4th grade

Moreh David Blatt



Today in class we worked on:
5/19 – It’s hard to believe that we’ve come to the end of the 5779 Religious School year at Beth Am!

As part of our closing activities, 4th graders first joined the 5th grade class for Shira, where we had the chance to sing, with Morah Ari, some of our favorite songs from this out going school year. Back in class, we had our final Kahoot game of the year, where we first reviewed some of the topics, relevant to our study of Medinat Yisrael and Jewish communities in Chutz L’Eretz, we discussed this semester. Since we had some extra time, we also reviewed, via Kahoot, our study of the American Jewish experience as well.

At Tefilla, Rabbi Prass helped close out the school year with special prayers and gifts for the entire Sunday Religious school team. I’d like to personally offer my appreciation to the awesome 4th grade madricha Irina Stamm for all of the great help she gave this year! Additionally, I would like to thank the talmidim in the 4th Grade themselves for their outstanding efforts this year as well. Finally, I was deeply touched by the kind gifts the Beth Am community afforded me as we closed out the school year. May everyone enjoy a safe, healthy, and restful summer!



Today in class we worked on:
5/12 – We had a very active morning in class this week. At Shira, which was held according to its original scheduling, as our first activity in the morning, we enjoyed singing some of our favorite songs of the year, such as “Gesher”, with Morah Ari.

Back in the classroom, we saw an interview, from Israeli television with the founder of the Shavei Yisrael organization Michael Freund. Adon Freund explained how his group has helped many isolated Jewish communities, such as China’s Kaifeng Jews, reconnect with their Judaism and in many cases go on aliyah to Medinat Yisrael. Afterwards, we had a scavenger hunt across the classroom, picking up clues on the different communities Shavei has assisted. This engendered a very nice discussion on these groups and the talmidim were particularly interested in the “Hidden Children of Poland” and Portugal’s Bnei Anousim, both of whom have been helped by Mr. Freund’s team.
Owing to Mother’s Day we celebrated, with many of the parents in our CBA community, the annual Parent’s Day T’fillah at religious school. One of the highlights of this Tefilla, was the wonderful Dvar Torah, using an actual scroll of an ancient Medrash, Rabbi Prass gave on the importance of honoring our parents in Judaism.
Finally, next week, to wrap our year up we are going to have a Kahoot Game covering everything we’ve learned about both the State of Israel and other Jewish communities this semester. Please have your children bring electronic equipment, such as phones or I-pads, to class next week.



Today in class we worked on:
5/5 – Owing to the 40th Anniversary Beth Am brunch we had a shortened day in religious school this week. Nevertheless, our 4th graders made up for the early dismissal by making every minute of class count.

As we move through a time of transition in the Jewish calendar, the period of Sefirat Omer, we transitioned into our final unit of the year, learning about Jewish communities all over the world. Before Tefilla, students listened, via Spotify, to the choir of the Abudadaya Ugandan Jewish community sing the Shema and V’Ahavata prayer. Many of the students, led by Quinn Bennett, were so captivated by this unusual take on Jewish liturgy that they started dancing to the music!

At Tefilla, Rabbi Prass challenged all of us to focus on Medinat Yisrael which has, sadly, been under rocket attack from Gaza. Students were actually captured in a video that would be shared with friends of our Religious School Administrator in the Jewish state.
Back in class we worked on a word puzzle that outlined many of the important Jewish communities outside of both the US and Israel. Among other things we learned that Ukraine, where our madricha Irina’s family are from, just elected a Jewish President, the Mexican Jewish community is divided among Jews whose families came from Eastern Europe, Greece, and Syria, and that Jews in Brazil speak Portuguese. Additionally, towards the end of class we broke into groups which made brief presentations on Jewish communities in sub-Saharan Africa.

We rounded off our morning with Shira with Morah Ari. All in all, I’m sure our Limud Torah was a great way to honor Beth Am’s forty years of service to the Chicagoland Jewish community.



Today in class we worked on:
4/28 – It was nice to be back after a break for Chag Ha-Pesah. We had a very nice morning. First, although our group was smaller owing to the fifth grade being away on a field trip, we had a good time at Tefilla, led by Rabbi Prass. Rabbi Prass integrated many of our familiar tefillot from our siddur with the tragic news of a synagogue shooting this past weekend in California.

