Teaching Hebrew school is a second pathway for me. I never would have guessed (in a hundred years!) I’d do this, nor that I would be flying so high after a day with these kids as I did this week. Now I admit, not every day’s this rewarding, and supplimentary Hebrew school’s got it’s problems, but these days make it so worthwhile. The kids’ names have been changed.
The afternoon began with the sixth grade reviewing the morning version of the Mi Chamocha – the giddy song of triumph sung at the crossing of the sea. I sang this Michael Walzer poem for them to figure out, (used as an intro to the prayer by the reform siddur): Standing on the parted shores of history; we still believe what we were taught before ever we stood at Sinai’s foot; that wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt; that there is a better place, a promised land; that the winding way to that promise passes through the wilderness; that there is no way to get from here to there, except by joining hands, marching together.
What does slavery mean today? I asked, is it just ancient history? Did you know people were bought and sold still today? Yes, they knew. What else could enslave folks? Adam told me people today were slaves to money! That so many parents in his town don’t see their kids so much, in the pursuit of this master. Brett knew what the poem meant by “marching together”: that none of us can do it alone – we need one another. Dave knew why music was the choice of response at the sea because “music’s inspiring”. Seriously, wow! After telling this group how much they rocked, I welcomed in fourth graders. We were beginning blessings, b’rachot. by telling of gifts they’ve given others. Most had been thanked for their gifts, but Jaden shared how her little brother had just run off with a gift she’d given him without thanking – made her feel pretty low. Can you think of gifts you’ve gotten today? How about a hundred gifts a day? “I didn’t get a hundred gifts!” shouted Jake. Well, the other kids argued with him – I didn’t have to do it, that he DID get those gifts: family, friends, food, love, puppies. But how can you remember to pay attention to these gifts? I told them about Aldous Huxley’s parrots from Island: “pay attention!” they squawked. How annoying! my fourth graders called out. Maybe saying blessings would be a better way to go!
This session was followed by Youth choir, one of only three twenty minute rehearsals we get per month. Sometimes these rehearsals are just a high point of my week – their youthful idealism just comes out in their voices and shines in their eyes. We are singing this Shabbat, and in a new program we call Kehilah Kedoshah (holy community) students are matching various arts to the Torah portion for that week – students choose their group, and ours is music. Well, this week’s Torah portion, called Ki Tisa, includes the saga of the golden calf and its aftermath. Moses, after receiving the gift of the tablets, God-inscribed, sees the Israelites dancing, worshiping a sculpture of gold, and smashes the tablets. Talk about wrong moves: both the Israelites and Moses could have done a lot better. But it’s not the end of the story for either the Israelites or their temperamental leader. Instead it’s time for second chances. Moses argues for the Israelites, takes a second trip up that mountain, and is told to carve another set of tablets like the first, this time to inscribe them himself. This second try far outstrips the first. Troubled, or inspired, Moses asks to see God’s honor/presence. God explains that it could be deadly, but placed in that cleft of the rock, all God’s goodness will pass before Moses as God’s “back” (afterglow?) passes by. Inspired, Moses exclaims the thirteen attributes of God which have become a part of the Holy day Torah service liturgy. In a beautiful symmetry of how God calls “Moshe, Moshe” at the burning bush, Moses calls God’s name: Adonai, Adonai, merciful and kind, slow to anger, with great loving-kindness and truth… Moses is so transformed by the experience that he glows like he’s radioactive, so much that he must be veiled ever after.
The songs sung and chosen by the youth choir this month are about fixing mistakes, about making things better. The first is called “if Not Now” by Carrie Newcomer, (and credit to R. Hillel!) . If not now, tell me when? is about fixing the world. Check it out here, sung by Dan Nichols and Danielle Rudnisky http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3RUKmvD0bc.
I swear the sound of these 30 or so kids singing their hearts out to these words was just inspiring. As was their rendition of Todd Herzog’s Be the Change (toddherzog.com) Talk about blessings, I’ve got ’em. No more to say!
Except my night was just half over. Hebrew High was coming, ninth grade. First up was “Expression of our Jewish Soul in Song” – a survey of mostly contemporary Jewish music arranged around themes, and this week’s theme was Torah. I’ve encouraged the kids to bring instruments if they’ve got ’em, and two brought their ukeleles and were playing Stairway to Heaven -how perfect! (Led Zeppelin). So I joined in on the chords and we discussed the chords, and those of songs in general, and how to write songs…and class hadn’t even begun! This class is a taste of lots of songs, and we did some fun ones. My favorite moment: I was teaching them a two part arrangement of Leon Sher’s Adonai, Adonai which beautifully sets to music the words from this week’s portion (see above). We’d only gotten through half of it when Lizzy said something like “wait, I’m taking out my iphone to record this, we sound freakin’ amazing”, so we sang it again for her recording! After this someone shouted, “Hey can we sing Shalom Alechem again?” Ok, after we do Sweet as Honey, I replied, we just have to do that first. So we sang a bit of Todd Herzog’s Calling all Angels/ Shalom Alechem which we’d learned a couple of weeks ago, and they can’t get enough of. Be still my heart.
My last session for the night, after putting away the music, keyboard and guitar, was one on Science and Torah. OK, cue the DVD player, take out the props (tarps, marbles, slinkies…) enter the all-boy class. The topic was on unity in physics and Torah. The last fifteen minutes featured a discussion of the Shema and a reading on Unity. The reading was an excerpt from Arthur Waskow’s Freedom Journey and I asked them what part of the reading spoke to them, and Bob selected this part: I am part of everything and less than nothing; I Anokhi a cell of the great Anokhi of the world come conscious. I stand inside God’s skull, behind the face, I look out through God’s eyes, my face in Face, I see myself, ourself, Anokhi. Bob said that sometimes when he awoke in the morning he felt like this, and looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize who he was, and wondered what was real. Wow! End the session.
Ki Tisa, second chances is about my life this week, I realize. I have gone up the mountain a second time with this second vocation teaching Hebrew school, and I have come down with my face radiantly aglow, and I am blessed.