15 Dec Meaningful Judaism that is both joyous and rigorous: Celebrating and studying Chanukah at Schechter Manhattan
Chanukah celebrations started early at Schechter Manhattan this year, with the Middle School Chanukah Skating Party last week, and continued this week with candle lighting, eating chocolate coins, and recitation of Hallel, the joyous Psalms of praise added to daily prayer. We will wrap up the holiday together at our annual Chanukah Zimriya, community sing along, this coming Wednesday morning. Celebrating holidays together as a community is an important part of the vibrant Judaism we live at Schechter Manhattan. At the same time, Schechter Manhattan students are engaged in serious study about Chanukah, which enhances the joy of the celebration and the meaning of the holiday.
Students in kindergarten and first grade learn how to light the chanukiah and recite the blessings. They also discuss what the words of the blessings mean and how the blessings relate to big ideas of the holiday, like פרסומא דניסא, pirsuma dnisa, publicizing the miracles. Second-grade students read the text of על הניסים, al hanisim, the paragraph added to the daily prayers during Chanukah, and consider what that text teaches us about what we are celebrating on the holiday. Third and fourth-grade students read selected halachot, legal statements, from the קיצור שולח ערוך, kitzur shulchan aruch, a compendium of Jewish law compiled by Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried in late nineteenth century Ukraine, about how to light the chanukiah. They generate their own questions and answers about the practices delineated in the text. Fifth-grade students consider various Jewish responses to Hellenization at the time of the events of Chanukah in the land of Israel in the second century BCE, and discuss how they think those responses relate to their own experiences of interacting as Jews within a majority culture that is not Jewish. Middle School students study a selection from the Babylonian Talmud about the concept of הידור מצוה, hidur mitzvah, beautifying the fulfillment of religious obligations on Chanukah, and consider whether such enhancements are necessary and /or desirable to meeting religious commitments.
This study is as serious as it sounds. Engaging with a curriculum of study about Chanukah, and each of the many other Jewish holidays we celebrate together every year, gives students the experience of thinking deeply and critically about religious practice and questions. It shows them that throughout the intellectual history of the Jewish people, religious practice was a source of both community building and intellectual rigor. When coupled with joyous celebration, this serious study of the holidays helps Schechter Manhattan students to find meaning in their Jewish practice. I think that when they have thought about these ideas and made connections to their own understanding of the holiday, then the joy they get from the lights of the chanukiah, the sounds of the Chanukah songs and the tastes of the sufganiyot and latkes is even sweeter.
Wishing you a joyous and meaningful Chanukah.
Each week we will feature the written work of our students. We hope that you will stop back next week and see what they are writing and thinking about.
Kitah Aleph students have been exploring the different ways authors think of topics for their books. We talked about how authors wonder and ask themselves questions, remember things that have happened in their past, imagine pretend lands and characters and observe the world around them. Through these four modes of thinking they continue to find inspiration and grow as writers!
Kitah Gimmel / Kitah Dalet
As a culminating project for our book club unit, each Kitat Te’einah student wrote a paragraph in which they analyzed how their character changed from the beginning of the book to the end.