4th grade

Moreh David Blatt



Today in class we worked on:
11/11 – So, on this historic day, the centenary of the end of the First World War and the reconstitution of modern Poland we transformed our 4th grade class room into the “Beth Am History Museum” with several stations of activities.
First however, we collected tzedakah and were amazed by the large contribution Cameron Miller shared to help our class charity. Over at Shira, 4th graders sung their hearts out after Moreh Ari appealed for everyone to do their best and take in all that Jewish music can do for them.

Back in class we headed off to our first station. Here we worked out a crossword puzzle and were introduced to some important American Jewish heroes of the World War I era, notably Lillian Wald, who helped Eastern European Jewish immigrants acclimate to their new life in the US, and labor leader Rose Schneiderman. We also discussed the impact of the Triangle Shirt factory fire and how it helped launch the career of a future American president Franklin Roosevelt! Additionally, Jakey Goldstein had a great question as to why New Americans would take jobs in unsafe and poor paying conditions.

At the next station we met up with the “forgotten” Jewish immigrants of the early 1900’s, Sephardic Jews from the old Ottoman Turkish Empire. After Moreh David sang a popular Judeo-Espanol (Ladino) song about our patriarch Avraham, we read a play about Moshe Gadol, a Turkish immigrant who launched a newspaper, on New York’s Lower East Side, called “La America” that tried to help Sephardim with their special needs as a “minority within a minority.” A special Yasher Koach to Zachary Greenspan who brilliantly read the part of Mr. Gadol, even trying to affect a Turkish accent!

At our final station we broke up into groups and looked for cards with pictures of important religious leaders of this period, notably Rabbis Stephen Wise, Mordechai Kaplan, and Bernard Revel who helped train American born rabbis to serve the expanding Jewish community in the US.

Before going to Tefilla, Moreh David shared photos from an old National Geographic book on world religions depicting Kibbutz Yavneh, a religious kibbutz in Israel founded by Jews fleeing Nazi Germany. We saw things will learn more about next semester how about how people on kibbutzim in Israel live and work.

Finally, at Tefilla, Rabbi Prass gave a thought provoking Dvar Torah on how we should, as one member of the fifth-grade class noted, value relationships with people first over things. All in all, it was a great day of Jewish learning.



Today in class we worked on:
11/4 – As we close out on the Hebrew month of Cheshvan, we enjoyed a very productive day of learning in the 4th grade. First at Shira, Moreh Ari taught us several new songs and I’m most happy to report that all of the students in our class participated when called upon to join in with these shirim! Back in class we reviewed everything we’ve covered, since the school year began, with the online Kahoot game. Our class refreshed its memories and revisited a variety of topics covering Early American Jewish Life, from the years 1654 to 1865. There was fierce competition and the talmidim adopted a variety of unusual screen names such as “Bobby Hall”, “Cookie Queen”, and “Kit Kat” for the Kahoot which encompassed twenty questions.

Once we were finished, we saw a ten-minute video on the experience of Eastern European Jewish immigration to the US, that was actually prepared by high school students in the New York area. This generated a lively discussion afterwards. In particular, many members of our class were dismayed to learn that new Jewish arrivals in America were often compelled to work, against their wishes, on Shabbat and Jewish holidays in order to support themselves in the new country. Additionally, we talked about how many “New Jewish Americans” found jobs, which didn’t always pay well, in the garment industry.

At Tefilla, Rabbi Prass gave an interesting Dvar Torah which stressed how we must all do our best to make our world as safe and inclusive as is possible. This was very timely in view of recent tragic events to have befallen the Jewish people.
Chodesh Kislev Tov! We’re only three weeks to Chanukah!



Today in class we worked on:
10/28 – The words of the American poet Wallace Stevens “to live in a tragic place and a tragic time are one in the same” may well have set the tone for yesterday’s day of learning for all of Beth Am, not just the 4th grade. At the request of some students we briefly talked about what had happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and how it affects all of us as Jewish people. Afterwards we went to Tefilla, which included all of the grades in our congregation and we tried to focus on how our prayers can help mend what had been broken over Shabbat.

Back in class we discussed how the American Civil War affected Jews on both sides of the conflict. We saw how American Jews rushed to serve both the Union and Confederate armies in the war and Moreh David even got us in the historical mood by singing to the class two songs “The Bonnie Blue Flag” and “We Are Coming Father Abraham” from the Civil War Era. Later we saw a video on the contributions of Jewish-Americans to the Union cause including Frederick Knefler of Indianapolis. The only Jewish General in the war, General Knefler had also helped start the first synagogue in Indy after fleeing oppression in his native Hungary.

