Sep 24

Building community

This week has been all about community in Beit Nitzanim v’Anafim (“Buds” for 1st and 2nd grades and “Branches” for 3rd grade)! As we welcomed the holiday of Sukkot, children reflected on what it means to be a community. On Sukkot, a Jewish community might build a sukkah, so we gave that a try!

The children worked in teams to each build their own sukkah. Some of the children had never worked together before, but that didn’t stop them from using kind and friendly language with their teammates! Some things that could be overheard in Beit Nitzanim v’Anafim as they built their sukkot:

  • “What do you think of this for the walls?”
  • “Do you have an idea for the roof?”
  • “Ooh! I like what you did for the table.”

After the building, we reflected as a group: What did it feel like to work with a partner? What had we just been doing with our partners that was being a community? The children’s responses are proof that even at the beginning of the year when we are still learning how to be in a community together, they already know a lot about how to take care of each other:

  • Fun and cool
  • Nice
  • Sometimes hard
  • Curious
  • Working together
  • Sharing (materials and ideas)
  • Making something together

Many of the children agreed that while they probably could’ve built a sukkah alone, sharing ideas with a partner helped them create the beautiful and unique sukkot that they did. Being a community is awesome!

Sep 20

Shalom, Chaverim! (Welcome, Friends!)

Shalom Chaverim (“Welcome Friends!” for ages 0 – 3 and their grown-ups) began this week, and it was so much fun! We gathered in Harold Washington Park and explored the upcoming Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Children pretended to be inside sukkahs created from their grown-ups’ bodies. They looked at Sukkot books and pictures of sukkahs, examined sticks and leaves with magnifying glasses, and dug in the sandbox to find buried Sukkot pictures. They explored a lulav and etrog by touching, smelling, and listening to it, then recreating these items with their bodies.

Families gathered sticks and leaves in baskets, then incorporated fabric and tape to construct their own mini sukkahs or festive Sukkot tablecloths.

Please join us for the Enrichment Center Family Sukkot Celebration on Sunday, September 26. Happy Sukkot!

Sep 10

A sweet start to the new year

Shanah tovah u’metukah! (A happy and sweet new year)! I can’t think of a sweeter way to start the new Jewish year than by having children onsite for our FIRST in-person afterschool session since March 2020! One third grader looked around with eyes open wide and called the building, “the new old building.” How sweet to be back after such a long time away!

While we’ve all grown and changed in the last many months, there was something so familiar, something just right about having children back onsite. It was so comfortable to see children sharing a kibud (snack) together, excitedly exploring their new kevutzah (group) spaces, and creating in our yetzirah (art/creativity) studio.

And parents, too! I was delighted to open the door at 5:45pm to see a group of grown-ups happily chatting together as they waited for their children.

My goodness, it’s so sweet to be back! I’m so looking forward to a very sweet year ahead for this beautiful Enrichment Center community.

Aug 27

Sh’mitah Camp

Camp is in full swing, we are getting to know each other, playing fun games together and this week we are learning about Sh’mitah.

Playing a version of the game, “Where the Wind Blows”. A child shared something they like, in any category and anyone that also likes it stands up.

Sh’mitah can be found in the Torah in several places, including the book of Exodus, chapter 23, the book of Leviticus, chapter 25 and the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 15. These sections include some details about the way that land that is used to grow food is treated (in the torah). In each of these parts of the torah, there is some variation of the idea of, “growing for six years and letting land rest every seventh year”.

The French medieval commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (also known as Rashi), wrote about the section of text from the book of Leviticus, chapter 25. Rashi added that anything that would grow during a Sh’mitah year (it wasn’t planted on purpose, but sometimes seeds land in a field and grow!) is ownerless, these crops are available to anyone who wants to take them.

For the younger group, we started the week by exploring rest. There was rest for humans, which we explored through body movement games. This was followed by drawing reflection about how your body feels after expending energy and where they felt it. Responses included:

  • Legs
  • Feet
  • Mouth
  • Belly
  • All over.
Body movement exploration.
Drawing reflection.

We went on a walk where we noticed things in nature that were resting. We saw trees, bushes, flowers, birds at a birdfeeder, we felt the wind, and we heard city sounds, like an ambulance and the Metra train.

We learned about the farming process. In these photos we are pretending to be seeds, plants, farmers, or the sun. One way the “farmers” took care of “the seeds and plants” was by watering them. We also harvested and brought our harvest to grocery stores and farmers’ markets.

We also started working on a banner about our week. In these photo children are collaging a field. Some children planned to include specific features, like rows of crops including soil and plants, trees and the sky.

We introduced the concept of Hefker, where any crops that grow in a Sh’mitah year are ownerless. These crops are available to anyone who wants to take them.

We played a game where we brought Hefker foods to a common spot. Then, we took turns going to pick up just what we needed. When the final child went to go get food from the baskets, they found that they couldn’t get what they needed to, so they asked the group. The children checked to see if they had any extra to share and they did!

We also baked something yummy that we decided to bring to the Hyde Park Love Fridge, once food goes into the Fridge it is Hefker (ownerless) and anyone can take it if they need it.

Looking forward to another week of camp next week which is about Rosh Hashanah!

Jun 09

Name that Space

The Jewish Enrichment Center staff and volunteers have been hard at work. We are moving furniture and redecorating our spaces to prepare to welcome children back onsite in the fall. Do you recognize these spaces? What looks familiar? What is new to you?

The process took several days, and is still progressing. In order to maintain safe social distancing, seating areas and other furniture are spread out around the rooms. But the coziness and welcoming atmosphere still remain!

Thank you to everyone who donated their time and expertise. We are so excited to show these new spaces to the children soon!

