HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal


Student Voices on God

by Mariashi Groner Issue: The God Issue

"Before you can find God, you must lose yourself.” -Baal Shem Tov

How do day schools help students cultivate a relationship with God? What practices and programs enable students to “get out of themselves” and engage with a Higher Power? We invited schools to describe an experience that empowered students to engage more deeply with God, whether through study, art, music, or some other vehicle for opening up their imagination and creativity. Here are a few examples that highlight the voice of students in this journey.

In the Child’s Hands

When your child knows that he or she possess a great and holy quality —a soul that is a part of G-d— the child will realize that he or she has the potential to overcome difficulties and temptations. Teach your child that all it takes is a little effort on her or his part, and he or she will receive considerable assistance from on High. —The Rebbe (Advice for Life: Education)

At CJDS G-d is not a subject, nor a topic. Rather, G-d just is. G-d is when the students get up in the morning. G-d is when the students go to sleep at night. And G-d is also when they say Birkat Hamazon after lunch. When the general studies teacher picks sticks to decide who is going to partner with each other so that there are no hard feelings, G-d is the one who is making the decision. When it rains on a trip and changes have to be made that at first might be disappointing, it is part of G-d’s greater plan. Our students will sometimes say it first, before we even have a chance to suggest that possibility.

 

If there is anything our fifth grade graduates take away or remember from their experience at our school after spending middle and high school and college away from much Jewish influence, it is the core connection, understanding and awareness of G-d.

Our success with this message is first and foremost with our teachers. Each and every one of our Judaic teachers have an unshakable and steadfast faith in G-d because children can smell indecision and uncertainty a mile away. It is so important to gift this treasure of faith and belief and to offer them this wondrous possibility. I believe it gives them a sense of security and confidence when exploring their own beliefs. They don’t necessarily have to buy it, but if they choose it, it is because we made it available to them.

G-d is woven into our activities, our stories, our lessons and our choices. The connections and visualizations are constantly made so that each child can fit G-d into his or her life as they see fit. We don’t have a one-size-fits-all attitude and belief system, rather each child establishes their own relationship with Hashem. One story to illustrate this is with a kindergartener who told his teacher, “Morah Rochel, I had a Jewish dream, there was a phone in my garage and I could talk to Hashem on it.”

This year our school introduced Project Based Learning in a formal and structured manner. In our Judaic studies, we have chosen to create Torah Art by taking parashot drawings by an artist in California and coloring them by using a chosen technique after studying various artists and their art. In addition, the parashah chosen by each student was researched thoroughly to understand the importance of the specific picture chosen by the artist.

The students were then visited by three Torah experts: a community rabbi who brought a Torah to visit and to demonstrate various characteristics of it, another community rabbi whose expertise is in Kabbalah to answer some of the more esoteric questions, and a fourteen year old graduate of CJDS who often reads from the Torah. The students did research on the Internet and explored various reading materials until most of their answers were gathered. They then wrote explanations to go along with their parashah picture. By the time the students completed the project, their ability to appreciate the Torah portion read each week at the synagogue was so much more internalized, understood and engaged.

However, before they dove into the project, it was important that the students explored their understanding of G-d, the Torah and its content. First they brainstormed, discussed and shared their wonderings. Listed here are just a few of the questions and speculations that were expressed in these conversations.

Why is the Torah in a scroll?

Who wrote the Torah?

How or does the Torah predict the future?

Is the Torah true?

How did Hashem create the world out of nothing?

Was there anyone before Hashem?

If Hashem knows what’s going to happen, how do we have free choice?

These questions tell us that the environment at our school is ripe and set for the students to feel comfortable to pose controversial, deep and thoughtful questions. We know that the answers are not simple and that we continue to encourage learning, studying and discovering to come to their own understandings.

These are thoughts and reflections jotted down by some of our students during this process:

We cannot understand and take in what happened and understand such a giant force that is Hashem. The only one who knows about before Hashem is Hashem. I used to think there was an answer. I guess there isn’t.I learned that before there was anything, there was G-d. He moved over to make room for us, the earth. G-d is a mandatory existence. He must be there. Hashem gave us choices so that we know the difference between right and wrong. If we don’t know the difference between them, we would do bad things and think they are perfectly good and we could do good things and feel ashamed.

The foundation of a strong Jewish education is G-d and the Torah. A Jewish education is much, much more than dreidels and hamantashen. It is deeper than the rote knowledge of our history. It reaches far beyond the stories and practices. It provides a safe place, a center and a compass for our students as they navigate the world they live in.


Mariashi Groner, Head of School, Charlotte Jewish Day School, Charlotte, North Carolina

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The God Issue

In Jewish tradition, God alone is the Creator of all and the ultimate embodiment of unity, Oneness. In the 21st century Jewish community, however, God can often be a source of contention and divisiveness. Our community is far from united around questions of God's existence, nature and way of acting, the ways that we can understand God and relate to God. The authors in this issue approach the Big Questions from a wide variety of perspectives and thinkers, but they are united in their concern to bring the God Issue within the classrooms and halls of Jewish day schools.

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