What an amazing class. This semester we looked at the formula for writing a funny joke and also Jewish comedians throughout history. It has been a pleasure to explore the hilarious, scary, funny and sometimes difficult stories of all the students in our class. From the trials of what it's like to be a Jew in highschool to grade school stories of past injuries--our class is a funny one.
A moment that inspired was when our class was doing improvisational comedy relating to different Jewish themes and two students created a hilarious vignette about a mother and son dancing together at the sons Bar-mitzvah, it was awkward, it was hilarious and well...I guess you had to be there.
It has been a great class and I have been honored to work with these creative funny and authentic group of students all year long in my electives.
In Kosher Sex, we started the semester with introducing the words Kosher Sex. The students were asked to define what they believed that word meant. At first students believed that the class would mostly revolve around very strict laws and that they didn't really know how much of the the law would apply to modern day society. From there we explored Jewish law regarding sex, The students learned that most of what is written about sexuality in Judaism is primarily after marriage. We discussed in detail how Judaism believes that sex is a natural but very sacred act that should not be taken lightly. We talked about the concept of B’tzelem Elohim, and how that concept encourages an approach romantic relationships that is not consumed with how the body looks but rather what type of soul occupies that body. The students took a critical look at how society offers teenagers certain troupes about sex and relationships and how they could look to their Jewish values for influence instead.
The students really wanted to talk about healthy relationships. So we began again with asking them: what did they think a healthy relationship looked like? We spent three weeks talking about what they wished for when they were ready. We did an activity to see exactly how much time they would have to properly contribute to a relationship, but most of the students realized that they had very little time to offer another person as well as properly make time for themselves.
From there we moved on and talked about modesty, laws regarding masterbation and the ideas of virginity in society and Judaism, internet safety and finally the legal and personal dangers of sexting.
We finished our semester with writing a letter to our “future-selves” as to what we needed in a relationship. Many of the students were hesitant to share. But they focused on what their needs were.
Snapshot moment: One of the coolest moments came at the end of the semester. One of the students was talking about a friend that recently had broken up with her boyfriend because he didn't have enough time for her. She spoke about how she used the activity we learned in class about time management and making time for yourself and seeing if you had time for a partner to comfort her friend. But most importantly, she talked to her friend about what it means to be ready to have a relationship with another person, and taking time to grow and mature and not starting down that path until you truly know yourself, This 8th grade class really walked away from this class with a suitcase full of Jewish values. My hope is that they take their time, and know themselves before embarking on the journey of loving another person.
In the "Jewish Media" elective, we've been exploring some big ideas in Judaism using popular media as a starting point for the conversation. We began the year watching an episode of "Parks and Rec," in which the citizens of he town of Pawnee struggle to decide what to place I'm a time capsule to best represent all the people of the town. This led to an interesting discussion about our own identities, what we would choose to represent ourselves, and what would represent American Judaism as we experience it. Throughout the class I focused on student requests; the class chose what they wanted to watch scenes from each week, and my challenge each week was to find those connections in current movies and TV that raised relevant issues to explore with a Jewish lens. What a fun challenge it was! Phil sending his daughter off to college in an episode of "Modern Family" opened up a conversation about the relationship between parents and children as we contrasted his "Phil"-osophies with texts from Pirkei Avot. Similarly an episode from "Dr. Who" called Blink started a discussion about being present in our lives, while "Battle Star Galatica" opened us up to our own personal journeys, as well as some overtly Jewish themes- Captain Adamah (meaning Earth in Hebrew) is the leader trying to lead this mission to find Earth!
While we had many great discussions, strengthened by the diverse experiences and interests of the teens in the class, one of my favorite nights was a discussion following an episode of "House." In the show, an Orthodox Hassidic woman visits Dr. Hours after falling ill at her wedding. As the episode progresses we learn that this woman underwent a radical spiritual transformation; she was not born into the Hassidic community but found it after a long career in the music industry full of parties and drugs. Dr. House believes this change must be a symptom of her disease as in his view "people don't change," but not everyone on his team believes this. This began an exciting discussion in class where students shared big changes in their own life, including experiences at a new school, new hobbies, Bar/bat mitzvah and more. We ended with an activity where each teen mapped out his her own feeling of connection with Judaism throughout their lives so far and made predictions far into the future. What was amazing throughout this was that while every teen had a different map of highs and lows, everyone had such clear reasons and expectations, and all felt or believed there would be moments in their lives of extreme spiritual connection. So far it's been such an interesting experience and I'm looking forward to our last couple classes.
In our Senior Schmooze class we have created an intimate group as we bring the Midrasha experience full circle. Each class begins with the "basket'o'phones" so that our time together is undisturbed. Aside from sharing the latest regarding College applications, essays, and acceptances, the Seniors are reflective on what decisions they have made and opportunities they have had that has brought them to where they are right now. We talked about what we thought Judaism might look like in general, in the next five or ten years and which words of Pirket Avot [Teaching of our Ancestors] speak the most to us and why. Most importantly, we indulged in the Jewish concept of “brachot” (blessings and appreciation) and the variety of different ways that Jewish tradition shows appreciation and marks it as we worked to apply those practices to our own lives. In thinking towards the future we've explored important things to consider regarding health, self care, and access to physical and mental health care once one leaves home. We've also explored the importance of knowing one's parents preferences if something were to happen to their health. Some of the lighter conversations have been in reminiscing the "good 'ole days" of 8th - 9th grade and what has changed since and sharing Midrasha "first" moments while articulating recommendations for incoming 8th graders to the Midrasha program.