Jun 08

לְהִתְרָאוֹת (L’hitraot — See you later)

We’ve come to the final week of our year together, and in Anafim (“Branches” for 2nd-3rd grades) we’re spending it telling each other warm fuzzies and playing games that make us laugh. It’s been the weirdest year ever, but these tremendous children have shown up week after week ready to care for each other, be curious and creative, and wrestle with Jewish texts.

We’ll see each other again next year, but we’ll be different then! לְהִתְרָאוֹת (L’hitraot — See you later), Anafim! I’ve been lucky to grow with you this year, and I can’t wait to see you next year!

May 27

The End is also the Beginning

We are approaching the end of the school year and the end of our final theme for the year, בִּיקוּר חוֹלִים (bikur cholim – visiting sick people). The children in שׁוֹרָשִׁים (Shorashim– ‘roots’ for nursery) and שְׁתִּילִים (Shteelim– ‘saplings’ for kindergarten) have done so much growing over the course of the year!

Their perspective has changed a number of times just during this theme. At the beginning, children could talk about their personal experiences with being sick:

Child 1: When me and my sister got sick we both got the same medicine.

Child 2: …I mostly get medicine. Sometimes I have a spoonful of honey.

Child 3: I’ll tell you about the flu. I had to rest, drink gatorade… Everyone was sick so we all got out of bed to get our own gatorade.

Child 4: I got a present. I got a stuffed animal that has 3 hearts.

Only one of the children had experience with בִּיקוּר חוֹלִים (bikur cholim – visiting sick people). Together, we were able to imagine beyond our own experiences. As 3-5 year old children with empathy for others, our group was truly able to develop our ideas about being helpful and kind visitors.

Making cards for a visit to a person who is sick.

Child 1: If you have a scared face then the sick person could get scared. They might know something that’s bad and make him hurt more.

Child 2: …They feel happy because they got the card from the visitor. 

Child 3: It feels good to get a toy and they can play with the toy until he is done being sick.

One of the most significant shifts in perspective took place when we started talking about communal responsibility for taking care of people who are sick. This shift also helped us connect the various aspects of בִּיקוּר חוֹלִים (bikur cholim – visiting sick people) that we had previously explored.

First, we talked about who is in our community, not just at the Jewish Enrichment Center. We included people we know in Hyde Park!

The hoop represents our community, the wooden people are the people we named as a part of our community.

Then, we played about being a בִּיקוּר חוֹלִים (bikur cholim – visiting sick people) team that takes care of people in the community when they are sick.

The bikur cholim team getting ready for a visit!

Child 1: We could bring him a card.

Child 2: And like a couple of stickers.

 Child 3: I guess they could run errands for me and take my sister to the dentist.

It was so amazing to see how the children changed their perspective as the theme progressed! Even though our year together is almost finished, we can continue our empathetic and growthful play!

May 25

The Small Moments

It’s hard to believe that we’re coming to the end of another year of Jewish Enrichment Center. What a beautiful year it’s been!

In previous years when we were together in-person, I took for granted all of the tiny moments of connection that were possible throughout the day–checking in with every child as they entered the building, taking a few minutes to read a story aloud with a child, hearing about ballet recitals and grandparents visiting and new pets. These are the moments that make a community, where children offer each other and us, the educators, an opportunity to see inside their WHOLE selves, and the people they are outside of the classroom. When they let each other in, we can find shared interests and build a kind and safe community.

Online, these small moments don’t happen naturally, so we’ve had to make them. Thankfully, the children know what to do and they’ve led the way in sharing themselves.

This year we’ve had a guitar recital (and ukulele, too, but I don’t have a photo),

met each other’s pets,

lit Chanukah candles together,

and shared our bedrooms, offices, and homes with each other. I am enormously grateful to the children for finding the confidence and willingness to share themselves with me and with each other. What a gift it has been to be connected this year! When we return in-person, I won’t take those small moments of connection for granted again.

May 13

Prayer and Bikur Cholim (Visiting Sick People)

We’re coming to the final weeks of our Bikur Cholim (Visiting Sick People) theme. Each week I have been moved by the way that children are thinking so deeply about our theme and sharing such empathetic insights. The depth of their ideas speaks not only to the individual children themselves and their amazing brains, but also to the intellectual safety that we’ve built in our community. Anafim (“Branches” for 2nd-3rd grade), what a year we’ve had!

This week, we introduced doing bikur cholim (visiting the sick) by praying for the sick person’s recovery. We asked Anafim whether they thought praying took away any of the sick person or family’s suffering. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Child 1: If someone hears the prayer, then they know that someone cares about them and then they will feel better… The family of the sick person, it takes away their suffering, too.
  • Child 2: Maybe they (the sick person) will feel more hopeful.
  • Child 3:  Maybe it makes the sick person more confident. Saying that makes them more confident about them getting better. 
  • Child 1:  If you’re rushing around you’re so busy you forget that… you’re taking care of the sick person ‘cause you want them to get better but you’re just doing like everything and you just want to take a break and say a prayer.

What rich ideas children have had this theme! I feel so lucky to learn from them.

Sometimes we have dementors in Anafim!

May 13

Shavuot Is Almost Here!

Here is an update from the Family Program! We are getting ready for Shavuot, which begins on Sunday night. This is a group that really likes to be creative so we used our creativity to make flower crowns for Shavuot!

One of the fabulous things that came out of our creative time together, is that we got to see how we could each start with the same set of materials (sent by the Jewish Enrichment Center Family Program team) and make a crown that is more personalized. Several of the children decided to add other materials to their crowns, like tissue paper, sequins, and real flowers!

The child on the left added tissue paper. The child who made the crown on the right added real flowers.

It has been so much fun playing together in the Family Program this year!

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