We ended class seeing how American Jews were proudly saddened by the death of President Lincoln and how many synagogues held memorial services for him. Before going to the OSRUI (www.osrui.org) presentation, we looked at the “finished” copies of our in class 19th century American Jewish newspaper as well.
We capped off our learning with an awesome presentation from OSRUI about summer camp opportunities there which included a seeing a video and camp souvenirs being given out. Hopefully, our day at religious school can serve as a fitting testimony to the resilience of the Jewish people in times of adversity!



Today in class we worked on:
10/21 – It was even colder outside than last week but we launched into an exciting morning of Jewish learning nonetheless.
At Shira, Moreh Ari shared with us several new melodies including one that combined both the Jewish and Muslim greetings for peace Shalom/Salaam Aleikuim!.
Returning to the classroom we first picked cards out of Moreh David’s OSRUI bag depicting pictures of important mid 19th century Jewish leaders. Some of these were rabbis, other lay persons. All helped move American Jewry into a new direction, especially as, we saw later, the Reform movement had started in Germany and would soon be a part of the American Jewish scene.
Later we read an in class play and saw how Abraham Rice struggled as America’s first ordained rabbi while Isaac Mayer Wise worked hard to build Reform Judaism in the United States. We also discovered the contributions made by Isaac Leeser in terms of translating prayer books and the Jewish Bible into English, as well as launching a newspaper covering Jewish topics and Rebecca Gratz’ role as an important female voice for Jewish charities.
Afterwards students broke up into groups where we developed articles for our class version of Isaac Leeser’s publication “The Occident.” These will be formulated into a newspaper, appearing much like Leeser’s monthly bulletin, to be enjoyed in class next week.
Before going to Tefilla, we looked at the now vintage 1973 book “Israel 25” as an introduction to next semester’s study of Medinat Yisrael. This triggered important discussions as to holy sites in Jerusalem, the role of the Knesset in Israeli government, and how all Israelis serve in the Armed Forces after high school.
At Tefilla, Rabbi Prass discussed the important lessons we can glean from this week’s Torah portion Parashat Vaera. All in all , it was a great Sunday. As a sidebar in the spirit of the commitment to Judaism envisaged by Rabbis Rice and Wise, let me stress how important regular class attendance is for everyone in the 4th grade. Additionally, as Rebecca Gratz would have surely put it, let’s not forget about the mitzva of tzedaka and remember to help support the class’ appointed charity for this year.



Today in class we worked on:
10/14 – The weather has turned very seasonable but cooler temperatures didn’t stop the 4th grade from enjoying an intense morning of Jewish learning.

At Tefilla, Moreh Ari shared with us some new melodies including one for “Al Shlosha Devarim”, the three things our sages told us the Jewish world stands on. Back in the classroom we looked at the opportunities the antebellum United States presented for aspiring Jewish immigrants who came here, often from Germany. Many of these “New Jewish Americans” worked as peddlers before settling down to open businesses in new cities, such as right here in Chicago. Usually, this meant that new synagogues would be created to serve these communities. Additionally, we saw a set of prayer books, now being offered on Ebay, that a Jewish immigrant from Central Europe brought with him on his journeys to the young United States. One student whimsically expressed his hope that his parents might purchase this set of siddurim as a Chanukah gift for him!

We met new personalities as well such as Uriah Philips Levy who struggled to end corporal punishment in the US Navy and Mordechai Manuel Noah who tried to set up a homeland for oppressed Jews on an island in the Niagara River. Students were very interested in the work of Solomon Nunes Calvalho, who helped explore the American West with the famed Pathfinder John Fremont. An intense discussion ensued on what explorers like Captain Calvalho needed to do to survive such an arduous trek through unexplored territories. Finally, we talked about the many freedoms the young American republic offered aspiring Jewish immigrants including the right to marry freely, something that was often restricted by some European countries.

At Tefilla, Rabbi Prass extended this theme of journeys by describing the “Nesiya”(trip) our ancestors Avraham and Sara made as they left present day Iraq to seek a new life in the land of Israel. We saw how this plays out in our own lives, as we are all making life time journeys as Jewish people.



Today in class we worked on:
10/7 – Well with the chagim behind us, the Fourth Grade class moved into a very busy Sunday morning. First at Shira, Moreh Ari led us in several of our favorite songs for Tefilla!

When we returned to the class we accomplished many things. To relive how American Jews, especially in New York City, gleefully participated in parades celebrating the adoption of the US Constitution in 1789, we made “floats” we would have liked to have seen the Jewish community enter back then. A special shout out to Jacob Goldstein and his team for devising the “Dreidel” float for their parade!

