Wondering about History

Wow. Did you see our במדבר (Bamidbar, “In the Wilderness) projects? (Well, did you? They’re still up downstairs in the social hall– go check them out if you haven’t yet!)


We could easily end the quarter just riding on our pride and excitement about the work we did together there. But we had a week left, between the end of our במדבר (Bamidbar) theme and winter break, so we couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to dive into חנוכה (Hanukkah)!

The beginning part of the חנוכה (Hanukkah) story we tell is different from most of the texts we explore together here. Instead of being a close translation of an ancient Jewish text, like the תורה (Torah), another part of the תנ׳׳ך (Tanakh; the Jewish Bible), or a Rabbinic commentary, it’s a short summary of an historical event– the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids around 165 BCE. Unlike most stories we talk about, here we started with the presumption that something like this (the revolt part; not the 3 different endings) really happened in the past. So a big question suddenly filled up our classroom: How do we know about things that happened in the past? The children generated lots of questions as we read through the story at כבוד (kibud, snack).

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In one short week, we couldn’t delve as deeply as we wanted to into the story of the revolt and the different kinds of evidence archaeologists and historians look for to understand what happened in the past. But we did get to explore in a couple of different ways: We emailed some of our questions to an archaeologist and got some more background information on who the Syrian Greeks/Seleucids were, why they brought elephants to the battlefield (!), and the kinds of information we can learn from ancient buildings, coins, and pottery. We discussed how convincing we might find different kinds of evidence (three children decided on this hierarchy together: if an ancient writer described something that happened, that might or might not be convincing depending on what they said. If material evidence like coins and weapons were discovered that backed up what the ancient writer said, that would be a much more believable story. If the coins and weapons told a different story from what the ancient writer said, they’d believe the coins and weapons more).

And finally, the children chose one image or idea from our exploration of the Hanukkah story that stuck out to them, and chose a way to represent it.

They carefully copied Hasmonean coins…

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Shaped Seleucid battle elephants…


Delicately assembled a 7-armed menorah (lampstand) from the Second Temple…


Designed a lamp with 9 lights, illustrating the third possible ending to the חנוכה (Hanukkah) story…


…And, of course, collaborated on a comic.


It was a fun way to end the quarter. Happy almost- חנוכה (Hanukkah)!


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