December Den Blog (Jewish Studies)

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5th grade

What a busy time of year for us! We have been learning about Hanukkah – specifically, about olive oil. We looked back through parts of the Torah that talked about oil and discovered that the menorah which was lit in the Temple required the purest, hand-crushed olive oil. So, because of this, we try to use the best oil available to us when we fulfill the mitzvah of lighting the Hanukkiah. Also, we have been talking about miracles and the role that they play in our lives, as well as reading one of my personal favorites – Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. Click this link to read more about why I choose to teach Hanukkah through this story every year in 5th grade!

Additionally, we have continued on in our Torah learning and we finished Parshat Vayeshev, which was about Joseph’s trials and tribulations with his siblings, as well as the beginning of his story in Egypt. We have already been helping Joseph interpret dreams and we’re eager to see where his unique skill set will lead him – staying in jail forever, or possibly even to a high position in the Egyptian government?? Who knows… stay tuned 🙂


6th grade

Sixth grade is, sadly, concluding JCAT soon. One of the highlights for me this year was seeing our characters come to life on VIP Day. I know many of the students enjoyed dressing up and sharing their character with our VIP’s! I hope that, even though JCAT is ending, our students will remember the empathy and compassion they learned by literally having to walk in someone else’s shoes over the course of the program.

The JCAT program concluded by choosing a design for a memorial to the passengers aboard the MS St Louis, many of whom perished in the Holocaust when they returned to Europe. We’ve spoken at length about how and why we remember people and events, and students also got to explore some memorials to their characters that are still around today (except King George III, whose statue was destroyed) and have their own meanings and explanations.

Next up, each student will write about their JCAT experience in a paper (due after Winter Break, and they will have time to work on it in class when we return). After that, we will begin our Torah learning, which will continue for the rest of the year! We’ll be looking specifically at the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the formation of B’nei Yisrael (the Israelite nation). I can’t wait to dive into Sefer Shemot (Book of Exodus) with them!!


7th grade

Seventh grade has finished their deep-dive into a judge of their choice – many of whom tried their best to lead the Jewish people on a path of righteousness, but ultimately failed. With several failed leadership attempts behind them, the Israelite nation chooses a new path – that of a KING! There is lots of drama that surrounds this choice, and we are going to get deep into part of the story and explore our emotions and the emotions of the characters.  We read part of the story where Samuel pretends to choose Saul (after he has been secretly anointed) and decided which emotions people were feeling as this was happening – Saul feeling terrified, the people either happy or angry, Samuel nervous but confident, etc. We will be translating these feelings into paintings modeled after Mark Rothko, who used color blocks to portray emotions in his paintings. I can’t wait to see the artistic talents of your students!!


8th grade

Eighth grade has had several projects/assignments going on this past month, and I have loved watching them use their creativity and passions to sum up their learning. First, they researched and wrote about the Holocaust, which they have been learning about since October. They were able to, in their own words, describe what led up to the Holocaust and antisemitism in general, as well as share their feelings about the phrase “Never Again” and what role they will have in making sure this statement is true. They also shared what they learned from visitors such as Lucy Katz, a hidden child, and Renee Lafair, the Director of the ADL here in Austin.

The other project that is ongoing in our classroom is the “Canaan Chronicle” – students are creating their own edition of a newspaper based around the stories of Samuel, Saul and David – the major leaders of Israel in Sefer Shmuel (Book of Samuel). Students have chosen a chapter, section or story to create an edition of this newspaper, and this allows them not only to learn a specific story from Tanakh but also imagine a bit more about the time period – what types of products would be advertised? What would “sports” look like back then? Who would be considered important enough for an interview published in their newspaper? I’m looking forward to the completion of this project, and allowing students to learn from each other through these newspapers.


Thank you to all the parents for your support and positive attitudes towards Jewish Studies – I absolutely love teaching all of your children and I look forward to an incredible remainder of the school year. Happy last night of Hanukkah!