I love learning about how Jewish people have had access to the arts and continue to be inspired by religious tradition and secular culture. In our history, Jews have used oral, written, and visual avenues to express the Jewish experience, and these expressions are in abundance. I wanted to make a class that looked at Jewish manuscripts, poetry, and art to better understand how creativity has been a tool in Judaism.
To best understand how Jewish people have thought about culture, Torah, adolescence, family, Gd, and relationships- I asked myself how our teens are navigating through these things. A few of my younger friends are particularly invested in publishing zines, which is short for fanzine, or magazine. Usually a zine comes in the form of small, handwritten diary-like/social commentary booklet that friends pass on to each other. I have seen zines sold in more formal arenas, such as poetry workshops or small concerts and I have seen free zines act as political outreach, religious fanfare, and educational pamphlets.
(Side note: another teacher at Oakland Midrasha co-wrote a Passover Haggadah Zine!!)
Over the summer, I started to consider how I could put the vast art of Jewish story-telling and the underground cult of zine making in an engaging class for our teens at Midrasha and then it hit me! What if we think of the scrolls that eventually wound up as the canonized Torah as the original zines in our tradition? And what if we think about the concept of Jewish story-telling as being fluid, intergenerational, and relevant to our lives?
The course objective became this:
1) Students will explore creative ways that Jews have told stories or passed on the social commentary of their time through manuscripts, art, and poetry. Students will learn tools to flex their own creative muscles by creating zines in order to articulate their identities through the traditions that have been passed down to us.
We have an energetic and fabulous class, filled with teens who have already begun to work on creating outlines for our zines. We have discussed how Torah influences us, and how sometimes it is hard to reach Torah because of the Talmudic fence that was built so long ago. We've discussed ways to use roadblocks to our advantage and navigate through the messy stories that we've heard. We have each chosen stories, either from Torah or from Midrash, that we identify with, and we have also thought about stories to which we do not relate. So many beautiful discussions have confronted the problems of ageism and anti-semitism. We have also discussed modern Jewish authors who have written manifestos about their cultural and spiritual convictions, such as Karl Marx, Hannah Arendt, and Moishe Rosen.
More recently, I have brought in poetry and art to explore how Jewish Bible stories have been portrayed through Jewish and non-Jewish artists and how Jewish poets have written about their experiences of Jewishness in Israel-Palestine and the diaspora. We have looked at Michelangelo & Marc Chagall and we have also engaged with Allen Ginsberg, Emma Lazarus, and Yehudah Amichai.
I think my favorite class session was the week we focused on poetry. I chose one poem from each poet (Ginsberg, Lazarus, & Amichai) and we read each one aloud and shared a little about our reaction. The first poem was a bust. The teens seemed really bored by reading this poetry and totally disengaged. So I scratched the reading & analysis for the moment and we played a game of getting into groups and writing 2-3 lined poems together. We then combined the poems and tried to order them so that it would make a little bit of sense. It turns out that we have a few poets in the class!! As we discussed the metaphors and the language used in our own poem, the conversation naturally returned to the original plan and we finished reading the poems that I had brought in. We had a fabulous class discussing themes of abandonment, atonement, the Holocaust, death and dying, hopelessness, and gratitude. We then took a few moments and wrote our own personal poems, taking into consideration our own relationship with Judaism.
The teens have made a lot of art, in small groups and individually in preparation for their zine making, which will begin in a few weeks! We have some more material to get through, such as photography, social activism, and Jewish life magazines before we will begin the process of creating our own commentary on Jewishness, life, and relationships. I am confident that their zines will be inspiring and creative!
Contact Midrasha Co-Directors Mark Deutsch and Debra Marx at (510)501-6692