Thursday, April 10, 2008

Term 2, Week 3: Holocaust Memorial Day for 6-Year-Olds

Week 3 was definitely one of the hardest sessions so far. It was the UK’s Holocaust Memorial Day, and Exeter was having an exhibition to mark it (the council finally gave in after several years of fighting by the shul president). Remembrance Sunday in November is marked by the whole country, including little kids in schools, but there was no way I was going to discuss the Holocaust with a group of children as young as 4 or 6 – it’s up to their parents to decide when they’re ready to hear about that. Instead, I turned it into a session on tolerance and people who are different.

I began by getting all the children into a circle, and then said that everyone with a first name beginning with a certain letter should come and sit in the middle. This meant two girls (deliberately chosen – you don’t want the most sensitive ones for this), who were very excited to have been picked out. But then I asked them how they would feel if, because their names begin with that letter, I said that they weren’t as good as the others, and so wouldn’t be allowed to do the cooking. Then I asked the rest of the kids how they would feel if that happened to members of their group.

We went on to talk about different people who are treated badly. They found this hard to relate to (we were missing one of the boys who would have really got them going), but after much coaxing from me and the parents, they started to make the connection with people in their classes at school. It was difficult, because most of them are too young to have seen or experienced much in the way of outright prejudice (possibly would have been different in an inner-city area), but I did explain the importance of standing up for other people.

Next I explained very simply the history of the founding of Israel, and the problems with the two groups (Arabs and Israelis) who now both consider the country to be their home, but don’t want to share. I briefly explained the importance of Israel as a refuge and protector for all Jews, but emphasised the dilemma of having two opposing lots of people who both have a right to be there.

I explained that that Arab and Israeli children speak different languages and go to different schools, so they never learn to get along with each other. I told them that in a few schools the children learn together and learn each other’s languages, so they can learn to get along now and so are more likely when they grow up to be able to find a solution together. I talked about One to One Israel’s Lev Yafo project and asked if they thought a fund-raising cookie bake would be a good idea, and they all agreed to do it. (I’d been a bit slow in organising this, so parents had had sponsorship forms the previous week, but most of the fundraising went on afterwards.)

Lastly, I read them the poem “First they came” by Niemöller and we talked about what it might mean. At the suggestion of one of the dads, we decided to write our own version the following week.

That done, we divided the kids up into two teams and made Star of David ginger biscuits. Each family had a plateful to take home to give to sponsors, sell, take into school, or whatever else they wanted to do with them. I took about 50 to the exhibition at the Guildhall, and passed them around to anyone willing to listen to my plug about why we had made them! The final count was somewhere between 250 and 300 biscuits, and we have just finished collecting in all the money. We made a grand total of £120 (pretty good for 8 kids!). They’ve all signed the letter, and it’ll be sent off as soon as I can get a cheque from the parents who control the bank account, which should be any day now.

Term 2, Week 2: Tu B'Shvat

Session 2 (oh so long ago – good thing I take notes!) was two days before Tu B’Shvat, so the theme for the week was handed to me. As we overlapped slightly with the adult class upstairs in the shul, we started off in the sanctuary, which was quite a novelty. After much discussion, the kids ended up on the steps in front of the ark, with the gates very firmly closed! It was a bit of a squash, so I was glad to be on the outside :-D

I told them that Tu B’Shvat was coming up, and that it was the New Year for Trees. We discussed the following:

  • Why this time of year? (since it was definitely not spring in the UK on 20 January!)
  • How are trees and plans so important that we should have a whole day just for them?
    - Oxygen
    - Food
    - Paper
    - Shade
    - Building (we looked at all the wooden things in the shul, including some bits which have been painted to look like marble)
    - Fire

I asked them to think abhout how just a few tiny seeds made enough wood for all the things in the synagogue building, and tied in with the previous week when we discussed creation and someone had suggested that “maybe G-d had some seeds”. This really seemed to make a connection with several of the kids, and we thought about how amazing it was that G-d created trees and plants that could germinate.

Going with the plant theme, I asked them why they thought they were called Cheder Nitzanim (Nitzanim means ‘little buds’). The name was chosen years ago, and I was fairly sure most of them hadn’t really thought about it. They got this quite quickly, so I talked a bit about how, just like the seeds that made the shul, they will grow into the community. They are the most important people in the community (the parents loved this bit!) because when the adults now are too old to do anything, they will be the ones responsible for the community carrying on or not. They were a bit overawed by this, so we finished off with just a brief mention of the idea of the Torah as an ‘Ets Chaim’ (Tree of Life) and why it might be called that.

Next it was time to get messy, planting basil seeds and generally getting covered in compost. Tu B’Shvat’s a bit of a no-brainer when it comes to kids; you just have to plant something!

After a bit of Hebrew reading time with the felt board, we finished off with a Tu B’Shvat seder, with all the parents joining in. The kids loved eating all the different things, and said the blessings over each kind really well, especially considering most of them are unfamiliar with them. Here’s how we did a potted Tu B’Shvat seder:

White grape juice (Winter)
Think about how everything seems to die in the winter.
Borei p’ri hagafen.

Almonds (Outer inedible shell)
In Israel, the almond tree is the first to blossom in the spring.
Borei p’ri haetz.

White grape juice with a splash of red in it (Beginning of spring)
Think about winter gradually turns into spring.
Borei p’ri hagafen.

Dates (Inner inedible pit)
The date palm has all kinds of uses – dates for eating, fronds for thatching, fibres for ropes, wood for building. A reminder of all the different things we can do with trees.
Borei p’ri haetz.

Red grape juice with a splash of white in it (Late spring, tulips)
Think about the weather getting warmer, and all the flowers like tulips and daffodils that will start flowering.
Borei p’ri hagafen.

Orange (Outer inedible shell, inner inedible pit)
Focus on all these different kinds of fruit, with different bits which are edible.
Borei p’ri haetz.

Wheat crackers (Wheat and grains)
These are made from wheat, which makes flour, which makes bread, cakes, biscuits, etc.
Borei minei m’zonot.

Red wine (Summer)
We can start thinking about the summer, when the weather is hot and everything grows (string this out a bit – it’s nice to imagine summer when it’s still cold and wintry!)
Borei p’ri hagafen.

Raisins (Completely edible)
We can do lots of things with these – drink them, eat them as grapes, store them through the winter as raisins.
Borei p’ri hagafen.

We finished with the story of an old man who was planting a tree when a king came along and asked him how long it would take before the tree bore fruit. “About 70 years”, the old man said. The king asked him why he was going to all the effort of planting the tree when he would never live to eat its fruit, and the old man replied, “I am planting the tree for the generations to come, just as my ancestors planted trees for me”.