In the Library בַּסִּפְרִיָּה 9/22

I had enjoyed the past few weeks discussing the themes of the month of Elul with the kids, but with High Holy Days (Yamim Noraim) nearly upon us, I knew it was time to dig down into the “meat” of the holidays.

I had a ball with the Kindergarten class reading a robust, exciting Big Sam: A Rosh Hashanah Tall Tale by Eric Kimmel. 

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The book combines the sensibility of American folktales with lessons about tikkun olam, ecology, and challah baking. The kids had fun stomping their feet like Big Sam and imagining a spoon the size of a redwood tree!

I took a chance that the 1st/2nd graders could handle a slightly more sophisticated story, so we read  The Secret Shofar of Barcelona, a picture book by Jacqueline Dembar Greene.

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The story takes place in 16th century Spain during the Inquisition, but don’t worry — there was nothing scary, though kids learned a little about what it was like to have to hide who you are. They also pretended to blow a shofar along with the main character — again and again and AGAIN! (Ouch, my ears are still ringing!) 

I had a very meaningful discussion with the 5th-7th graders. I asked them what they thought of the High Holy Days, and they gave very lovely stock answers. Then I asked what they thought of High Holy Day services…yes, I wanted honesty. As I suspected, most of them never even glanced at the torah and haftarah selections in the machzor (the HHD prayer book), so we plunged into the haftarah for Yom Kippur morning — Isaiah 57:14-58:14. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/yom-kippur-haftarah-isaiah-5714-5814/

But before that, I gave them my usual 5 minute history of the period, i.e. when the prophet Isaiah (Y’shayahu) was active — a couple hundred years after the death of King Solomon and before the Babylonian Exile, approximately 750-700 BCE. We discussed the Book of Isaiah from the Tanach, which may contain prophecies by 3 entirely different people — 1st, 2nd, and even 3rd Isaiah, based on linguistic, historical, and thematic differences. Then we discussed the reason why the Rabbis chose this section of Isaiah to be read on Yom Kippur — because Yom Kippur isn’t just about fasting, but about FEEDING THE HUNGRY AND FIGHTING OPPRESSION! Isaiah is shouting to us all to wake up, clear a path, storm the barricades! There is truly nothing like it and truly nothing like Isaiah. Please, if you haven’t already, read it and then discuss it with your kids. You won’t be sorry.

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