Additionally, we saw how a Jewish merchant from South Carolina, Jonas Philips, worked tirelessly to make sure the new Bill of Rights entrenched the rights of American Jews to practice Judaism freely in the new country. We also saw how his community of Charleston was unique in that there were cases of slaves, owned by Jewish families, who freely converted to Judaism and became Jews by Choice!

As the hour drew on we read a play on the importance of tzedaka in the early American Jewish community. We saw how wealthy Jews helped endow new synagogues in the country, assisted poor Jews in Eretz Yisrael, and even built special Jewish hospitals.

Before class ended we looked at different siddurim and copies of the Tanakh(Jewish Bible) and Talmud and saw how these holy books have helped Jews wherever they settled. The students were particularly interested in paging through the old Union Prayer Book, the original Siddur of the American Reform movement, and Sarah Lichtman enjoyed reading its unusual English translation of familiar tefilot.

At Tefilla, Rabbi Prass talked about how we can use this
“post holiday season” to find ways to connect to Judaism and our community outside of the “electronic arena” All in all it was a terrific Sunday for fourth graders!



Today in class we worked on:
9/30 – It was a very busy day of learning for fourth graders. First at Shira, 4th – 6th grade we learned a few songs to get us ready for tonight’s holiday of Simchat Torah with Morah Ari. In class we discussed where early American Jews lived in the original thirteen colonies and the types of jobs they landed to support themselves. One of our students wanted to know if American Jews owned and sold slaves and we learned not only was this the case, but that some even brought their slaves with them to synagogue to help make them more comfortable during services.
Our class was surprised to learn that were no ordained rabbis in the early American colonies but special teachers from the land of Israel, known as “Shadarim”, often visited these communities and helped them learn how to read Torah or prepare their children for Bar Mitzvah. American Jews, in turn, would give them money to take home with them to assist their families in Israel. Additionally, we saw how most American Jews supported the War for Independence; one Jewish person Haym Solomon gave away all of his money to support the patriot cause.
With a few minutes left we saw how Torah commentators helped us all to understand the hidden meanings in the Torah as we start from beginning to end with the weekly readings.

Next week we’re going to make posters that New York Jews might have used to celebrate the adoption of the US Constitution in the famous parade in 1787. We ended the day with T’fillah led by Morah Ari and Rabbi Prass.



Today in class we worked on:
9/23 – It was so great to have this session of religious school at the synagogue. We started the day meeting just with our classroom to collect tzedakah, attendance, and then play a name game. Secondly, all Gan – 6th grade met in the sanctuary for an all school T’fillah led by Morah Ari and Rabbi Prass. We sang, prayed, and looked around our Jewish space. After that Gan – 3rd grade rotated thru 3 stations: (a) visiting the Sukkah with Rabbi Bellows and learning about how it is built; the lulav and the Etrog (b) a workshop where we saw how early American Jews were able, and sometimes not so able, to procure the citron etrog needed as one of the four species of the chag. We saw how Jews here tried to get them from many different countries including Greece, Jamaica, and Morocco, none of which proved to be reliable sources. Finally, the Ludmir family in what was then Palestine launched an etrog farm that has provided American Jews with everything they need for the chag ever since. (c) looking at how Sukkot is a Jewish time of Thanksgiving and that there are similarities between the American thanksgiving and Sukkot. After the three rotations, all of Gan – 6th grade gathered back together for Shira led by Morah Ari and a story by Rabbi Bellows, about why it always rains on Sukkot.



Today in class we worked on:
9/16 – It was great to back in religious school and meet the new fourth grade class. We enjoyed a very active Sunday, starting with the opening Tefilla led by Rabbis Bellows and Prass. Later in class we started off by voting on our tzedaka for this year. Fourth graders will be supporting the Make A Wish Foundation with the money collected for tzedaka each week.

Afterwards we started our journey of discovery retracing the American Jewish experience. First, we talked about the end of Jewish life in Spain, in the wake of the great expulsion of 1492, set the stage for Jews to come to America. We read a play in class looking at the different countries Jews lived in at the time they first came to what became the United States. We saw how life could be both enriching and challenging depending on where Jewish people lived.  Before the morning was out we discussed what things and services the first Jewish settlers in America would need to create a connection with Judaism in their new surroundings. Additionally, fourth graders went on a scavenger hunt to get them acquainted with the JCYS building. Finally, before going to Shira, we set up time for questions and at the suggestion of our Madricha Irina, who visited Spain this past summer, we talked about Spain is trying to revitalize Jewish life there. A very heated discussion among the class ensued as to whether Spain should financially compensate the Jewish people for what happened there five centuries ago.

Our first day of school ended with Shira with our new song leader, Morah Ari. We enjoyed meeting the 5th and 6th graders who came to Shira as well.