In Judaica we discovered and discussed the life stories of both Rebecca Gratz and Isaac Leeser, who were two 19th century figures who were exemplary to the America Jewish experience in this period. These two caring and insightful American Jews made essential innnovations and developments to Jewish life and education in early America in the 19th century through the Civil War period. In readings about these figures and a great open conversation about their life stories, we emphasized:
Their character, including
Their essential sense of purpose:
To serve the material and educational needs of the many for Gratz
To unify the Jewish American community for Leeser, including making English translations of European-Jewish texts available.
The national context of their lives, which both spanned from just post American Revolution right through to the period of abolition, secession, and the Civil War.
From there, we explored the interesting history of Jews in the Abolition movement (and, actually in the institution of slavery), the role of Jews in the separation between the free states (Union) and slave states (Confederacy), and the War Between the States where brother was sometimes pitted against brother. We viewed and discussed artwork by the Jewish artist Max Rosenthal, who depicted the challenges of families and young soldiers during the Civil War. We also studied varying arguments made by mid 19th-century American rabbis, some in support of the Union and some supporting the Confederacy. This led to the point that the truth, even from Torah nor from shared current events, is not always easily agreed upon, and that communication, listening, and expressing oneself is so important. Further, we considered the experience of the thousands of Jews who fought in this war and those who strode to have an effect on the direction and justice of the nation in this trying period.At the end of class, we imagined we were creating the script for a historical play about the Jewish experience in the 19th century, up to and including the Civl War. On a wipe board, we the students chose to place the names of Rebecca Gratz, Isaac Leeser, and major figures of the Civil War, from Abraham Lincoln to Rabbi David Einhorn, to abolitionists to African American slaves, to educated and uneducated Jews, and more. The students were then drew literal lines of connection between the different figures, which can become the seeds of scenes in a drama.In the process of this exercise, as the students were at first extremely excited for which role they could play, we talked about the expression, "It is amazing what we can accomplish if we care less for who gets the credit." At that point, the focus truly shifted to drawing the relationships between the characters on the board, from the immediate sense of which character they wanted to play. After all, they realized, until we write the scenes, we don't even know what the characters will be doing or saying, so how could they truly choose their character role? This script-writing experience captured the students attention, and they decided they would like to keep adding to the play's script as we explore further Judaica themes during the Spring.PS - We also joined the rest of the school in Traditional Israeli Dancing class and the Havdallah ceremony.
5th Grade Teacher at PASJE