In class the talmidim filled out a “True/False” assessment on the Arab-Israeli conflict. We saw how Medinat Yisrael has often been forced to engage in wars of survival over the years. This also prompted a very nice discussion on the close relationship between the United States and the Jewish State.
We started working on our final project for our study of Medinat Yisrael, designing a class aliyah to Israel but time constraints have pushed part of that over to next week.

Finally, as Morah Ari was not available for Shira this week, Rabbi Prass came in and asked everyone to come up with an appropriate message in light of the events we’ve seen against houses of worship lately. Many of our students expressed concern for their own safety in Bait Knesset for instance and we discussed how those fears might be assauged.
Happy Sefira!



Today in class we worked on:
4/14 – The weather this Sunday brought an unexpected snowstorm to the Chicago area but thankfully we all arrived at religious school safely.

First at Tefilla, Rabbi Bellows talked about some of the themes of the upcoming Passover holiday and including being thankful for having the chance to spend the holiday with family and friends.

Returning to the classroom, we worked on a crossword puzzle that reinforced many of the ideas from Chag Ha-Pesach our Rabbi was talking about earlier in the day. We saw how our rabbis have traditionally viewed the Seder as an important opportunity to emphasize great Jewish values such as inclusion and modesty in our lives as modern Jews. We were going to finish our unit on the State of Israel but owing to time constraints we watched a short video on the Abudadaya Jews of Uganda. (After Passover we will be focusing the remaining weeks of Religious School on Jewish communities throughout the world.) In the video we saw how this Central African community adopted Judaism and have worked very hard to build a Jewish life thankfully with help from Jews all over the world. One of the things the talmidim were very interested in was how the Abudadaya Jews live in a remote rural part of Uganda where they produce their own food often from animal livestock they own.

At Shira, Morah Ari again helped us learn new holiday songs in preparation for Passover. My best wishes to everyone for a Chag Pesach Sameach! Have an awesome Seder this week!



Today in class we worked on:
4/7 – It was really fantastic and awesome to be back in religious school, after the spring break, and to get to know all of the parents who participated in the special 4th Grade B’Yachad Sunday!

After getting acquainted with the class, both parents and students moved on down to the Atrium for Tefillah. There Rabbi Bellows continued her series of explaining the different Tefillot in our Siddur. In particular, we looked at the morning blessings and the Shema. The 6th graders helped lead the recitation of the V’Ahavta prayer in trope. Afterwards, the parents enjoyed a time of Limud with Rabbi Bellows while our class returned to its normal setting. During this period, we learned more about Israel’s Arab citizens through a Word Puzzle. Many of the talmidim were very interested to learn about Muslim Israeli Arabs observe the month of Ramadan, where fasting goes on daily.

Later we rejoined the parents and as part of our theme of understanding our Jewish stories, our students had the opportunity to interview their parents about their life experiences. We learned about first memories, schools attended, and even favorite foods from the adults who were with us. Additionally, Irina and I shared family recollections as well including her family’s experience growing up in the former Soviet Union.

Finally, at Shira, Moreh Ari taught us a special song for the upcoming Chag of Pesah, “Dayenu”. At the end of the morning I had the opportunity to wish all of the attending parents both a “Shavua” and “Chodesh” Tov!



Today in class we worked on:
3/17 – “Purim Sunday” is always a very special day at Beth Am and this year proved to be our best ever! First, we enjoyed a special Tefilla for Purim, led by both Rabbis Bellows and Prass. We had the chance to sing some favorite songs for the chag as well and hear from the Megillah.

There was a brief time in the class room after tefilla. Students had the opportunity to work on a “Purim Word Puzzle” with clues taken from the online “Ha-Mizrachi” magazine, the special publication of the Religious Zionists serving Jews in English speaking countries. We saw how there is a “Queen Esther” Street in Tel Aviv and even a town in Missouri named for the heroine of the Purim story. Additionally, we learned about the four important customs of the holiday, such as giving to Tzedaka and hearing the Megilla!

Then it was time to enjoy the enhanced Purim Carnival that was a joint venture this year of both Beth Am and our friends at JCYS. Everyone had a great time in the JCYS gym going from booth to booth, which helped raise funds for respective class tzedakah organizations. Additionally, I had the opportunity to meet, for the first time, with some of the parents of my 4th graders! I especially enjoyed conversing with Dylan Cohen’s Dad in Hebrew!

All in all, it was a terrific day that highlighted many of the core values our school has tried to present this year including building Jewish community and social responsibility. I hope everyone enjoys a Chag Purim Sameach and a safe spring break!



