Religious School is Fun!

December 2019 OKCJS Newsletter Article – This article appeared in the newsletters of both synagogues:

One Wednesday afternoon in November, I sat in the lobby at TBI documenting our students’ attendance.  I could hear the sounds of fun coming from all corners of the building. I sat there taking it all in.  There were sounds of children jumping up and down with joy. There were giggles and belly laughs. There was excitement everywhere.  I could hear children singing prayers when prompted by a game they were playing. I heard hebrew words pronounced and translated. The children thought they were playing, but they were all learning.  Only a few of them were sitting in chairs and those that were got up often in order to complete the task their teachers had given them. I thought to myself, “This is why I love this job!”

The children in Naomi Verne’s class were creating their own Hebrew comic books.  In one comic, the hero, “Chet Man” had a beautiful braided Challah. The author asked Rabbi Schicker if she could help him translate the entire story into Hebrew.  It seemed as if he thought she could do that in just a matter of minutes. The students were collaborating to see how many Chet words they could include in their books.  There were smiles on every face.

The children in Mr. Mannaberg’s class were playing  a modified version of Jeopardy. Abe Wasser, one of the students in his class, had come up with the idea for the game.  Mr. Mannaberg had prepared index cards with questions and placed the cards in columns just like on the famous TV show. The children had decided to work in teams and aligned themselves as “The Girls against The Boys”.  Prayer for $200: Sing the brachot for lighting the Hanukkah candles. Prophets for $300: Who was the prophet that was thrown into the lion’s den? At one point The Boys seemed to be stumped. The Girls squealed in anticipation and jumped up and down trying hard not to blurt out the answer.  They knew they had this one! Holidays for $400: What is the ceremony during the High Holidays when we throw our sins into the water? “Tashlich!”, The Girls shouted at the top of their lungs. Nobody complained about the noise they made.

In the sanctuary, while a few of the students were working in small groups with Rabbi Spivak or Rabbi Schicker, volunteer Ben Pilnick was overseeing students playing Pictionary.  One team chose a card for their stack of vocabulary flash cards and drew pictures depicting the word they had chosen. The other team then had to guess what the word was and then translate and write it in Hebrew.  Another group of students in the rabbis’ classes were playing a game called Over and Under. They were standing in rows, passing their flashcards over their heads to the person next to them who then passed it between their legs on down the line, each one reading the word as it made its way from child to child..  The excitement was contagious.

The following Sunday, as the Kindergarteners played with Hebrew letter blocks spontaneously talking about the letters, each of Rabbi Schicker’s students had flashcards attached to the back of their shirts with clothespins.  They were tasked with reading the words on other students’ backs while trying to keep the card on their back from being read. The second graders were making letters with Play Doh or Cheerios. At the same time, Mr. Mannaberg’s class sang Shalom Aleichem so sweetly that they attracted adults from the lobby who came to record them.  

The 7th graders joined the High School to see what is in store for them next year.  There are eight 7th graders and eight high schoolers. We are anticipating a High School class of 16 next year!  When it came time for the text study that was a part of their Ethics & Values Lesson, teacher Steph Haft led them in their text study discussion while they were peeling and grating potatoes for the latkes they were preparing.  I learned from one of the parents that her son didn’t want to get out of bed when she woke him on Sunday morning. He rolled over to try to go back to sleep and then suddenly sat straight up in bed and said, “We’re making latkes today.  I HAVE to go to Jewish School!” Steph’s recipe is particularly good and she is also very skilled at making learning both challenging and fun. That teen did not sit up in bed saying, “We’re studying Torah today and I HAVE to go to Jewish School”.  Nevertheless, he studied Torah AND made latkes at the same time.  

Our teachers try to teach their lessons using various techniques to reach each student’s learning style.  While some parts of our lessons involve more the traditional reading and writing and listening to the teacher that reach students with one type of  learning style, we also include activities that encourage students to use their bodies to learn. Teachers use games and activities to reinforce and review what students have learned.

Our goal every class day is to create happy memories of our students’ time in Jewish School.  When I visit the classrooms, I look to see if students are looking toward the teacher or perhaps another speaker, hands are raised with students eagerly waiting to contribute to the class discussion, students are working in small groups cooperatively or with the guidance of a teacher, there are learning centers or stations in the classroom that are specifically tied to the curriculum, students’ work displayed on bulletin boards demonstrates engaging activities and students are allowed to move.  Most importantly, I look to see if students have smiles on their faces and are connecting with their Jewish friends. What I see and hear in our classrooms pleases me. It always makes me want to come back for more.  

As always, thank you for the honor of teaching our children.

Nora Chaus, Director

Marvin & Rosalie Okun Kalamazoo Community Jewish School


Lauren Strongin

Thank you, Nora, for being a great leader to inspire the teachers, students and parents in this school!

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