Judaism and the arts have always had a complicated relationship. Whether it be an avoidance of drama because of ecclesiastical connotations, a rejection of vocal music if it included kol isha, the voice of a woman, or the absence of figurative representations in art due to the prohibition of graven images, the arts have historically received shorter shrift in Jewish pedagogy than other subjects.
The Talmud asks the question, מי חכם? “Who is wise?” and answers: “The person who can see into the future.” But who among us is a seer? Who can foretell what tomorrow will bring?
How do the arts show up in our classrooms? What real opportunities does arts integration provide? What do we need to do to make arts-based learning a reality in our school?
Enter a seventh-grade Hebrew class at the Toronto Heschel School, taught in an art studio. The students, wearing aprons, are sitting around large tables covered with plastic, kneading, rolling, piercing, and shaping clay. They are learning vocabulary pertaining to sculpture in Hebrew and at the same time learning the basics of sculpture. The students are busy working the clay while simultaneously describing their activities in Hebrew. As they knead, they run through a verb conjugation in present tense: Ani lashah chomer, Tovah lashah chomer (I knead the clay, Tovah kneads the clay).
Photography has a profound ability to speak to students and to empower them because of the accessibility of the medium. Students are used to seeing hundreds of photographic images everyday; they feel a high level of comfort with photography, which enables them to discuss photographic images without reserve or intimidation. Likewise, they are accustomed to taking photographs or digital images from a young age. Even if they have never thought of photography as an art per se, they have developed an innate sense for what makes a picture good and interesting.
BIMA is a summer institute at Brandeis University that brings together talented high school artists, musicians, actors, and writers with professional artists to pursue serious artistic growth in a diverse Jewish setting. Its mission is to guide participants as they develop their artistic faculties and explore the dynamic encounter between artistic expression and Jewish life. Participants come to BIMA from all over North America and Israel, from a wide range of Jewish backgrounds and experiences. BIMA was founded in 2003 by Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, former headmaster of Gann Academy in Waltham, Massachusetts, and took place at Williams College for its first three summers before relocating to Brandeis University in 2007.
As a product of the Jewish day school system in the 1970s and 80s and as a Jewish day school music educator for the past fifteen years, I have experienced and observed music education both as a product and a producer. In general, day schools still have a long way to go to reach the level of music education found in a decent public school or a comparable prep school. While there have been some efforts to raise the profile of music in our schools, particularly in the younger years, music education remains all too often a marginal priority in the day school world.
♦ Interview with Daniel Saks, aka Shank Bone Mystic
[HaYidion asked Daniel Saks, a rising young Jewish musician, to reflect upon the impact that his community day school education had upon him and his musical identity. Here are his candid replies.]
Bibliodrama, as the name implies, makes drama out of Bible, and does so by the use of unrehearsed role-playing in which participants give voice to biblical characters (or objects) in a facilitated and structured process. Bibliodrama is a recognized form of contemporary experiential midrash first developed at the Jewish Theological Seminary 25 years ago and now widely employed in classrooms and pulpits and taken up in a variety of emerging pedagogies. (For more background information, go to www.bibliodrama.com.)
With an international collection spanning four centuries, educators at the American Folk Art Museum often teach from objects deriving from religious groups—such as Shaker furniture, Amish quilts, and Decalogues—through discussion-based explorations in the galleries. The recent exhibition “Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses: The Synagogue to the Carousel” allowed us to explore sacred and secular objects created by Jewish artisans with a wide range of audiences. Tracing the woodcarving traditions that Jewish immigrants brought with them to the United States from Europe from the late nineteenth through the first half of the twentieth centuries, this groundbreaking exhibition charted the valuable contributions these artisans made to the flourishing American carousel industry. At the same time, it uncovered a trove of examples from authentic Jewish folk arts whose practitioners continue to work today.
I’ve been working in a museum for twenty years, so I confess I’m biased, but I’ve often thought that a perfect shidduch is one between museums and schools. Schools provide the basic framework for learning, but a museum can offer a component that is simply beyond the scope of the classroom.