Today in class we worked on:
3/10 – At Tefilla Rabbi Bellows continued her on going series of making the Siddur come alive to the older talmidim of the CBA Religious community. We talked about how we might be able to understand many of the 613 commandments in the Torah better and use that knowledge to improve our relationships with friends and family.

Upon returning to the classroom, we worked on making Purim cards for college students affiliated with our Beth Am community. Later we had the chance to view a short video, produced by the CTV network in Canada, on Canadian olim who were serving in the Israel Defense Force. After seeing this film, we had the chance to discuss the commitment of these individuals towards Medinat Yisrael and the responsibility they took on in becoming a “lone soldier.”

Before going to Shira, we learned about important Israeli writers and poets such as Rachel Blaustein, Shai Agnon, and Leah Goldberg. The class was very interested in the life of Algerian born Israeli poet Erez Bitton for many reasons. First everyone was very surprised to see that his mother had grown up in a cave in Morocco before having the chance to go on aliyah to Israel and live in much better conditions. There was great excitement on how Mr. Bitton’s writings reflected both the heritage of his parents as North African Jews and the new life he himself experienced growing up as a Sabra in Jerusalem. Zachary Greenspan liked the idea that, unlike the other authors we learned about, Erez Bitton was still living and could, if he had the chance, stop in at CBA to speak to the religious school students!

Morah Ari led us through several old favorites at Shira to round up the morning. We are all very excited about next week’s Purim Carnival and hope everyone stops by our Bowling Booth!



Today in class we worked on:
3/3 – We enjoyed having T’fillah with the other classrooms which was led by Rabbi Bellows and our Madrich Matthew. In class, we worked on preparing for the Purim Carnival on 3/17. We had a guest speaker from Keshet, We were lucky to have a speaker, Lori Zisook who is an inclusion facilitator from Keshet. She facilitated a wonderful discussion and had activities so that the students could understand the needs of children who have challenges in their daily life.
Homework to be completed by next class:
3/3 – Supplies for the Purim Carnival.



Today in class we worked on:
2/24 – We enjoyed a very productive morning in the 4th grade class on Sunday. Before going to Tefilla, we talked about what booth we’d like to operate for the upcoming CBA Purim Carnival.

At Tefilla, Rabbi Bellows explained some of the prayers in our Siddur we often don’t have time to recite in religious school. Back in class we worked on a crossword puzzle and saw how traditional Jewish holidays were observed in Medinat Yisrael. For instance, Israeli stores fill up with honey cakes in advance of Rosh Hashanah and you will see jelly donuts being offered for sale everywhere when Chanukah rolls around. We also learned how school kids in the Jewish state enjoy a short fall break for Sukkot and often go on special trips to mark Yom Hatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.

Afterwards, we worked on a difficult assignment seeing how the famous “Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel”, first written by the Israeli Nobel Prize laureate Shai Agnon has been re-interpreted by different Jewish communities over the years. Interestingly enough, many of the talmidim in the class liked the original version Mr. Agnon came up with.

We finished up at Shira where Morah Ari taught our class a new song “Ha Kovah Shili” to get us in the spirit for Chag Purim!



Today in class we worked on:
2/17 – It was a very snowy day on Sunday and for awhile we weren’t sure if anyone was going to be in class! Despite, the unexpected snow storm just about everyone braved the weather to be in religious school.

At Tefilla, Rabbi Bellows continued her series of explaining the different tefillot in our siddur. She also facilitated an “ask the rabbi” session at the end of the period where students fielded some important questions regarding the role of prayer in Jewish life.

Back in the classroom, we had a “scavenger hunt” where we searched for clues regarding cities in Israel. We saw how while Tel Aviv was Israel’s business and cultural capital, other cities such as Beersheba or Afula were centers of education and industry. Later we had an in class play about the importance of the city of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish state. At the end of class, we broke up into groups who later reported on the diverse religious communities, both Jewish and otherwise, in Medinat Yisrael and how we can build a connection to the land of Israel as Jews in Chutz L’Eretz. Nate Brody asked an outstanding question on whether Shabbat was as relevant to Jews outside of the land of Israel as it may be to Jews there.

We finished up at Shira before going home to a very wintry February Sunday!



Today in class we worked on:
2/10 – As we marched into the new Jewish month of Adar Rishon, we had a very exciting morning in the 4th Grade Kitah!