One highlight from our class that truly exemplifies the growth and steps towards maturity that these young people have made during their years at Midrasha happened back in February. We were having a discussion about our relationship with our parents and thinking about whether the relationship would change, & if so, how might it change, as they go off to college. One student expressed their deepest appreciation for their parents while exclaiming, "I have the best parents in the world!" This was particularly wonderful to hear since I have known this young person for many years and they hadn't always showered words of admiration upon them. The same student continued to say, "people used to tell me how great my parents were but I didn't believe them; I was really mean to them." I never tire of seeing a young person grow from their child mentality into a young adult. I am in such awe and appreciation of my students everyday!
Jewish Glee Club
Something that is unique about the Glee Club this year is that it is not just a place where we can come and belt out songs (although, we do plenty of that!). Our small class has become a family. While Midrasha's Glee Club has a performative aspect, it also serves to teach us rhythm, musical styles, and songs of Jewish spirituality.
We began the semester with vocal training. We saw how high, how low, how strong, and how soft our voices could carry, and we echoed through the chapel together. We began with finding Jewish themes in secular music. We looked at songs that are show tunes and contemporary, and explored their ideas which we connected to Jewish ideas. Then we sang, added choreography, and added harmonies. Your teens were so willing!
We moved away from pop and classics to focus on some music in Judaism. We travelled all the way back to the Psalms (Tehillim). We learned all about the perceived writer of many of the Psalms, King David. We learned about his whole life and the paths he took, which might have inspired some of the poetry we have in the Tanakh. We then scoured through the book and found some Psalms that stood out to us. We then wrote our own psalms. Some took a melancholy approach, and others took a joyful praise-like approach. We also took a look at some liturgical songs and also we learned about Hannah Szenes' poetry from WWII.
Next we are moving into preparing for singing at Graduation! The joy that Glee Club has brought has made this second half of the year a blast for me, and from the attendance and attitude of our class- I think they love it too!
Judaism & Self-Care
In our course, we've created a safe, non-stressful environment to discuss regular stressors in our lives. Through discussions on anxiety, academics, reproductive health, and technology, we've used a Jewish lense to focus on self-care techniques to guide us through stressful moments and time periods. By sharing in a larger group and in pairs, we've practicing active listening skills to fully support our peers. We end each class with a guided Jewish meditation, complete with relaxing music and optional aromatherapy hand massages. Our goal is to leave class a bit more relaxed and spiritually-centered, in hopes to keep this serenity throughout our next week.
This class takes its inspiration from the teaching of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel that the most appropriate reaction to the world is an attitude of "radical amazement." But it takes practice to feel awed all the time so we are undertaking a series of experiments to see how we can tap into our amazement and wonder.
The semester began with the teens reflecting on and discussing what inspires them and makes them feel connected. Many described experiences they have had in the wilderness or in the outdoors. Teens then learned about Martin Buber's philosophy of "I-Thou" and we began doing exercises to see if what would happen when we tried to experience the world as a "you" instead of an "it." One Tuesday night the teens each spent time each with a different plant in the playground at Temple Sinai as we tried to engage these silent creatures on some subtle level. We discussed the humbling/inspiring feeling that arises when you ponder the size and age of the universe. And we learned a little about quantum physics to try to investigate what is this stuff we call matter?
All of these activities are done with the intention of trying to find our "wow moments" and maybe to get a better understanding of ourselves. Class members have been keeping Radical Amazement journals where they are recording their reflections on weekly topics. As the semester goes on we will be trying out other awe-inspiring avenues including Torah Yoga, music, and some others, in hopes of plumbing the inner depths.
Tuesday, February 10 at 7:00, Women of Temple Sinai in conjunction with the Gallery Sinai Committee, will be screening Waste Land, an award-winning documentary that follows renowned artist Vik Muniz as he journeys from Brooklyn to his native Brazil and his relationship with self-designated pickers of recyclable materials at the world’s largest garbage dump.
Jeff Kirschner, Sinai congregant, founder of Litterati, will introduce the film and speak more about steps we can all take to improve the handling and management of our own waste products. Please join us, refreshments, free! Questions? please contact Karen Tanner email@example.com
Just a friendly reminder that our buses leave Friday afternoon for retreat!
Please review our Packing List (make sure to bring warm clothes - we have some great outdoor activities planned).
If you need to cancel, please let me know through this short form!
You can reach me with questions at this email or by phone or text at 510-316-1667.
1:15pm at Beth Emek - 3400 Nevada Court, Pleasanton, CA 94566
Contra Costa - PLEASE NOTE: NOT ON CURRENT CAMPUS!!
2:00pm at B'Nai Shalom - 74 Eckley Ln, Walnut Creek, CA 94596
1:45pm at Temple Sinai - 2808 Summit St, Oakland, CA 94609
1:45pm at Beth El -1301 Oxford ST, Berkeley, CA 94709
All buses arrive at Newman before sundown on Friday. Busses return on Sunday, usually around 1:30pm. Your teen can text you arrival information if there's traffic. To have a staff text you updates on arrival, please email me with your bus pickup location on Sundayand your cell number.
Looking forward to having your teen join us!
Current 10th and 11th graders- If you’re interested in attending an amazing teen Israel Trip with other Bay Area teens then Camp Tawonga’s Teen Service Learning (TSL) Israel trip is for you! Spend 3 days getting to know each other, bonding and connecting amidst the beauty of Camp Tawonga, just outside Yosemite in the Sierra Mountains. Then travel together to the holy land of Israel for 4 weeks of community service, cross-cultural exchanges and educational touring. At the close of the trip, return to Tawonga to share with younger kids the experience you’ve had and enjoy some final days together. Visit the website to see trip pictures, see a sample itinerary and apply for a space on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Contact Assistant Director Aaron Mandel with more questions. firstname.lastname@example.org and 415-543-2267 x102
Contact Midrasha Co-Directors Mark Deutsch and Debra Marx at (510)501-6692