comic characters are thinking and feeling.

So our new theme, אוֹנָאַת דְבָרִים (Ona’at Devarim – hurting people with words) isn’t about figuring out what words might hurt each other. For middle schoolers, our theme is about increasing our compassion for folks who do say hurtful things, and increasing compassion for ourselves, when we say hurtful things. Because we all do, and middle schoolers know it.

Without prompting from a teacher, one of the characters in their scene is in a wheelchair.

But it’s so hard to accept! As a middle schooler, we feel like we’re never quite good enough. We’re definitely older than those little kids in elementary school (so much bigger and wiser!), but we’re also clearly not big (and mature, which we’re glad about; it’s pretty fun to be a middle schooler) like those high schoolers. And adults? Those people are another category entirely.

Why would someone yell at someone else? We came up with several reasons that people yell at each other, even though we know it hurts their feelings.

So this week, our middle schoolers began the slow, slow process of climbing inside other people’s brains to discover why they (and by extension, we) might say hurtful things. We’re in dialogue with the ancient rabbis about it, which, it turns out, actually eases our anxiety, because, wow, it turns out that learning to have compassion for yourself and for others is simply part of being human.

Acting out a scene to at the Apple store to consider the ancient rabbis’ statement that we shouldn’t ask a seller about the price of an item unless we want to buy it.

Apr 10

Shorashim Knows Their Tsvaim (Colors)!

Shorashim has been putting a focus on their צבעים (tsvaim – colors) vocabulary this past week through a new מִשְׂחָק (mischak – game) we’ve been playing.  It is called ארבעה צבעים (arbah tsvaim – four colors), and is essentially one giant sorting game!  Who knew that we could work our gross motor and cognitive skills all at the same time?!

We start with one big pile of various different colored items in the middle.  The children then have to pick up the items and bring them to the appropriate pile that corresponds to its צֶבַע (tseva – color) all the way in the far corners of the room.

אָדוֹם (adom – red) goes with אָדוֹם (adom – red).

צהוב (tsahov – yellow) goes with צהוב (tsahov – yellow).


ירוק (yarok – green) goes with ירוק (yarok – green).

And כָּחוֹל (kachol – blue) goes with כָּחוֹל (kachol – blue).

The trick to the מִשְׂחָק (mischak – game) is that they have to sort all of the objects as quickly as possibly while only being able to sort one item at a time!  So far, the record is 4 minutes and 56 seconds.  With more practice, we’ll surely beat it!  But who knows, maybe soon we’ll have more צבעים (tsvaim – colors) to sort making it even harder!

Apr 09

Accidental Hurtful Words

We started a new theme! It’s called אוֹנָאַת דְבָרִים (Ona’at Devarim–Hurting with words).

Sometimes people (kids and grown-ups, too!) say things that hurt other people’s feelings without meaning to. Hurtful words can happen by accident. Sometimes, nice people can say hurtful words.

Today, Nitzanim children imagined examples of times that words could hurt feelings by accident.

1. Sometimes our feelings get hurt when one of our friends tries to be funny and we don’t think what they’re saying is funny.

“Don’t let (name) drive the bus.”

“That hurt my feelings [when you used my name in the name of the book we’re talking about (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!)]”

“I’m sorry. I was just trying to be silly.”


2. Sometimes one of our friends says what he or she thinks and doesn’t know that they’re saying something hurtful–it’s the truth!


“Look at my picture. It’s a kitty.”

“That doesn’t look like a kitty. It looks like a kangaroo.”


“I’m sorry for what I said.”

3. Or, sometimes one of our friends might say something hurtful when they’re feeling mad inside.

One child explained that when his friend loses a game that they’re playing together, his friend gets angry about losing and says, “Don’t look at me!” He probably isn’t trying to say mean things. He’s just upset that he lost the game.

We’ve only just started to wonder about אוֹנָאַת דְבָרִים (Ona’at Devarim–Hurting with words). I can’t wait to see how children’s questions and ideas about hurtful words will guide our exploration.


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