First at Tefilla, Rabbi Prass continued our ongoing “Siddur Workshop” where we are learning the tefillot we have in a new and better way. Upon returning to our classroom we saw a film on wild life and conservation in the State of Israel. The talmidim were very enthused by this video as they saw that Israeli wildlife is very diverse and includes different hyenas, wolves, foxes, birds, and deer like creatures known as the ibex.

We didn’t have time to see the entire film, but we then turned to an in-class worksheet about modern Israel is working to preserve its environment and, in particular, to keep its wild life secure from extinction. We saw how Israeli zoologists have set up national parks where the animals are protected and free to roam. Additionally, we learned the steps Medinat Yisrael has taken to bring species that were faced with extinction. This engendered a lengthy discussion on conservation in Israel and how preserving the environment is an important Jewish value. Before we knew it was time to go to Shira!

Again, 4th graders poured out their hearts in song at Shira, under Morah Ari’s direction. We also enjoyed refreshments, at the end of class, in honor of the double birthdays of Hayden Hirsch and our madricha Irina Staam. All in all, it was a terrific day of learning.



Today in class we worked on:
2/3 – After the cold weather snap it was great to be back in religious on a very special Sunday!

First at Tefilla, we joined the 5th grade for the “Aufruf” component of their annual “Faux Wedding.” This was very exciting as our class had a preview of what they will be working on next year.

Getting back into the classroom we had a great discussion as to how our lives would be different if we lived in Medinat Yisrael as 4th graders in terms of the schools we attended, our average breakfast, and what our school year might look at as to scheduling. Most of the talmidim were not happy with the typical Israeli breakfast of vegetables and cottage cheese! (I mentioned that the famous American poet Robert Frost actually got very ill eating these things when he visited Israel as a very old man at the behest of his daughter who worked at the US Embassy there!)

Later we read a play about the different school tracks available to kids in the Jewish state. We saw that families could select between the secular, Dati (Religious), Tali (Middle of the Road, similar to Conservative Judaism here in North America), Chinuk Atzmai (Ultra-Orthodox), and Arabic speaking school systems. Most of the talmidim preferred the Tali system, especially because its schools went on more field trips than the others did!

At the end of class, we broke into groups and presented on different aspects of Israel’s tourist attractions such as its beaches or national parks.

Finally, we had a real treat for Shira in that Morah Ari came to our class and we enjoyed her song leading entirely on our own. This made for a very enthusiastic “request session” and Morah Ari noted that the 4th grade class showed amazing ruach!

All in all, it was a terrific Sunday where everyone participated in an amazing manner!



Today in class we worked on:
1/27 – It was awesome to see that despite the very cold weather most of the 4th grade talmidim braved the bad conditions outside and happily arrived at religious school.

At Tefilla, Rabbi Bellows continued her series on explaining the different prayers in our siddur, this week focusing on the morning blessings. Rabbi Bellows also discussed how wearing a kippah, can, for some, enhance our tefillot during a religious service. We are all becoming more literate in the Siddur as a result of our Rabbi’s fine efforts here!

We had a very busy day in class as well. First, we enjoyed a Kahoot game learning about Israel’s diverse geography. Thanks to this game we saw that Israel, although a very small country, is blessed with mountains, deserts, fresh water and salted lakes, and large cities. Later on, we saw a video on the life of Golda Meir, one of Israel’s founders. Jakey Goldstein enjoyed discovering that Gveret Meir grew up in his Dad’s hometown of Milwaukee. Finally, in observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day we talked about the contribution of Shoah survivors to the vitality of the Jewish state.

At Shira we gave our best as we sang to the many songs led by Morah Ari. In closing, I’d like to thank everyone who came to class for their excellent contributions.



Today in class we worked on:
Undoubtedly, Sunday brought the most severe weather of our current school year. Nevertheless, in a fashion our ancient sage Hillel would have validated we pressed ahead in 4th grade with our study of Medinat Yisrael.

Before looking into the early years of the Jewish state we went to Tefilla and enjoyed learning with Rabbi Bellows on the true meaning of prayer. We saw that sometimes we might not always have the best focus for our tefillot and other occasions we will. Rabbi Bellows discussed the value of Jewish prayer, in all circumstances, and explained the takeaways we should get from well-known parts of our Siddur such as the Shema.

In class we saw how the young Jewish state had to fight for its freedom in its first years of independence. Breaking up into groups we learned about the contributions of kibbutzim to Medinat Yisrael and about new Jewish immigrant groups that arrived there, often from Arab countries such as Iraq and Yemen. Before class ended, we looked at vintage photos of the “first Israelis” and recognized their sacrifices and struggles to make a viable Jewish country.