In 1951, there were around 450,000 Jews in the United Kingdom; now there are fewer than 300,000. Over the past twenty years, the community has introduced numerous projects designed to reverse this decline, in particular, investing heavily in Jewish day schools. From fewer than 25% of eligible Jewish children attending Jewish day schools in 1985, that figure has risen to around 60% today, with 39 state-funded Jewish schools and more than 50 small private Jewish schools now open across the UK, the vast majority in London.
We are pleased to introduce a new column starting this issue. Bookcase will feature books, articles, and websites pertaining to the theme of the current issue of HaYidion for readers who wish to investigate the topic in greater depth.
We invited RAVSAK schools to present programs that showcase some of the ways that the arts play powerful roles in educational programming. The examples offered here represent projects for a wide range of ages, including courses for lower, middle, and upper schools; artistic media, from drama to music, dance and podcasts; scope, from one-time project to classes running for 30 years; and concepts, from parent outreach to school architecture as artistic statement. Included as well are impressive, in-depth initiatives that fully integrate the arts into ambitious general and Judaic curricula. We hope and believe that every school will find here material that can inspire new thinking and programming.
The creative arts program at Metrowest Jewish Day School weaves diverse subjects to expand the children’s view of the world and capitalize on everyone’s learning styles. Language arts, science, math, literature, history, and other subjects are reinforced through various music, dance, and art activities that encourage creative, social, and interactive learning. Concepts of line, shape, and color are studied in each art form along with melody, rhythm, harmony, texture, and form. Students explore and create with these elements as they learn about the lives of musicians and visual artists side-by-side. They study Russian artists Marc Chagall and Modest Mussorgsky in a unit concentrating on “Pictures at an Exhibition,” as well as French artists Camille Saint-Saëns and Henri Rousseau for a study of “Carnival of the Animals.”
Morasha School’s artist-in-residence program was created to expose our students to professional Jewish artists and their mediums and to expand our visual representations of our school’s guiding Jewish values. Working with Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Day School for the 21st Century project (JDS21), we selected ten values that we integrate into every aspect of our school. Our values include kehillah, chinukh, tikkun olam, menschlichkeit, Eretz Yisrael, klal Yisrael, tefillah, emunah, kavod, and halakhot u-minhagim.
At Jess Schwartz College Prep: The Jewish Community’s High School in Phoenix, Arizona, our newly expanded performing arts program enriches our lives, strengthens our sense of community, and reinforces our Jewish values.
Mishnah was made to be sung. Well, if not sung, then certainly repeated (coming from the root shanah). How better to get our students to repeat—and through repetition, remember—the mishnayot of Pirkei Avot than by singing them? How better to get our students to sing sections of Pirkei Avot than by having them write the songs and the music? Can’t hear it in your mind’s ear? Point your web browser to www.hausner.com/avot for audio examples of what Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School has called our “Pirkei Avot to Pop Song Project.” (Note: Listen to these audio samples on a computer with good speakers for full effect.)
Music, movement, and art at the Lerner Jewish Community Day School are special and enriching parts of the school day.
Hosting the General Assembly in Nashville last November created many opportunities for Tennesseans to become more involved with their local Federations and the United Jewish Communities internationally.
Integration is a critical part of the Agnon School curriculum. We look to weave as many parts of our teaching together as possible. Rosh Chodesh, it turns out, is a perfect fit as it ties science to Judaics. With a little bit of effort, many more subjects can be included in the teaching of this special monthly event.
Kids love animals and they love music, and when the two collide magic really does happen. Welcome to the world of the Heritage Academy Performing Arts Club.
Meet the Masters (MTM), the comprehensive art appreciation program at Donna Klein Jewish Academy, has grown since its beginnings in every sense of the word. The program started with about ten parent docents, each of whom would visit classrooms carrying posters with notes photocopied and taped to the back. Before parents were sent into the classroom, they participated in a brief training session, held in the school’s art room. Then it was “initiation by fire” as the docents made their way to visit their eagerly awaiting artistes.
The fifth and final day of listening, assessing, and dreaming had come to a close. The feeling in the room was emotionally charged. The five members of the architectural review committee sat around the same table for one final day.
Each fall, the seventh grade students in my Jewish social studies class begin the year by participating in the Jewish Court of All Time online simulation. JCAT is an innovative learning adventure that is a joint venture between the University of Cincinnati’s...[More]
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