A challenge most recently addressed in our school is the manner in which we deal with Birkhot HaShachar, more specifically, the three controversial blessings that (in their traditional form) thank G-d for not making us non-Jews, slaves, or women. Other versions of these blessings thank G-d for making us Israel, free, and in G-d’s image. These differences do not just reflect moral decisions, historical understanding or visceral response but serve, in some ways, to differentiate and demarcate the different movements within Judaism.
One of the most meaningful moments in tefillah with our 3-6th graders is our discussion of Birkhot HaShachar. Our siddur is entirely in Hebrew and contains the traditional text. In the spirit of the layering that is so present in our tradition, we try to create a space in which our students can participate in this layering: mentally in their discussions and physically in their actions. Students are presented with cutouts of the variations that fit over the traditional version and ask them how we can incorporate these blessings into our siddur. One student suggests gluing it over the other version and another asks how that would make those who want to use the version underneath feel. Another student suggests attaching it with a paper clip, and the response is that it is not really in the siddur. The students wrestle to ensure that each blessing is present and finds equal weight in their siddurim. Finally, they are presented with the possibility of creating layers. They are asked to tape the alternative version onto the traditional version with one side creating a flap that can be flipped up and down.
We do not force every student to do this but ask that each student thinks about the value of placing all versions in their siddur. The students get excited that even when they are sick, their friends can use their siddur, no matter which version they recite. Our students recognize that accommodating others’ prayers does not detract from their prayer experience but helps enrich their entire community. When we listen to the students engage in Birkhot HaShachar and hear the various versions said loud and proud, we recognize what an opportunity it is to be able to be a part of the active and layered learning that has been our tradition and history for so many years. ♦
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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