At Shira we gave our best as we sang to the many songs led by Morah Ari. Finally, before leaving Quinn Bennett was kind enough to pass out home made waffles to his classmates!

In closing, I’d like to thank everyone who came to class for their excellent contributions. Next week we’ll be having a Kahoot game to help us understand Israel’s geography so please send your yeladim to school with some kind of electronic device!



Today in class we worked on:
1/13 – After three weeks of winter break it was great to be back in class on a very snowy Sunday in Chicagoland!
When class started, I mentioned to the talmidim that we would be focusing our attention to the study of Medinat Yisrael, the Jewish homeland now that we had arrived in the second semester. We also discussed how Tefilla had shifted to being scheduled first thing in the morning as opposed to being the ending of our Sunday at Religious School.
At Tefilla, Rabbi Prass talked about how we would be working on why and how we as Jews pray as opposed to merely learning the Tefillot by rote. Students from the three grades represented were invited to share their thoughts about Jewish prayer. It was clear we were off to a very good start in exploring Tefilla and its impact on our lives as Jews!
Back in the classroom there was much enthusiasm as we worked on building a timeline on the long walk of the Jewish people towards creating their own country in Eretz Yisrael. We saw how Jews had endured two exiles, after the First and Second Temples were destroyed, and had even come close, in the 16th century, towards re-building a Jewish homeland before the State of Israel came into being seven decades ago. We also had an in-class play on how Theodore Herzl put together the Zionist movement and later read excerpts from Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Before we knew it was time to go to Shira, which is now our final class period each Sunday!

Transitioning into Shira, Morah Ari welcomed everyone back from vacation. We helped the 5th graders with their “Wedding Song” in anticipation of their “mock Chatuna” which is coming up shortly. All in all, it was a terrific day of learning. I want to thank the entire 4th grade class for their exceptional enthusiasm that they brought to the classroom this week!



Today in class we worked on:
12/16 – This was our last Sunday before break and also the completion of our unit on the American Jewish experience. Before we headed off to Shira, the students were asked to relate what they felt were some of the memorable events we had studied in class. Dylan Cohen discussed the incident of the four brave chaplains on the USS Dorchester in 1943, while Quinn Bennett brought up the famous Rosh Hashanah assault on Rabbi Isaac Meyer Wise in his Rochester synagogue a century earlier.

At Shira, we had the chance to show our ruach as Moreh Ari led us in some of the more favorite songs we had learned during the semester. Back in class we culminated our American Jewry unit by looking at the seemingly different visions of Jewish life, outlined by two of the 20th century’s greatest Jewish thinkers Rabbis A.J. Heschel and J.B. Soloveitchik. Students were asked to break up into groups and discuss which of these two philosophies, Rabbi Heschel emphasized community service and social action while Rabbi Soloveitchik believed in a more personal Judaism that was centered on individual mitzvot, made the most sense to them. The results were very unusual. For the first time since I started at Beth Am, I came across a class that collectively found themselves more in agreement with Rabbi Soloveitchik than Rabbi Heschel although some students thought both visions could be combined.

In advance of shira we saw a video on life in Israel, as the start of next semester’s Israel Unit, a century ago. Students were really amazed by the “poor technology” that the silent movie offered but were extremely interested in the fact that the Zionist pioneers, building up Eretz Yisrael then, had to work very hard at everything they did. Sarah Leichtman was very interested in the new school for Jewish children that opened up in Jerusalem around 1911 and the uncomfortable clothing the talmidim were wearing in the movie with their teacher.

At Tefilla, Rabbi Prass challenged all of us to focus on building personal relationships during the winter break. I can tell you that I have developed a strong connection with the 4th graders and am very proud of all of their achievements this semester. They have very strong insights into Judaism that some adults lack today! I look forward to seeing everyone after the Chofesh!



Today in class we worked on:
12/9 – With Sunday playing host to both the seventh day of Chanukah and the new Hebrew month of Tevet we enjoyed a busy morning in 4th grade this week that couldn’t hold all of the activities planned for the day . First at Shira, we sang a number of songs relevant to the holiday including the traditional “Sevivon Sof, Sof, Sof”. Back in class we first went to a station and saw the front cover of the “Jerusalem Post” newspaper from 1948 proclaiming the establishment of the State of Israel. The talmidim were asked to take themselves back to that time to see how they might have been impacted by such an important event in Jewish history. This elicited different responses. On one hand Jordyn Sherwood felt she, as a young Jewish person, would have been happy to see our people get their own country while Zachary Greenspan wasn’t sure he would have had any strong feelings one way or the other on this. Afterwards, we broke into groups and, working off a timeline, tried to come up with three important events in the life of American Jewry since the Shoah. Many students selected events surrounding Medinat Yisrael, others looked towards new developments such as when the Reform and Conservative movements started to ordain women as rabbis. There was also a discussion on the significance of the opening of the US Holocaust Museum in our nation’s capital in the 1990’s.

