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!

May 07

Community and Responsibility

We have been in our theme,  בִּיקוּר חוֹלִים (bikur cholim – visiting sick people), for four whole weeks now and throughout those four weeks, the children have been introduced to a variety of different Jewish texts that talk about visiting sick people. We’ve thought about our personal experiences with being sick and visiting sick people, what it is like from the visitor’s perspective and from the sick person’s perspective, how visiting can take away a little bit of the sick person’s suffering, whether we think it’s a good idea to visit even if you aren’t friends with or don’t know the sick person very well, and so much more.

One idea that Nitzanim (“Buds” for 1st graders) children have continued to come back to is that it is a nice and kind thing to do to visit someone who is sick. As one child put it “if they didn’t go [visit], nothing bad will happen. But we should go. Because we want [the sick person] to feel happy.”

This week, Nitzanim heard a text that said “It is a Jewish responsibility to visit sick people.” While the word “responsibility” did not stick so much with the 1st graders, they continued to voice the opinion that we all should visit people who are sick. They shared that a community in which everyone has a responsibility to take care of each other feels:

  • “Good. They are very happy people are helping each other because if nobody helped each other, they will be alone.”
  • “Really nice. It makes people know that you care about them.”

While 1st graders might still be working out what it means to have a responsibility, they certainly know what it means to be a part of a community and that people in community caring for each other is important to them. It was wonderful to hear their thoughts on community, especially in the context of recognizing that all of us in Nitzanim are a part of each other’s communities, and have been taking care of each other all year.

Apr 28

Cautiously Caring for People Who are Sick

In שׁוֹרָשִׁים (Shorashim– ‘roots’ for nursery) and שְׁתִּילִים (Shteelim– ‘saplings’ for kindergarten), we are exploring the concepts of בִּיקוּר חוֹלִים (bikur cholim – visiting sick people) through pretend play. A few sessions ago, the children shared that visiting people who are sick, “can make the sick person feel better!” Visiting is important, but children were concerned about the visitor getting sick. I pointed out that Jewish people a long time ago talked about this too, including the Rabbis, like the one who wrote the special jewish book called the Shulchan Arukh.

This week, we played a few examples of visiting with someone who is contagious. We pretended to visit from the hallway outside the room (the example from the Shulchan Arukh). We also pretended to try to visit from the front steps and we pretended to visit on zoom.

Pretending to be sick.

I asked the children, “if we can’t visit their room how else might we visit?”

  • You could make them a card or send them flowers.
  • We can call them on the phone.
  • We could send them a card in the mail.
Two images of getting ready to visit someone who is sick.

Then I asked, “is sending something the same as getting a visit?”

  • I think sending a card or if they want flowers is the same. 
  • I’m pretty sure they are similar, but it’s not the same thing.
I made you a feel better soon sign!

We had to end our session there, but the children helped me see which text our exploration should be based in the next session. We’ll play about different examples of visits that help a sick person feel better and how much we think they help!

Apr 27

COVID-19 and Bikur Cholim

Anafim (“Branches” for 2nd-3rd grades) children are deep into the heart of our Bikur Cholim (Visiting Sick People) theme. As in any other theme, children are bringing their unique perspectives and experiences into dialogue with our Jewish texts within a community of their peers. Throughout the year we’ve seen glimmers of the way that children are processing their pandemic lives through our themes. In our spring theme, in particular, children’s thoughts and feelings about COVID have surfaced.

Even in the first week of our Bikur Cholim (Visiting Sick People) theme, children expressed concerns about how to safely visit a person who is sick. In their buildings and animations of our texts, the visitor worries about catching the illness and the sick person fears spreading their germs.

  • One child explained that maybe a sick person didn’t receive a visitor because, “they (the visitor) probably didn’t want to get sick.”
  • Another child said that in a pandemic, it could be difficult to visit every single sick person: “It was something like coronavirus where it’s dangerous and there’s too many people sick to visit everybody.”
  • And a third child spoke from the perspective of the sick person: “I hate being sick. I am lonely but I don’t want to get my friend sick so I’m not gonna have them over so I’m really sad and I’m lonely.”
The acorn caps in this second grader’s building represent face masks worn by parents who are taking care of their child sick with COVID.

This week we took on a text from the Shulchan Arukh about visiting contagious sick people, and Anafim children had opinions.

  • One second grader was absolutely horrified that the text could suggest that a sick person not be visited in-person. He felt that a visit to the home was at least an acceptable compromise and that the visitor wasn’t “being mean” and worrying about themselves.
  • One third grader has continued to suggest that Zooming a contagious person would be easier than an in-person visit.
  • Another third grader disagreed with the text and said that the visitors should go into the sick person’s room while wearing masks: “I feel like masks might do the trick, like wearing a mask and social distancing in the room. They can hear each other and talk to each other.”
Send a letter instead of visiting

Underneath each comment, children are wrestling with their own pandemic comfort level. Some children stand firm that visiting a sick person is more important than the visitor’s own discomfort. Other children look for compromises to protect the safety of both the sick person and visitor. Anafim, how strange to have spent so much time in the last year thinking and worrying about contagion. I’m glad that our theme has offered you an opportunity to voice the questions and ideas in your brains and hearts.

It’s hard to get a screen shot when we’re very busy building.

Apr 21

A little slice of help

Last week in Nitzanim (“Buds,” for 1st grade children), we explored a text from the Talmud that said that when someone visits a sick person, they take away 1/60th of their suffering. To help us understand this idea, we looked at a picture of a pie with one tiny little slice taken out of it. If the whole pie is all of the sick person’s suffering, the tiny slice is how much the visitor takes away when they visit.

Our initial reactions to this were positive! Great! A visitor can help, even if it’s just a little bit. In the words of one child: “If you take away one slice of their sickness, they will still be sick. A little better but not all the way better because they might still be sick.”

Once we knew we understood what the text was saying, Nitzanim, as usual, went straight to the big questions! What if you aren’t friends with or are mad at the sick person? What if you don’t know what to do when you visit? Will you still be able to take away a slice of their suffering? What does the visitor actually do to take away the sick person’s suffering? And, as usual, Nitzanimers had all sorts of ideas and answers to these big questions:

  • “[If the visitor doesn’t know what to do] they can just play games with them and give them food. That might take it [their suffering] away.”
  • “Yes they should [visit the sick person] because they’re sick. Even though my mom was mad at me one day when I was sick she still took care of me. Even though they don’t like each other they can still take care.”
  • “If you’re not friends, it will still make the person happy that you came to visit them.”
  • “This person [in my drawing] is thinking ‘I can’t take away their suffering’ and this is the sick person right here. They are not a friend but they are thinking about even if I’m not a friend, should I do it or not? That person is thinking you can’t take away this person’s suffering [if you aren’t their friend].”

We have been together as a kevutzah (group) since September, and through our conversations it is so clear how hard the Nitzanimers have worked to make our Zoom classroom feel warm, welcoming, and friendly. They have built a community in which everyone has room to share their ideas (even if they are disagreeing with someone else) and their personal experiences, and that makes for such rich conversations during our themes. Thank you, Nitzanim!

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