June 2017

So much of what our synagogue children learn about Judaism is centered in the classroom. Since coming to Temple Beth Sholom, I’ve been extremely proud of our Religious School. Our students don’t just learn to read Hebrew, or why Israel is important, or how we celebrate the holidays, they have fun in the process. This attitude is quite different from when I went to Hebrew school. We had to learn, without the love of learning.  It took me until my high school years to appreciate the love of Jewish learning.  At TBS, we do it right!

One of our secret weapons is to make Jewish learning experiential. Over the years, we have created special programs to make learning both meaningful and exciting. I want to share with you two great “out of the classroom experiences” we did as part of our 7th and 8th Grade Thursday night program in May.

As part of their culmination of Hebrew School learning, the 8th graders went with Geri Segel to explore some special sights and tastes of Jewish Boston. They started at Mayyim Hayyim–Living Waters Mikvah in Newton. There, they learned the importance of having a mikvah for the Jewish community. But not just any mikvah, one that is open to all to use.  From there, they went to the Baker’s Street Jewish Cemeteries in West Roxbury. They learned to identify what was on the grave marker. For example, whether the deceased was a Kohen, Levi or Israelite. They even did some stone rubbings. The kids were really moved by the experience.

Finally, they went to Harvard Street in Brookline for a Jewish scavenger hunt and Kosher pizza and falafel. They loved every minute of it, right down to the ice cream at J P Licks!  But, probably the best part was the class bonding. They been together for many years and even expressed the desire to continue on with some sort of informal learning. This is when I know we are succeeding in our Religious School.

Not to be outdone, the 7th graders also traveled to Brookline on another day but with a different educational intent. As part of the Jewish Life Cycle Class I teach, we visited Levine Funeral Chapel in order to better understand how Judaism confronts death, funerals, and mourning. I’ve been running this trip for years and Levine Chapel have been fantastic about sharing their sacred work with the students. Even the parent chaperones found the trip extremely meaningful.  Yes, even the business of death and funerals can be interesting, the kids thought so.   My goal in bringing the 7th graders to a funeral home is that, one can explain in class what happens before, during, and after a funeral, but to see where the deceased is ritually prepared for burial or how the funeral director works with the bereaved family helps to a better understanding of the process and lessens the fear of dealing with death.

One of the last lessons we teach the kids is that after any life cycle celebration is to have a special meal. They learn that life continues on and we Jews experience this through food. So, we ended our day in Brookline with Kosher Chinese food at Taam China.

Experiential learning at TBS: our children are so much more enriched by living Judaism in and out of the classroom. I’m so proud of our 7th and 8th graders. They are a beacon of hope and light for our Jewish future.

Rabbi, Dr. Larry Bazer