Before going to Tefilla, as an introduction to next semester’s Israel Unit, we saw a video on the life of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. Aside from having a lane named in his memory at OSRUI, Professor Ben-Yehuda revitalized Hebrew, from being a language of prayer and religious study, to the modern tongue that it is today as the “Lashon” spoken by all citizens of the Jewish state. Finally, at Tefilla, we enjoyed having Rabbi Bellows lead the weekly service and her challenge for all of us to focus on special gifts we can give back to our family, friends, and community as Chanukah draws to a close!



Today in class we worked on:
12/2 – As the joyous chag of Chanukah dawned we enjoyed a busy morning in 4th grade this past Sunday. First, we joined our other classmates in the CBA Religious School for the annual Consecration Service, which was held in the Atrium of the JCYS building. Two members of our class, Leo Barston and Evan Milesko, as new talmidim to our Bait Sefer, were among those students called up to receive a miniature Torah scroll and certificate of Consecration. At the service we were treated to some lovely Dvrei Torah from both Rabbis Bellows and Prass. Rabbi Prass stressed how our goal at Beth Am is to give each student the best tools to live a very active and informed Jewish life, a point I shared again during our class session later that morning as well.

Back in class we looked at the accomplishments of American Jews in the arts, sports, academia, and public service through the lens of a “Jewish Jeopardy” game. We discovered how American Jews such as Albert Einstein, Sid Luckman, Bernard Baruch, or Fanny Brice all proudly contributed to the American scene in the last century. There was also a very heated discussion after we learned of how Rabbi Goode, as one of the “four immortal chaplains” on the USS Dorchester in 1943 gave up his place on a life boat so an American soldier could be rescued, and thus drowned when the ship sunk after being torpedoed by a German U-Boat. Many of the students wondered if that was the appropriate decision given that Rabbi Goode also had a family back home who would then have to contend with his being lost in action. We saw that Jewish tradition would validate both his heroism and a decision not to give up his seat on the life boat.

Finally, at Shira Moreh Ari led us in many songs appropriate to the Chanukah holiday. We ended the morning enjoying the wonderful cookies from Shalom Bakery!



Today in class we worked on:
11/18 – The fourth graders enjoyed a very active morning of learning this week, so much so we didn’t finish everything that was planned and so that will fold over for our class after the Thanksgiving holiday. First at Shirah, after encouragement from Moreh David, the class eagerly participated in all of the songs led by Moreh Ari, including the new one we started to learn this week. Afterwards, as part of our recognition that all Jews are responsible for each other, we worked in small groups on sympathy cards to be distributed to Jewish people, via a Reform congregation in the Los Angeles area, that had lost their homes and personal belongings to the terrible fires going on in the Golden State. Once we were finished our wonderful Madricha Irina read an account to the class of the first Bat Mitzvah in Jewish History by the very participant herself the late Judith Kaplan Eisenstein. We were able to tie in this historic event, celebrated nearly a century ago in 1922, with our own experiences at Beth Am, namely that Irina’s role as a Torah reader at religious services today would not have been possible without Gveret Eisenstein’s trailblazing religious service! Additionally, the class was interested to discover that Moreh David had met Gveret Eisenstein thirty years ago at a speaking engagement in one of the suburbs of Chicago.

Before we went to Tefilla we talked about how the Shoah affected Jews in America and read a supposed radio debate between Rabbi Stephen Wise and the lay Jewish leader Irving Bunim on what was the best approach for American Jews to take in advocating for European Jews threatened by the Nazi Holocaust. Most of the class agreed with Dylan Cohen’s assertion that Rabbi Wise, in supporting the Roosevelt administration, probably took the most reasonable direction available then.

Finally, at Tefilla we enjoyed hearing Rabbi Prass tie the upcoming Torah portion, which describes the relationship of the twins Yaakov and Esav, with the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. All in all, it was a great morning. Have a wonderful holiday as well!



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.