These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Turkey 2017: Shabbat is Coming

Posted on February 19, 2017 by Carrie Watkins

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My name is Carrie. I am a lava monster, and today I taught a lesson on the teachings of Hillel from Pirkei Avot. Perhaps you didn’t think lava monsters could teach Torah – a common misconception. Allow me to explain.

Today, the Pardes students and I taught six lessons to fifth and sixth graders at the Ulus Jewish School in Istanbul. In the lesson for the fifth graders, a lesson about symbols in Judaism and interconnectedness, I pretended I was just another student. Nobody suspected anything! In the three lessons with the sixth graders, I was finally able to be myself.

Susie introduced the program. The ground in the middle of the classroom, she showed them, is now LAVA (lav in Turkish). We gave the kids flexible sheets of thin plastic and told them that these were rocks that could safely float on lava. In order to get across, the students needed to use the rocks, and if a student was not holding or standing on a rock, if the rock floated on the lava by itself, the lava monster (that’s me!) could come and steal the rock! The goal was for all students to safely reach the other side of the classroom.

At first, each student had two rocks, and could get across the lava by sliding or jumping from rock to rock. Then, they had to try again with only one rock. With only one rock, the sixth graders were forced to work together to reach safety. If they tarried even one second and forgot to put their foot on a rock, I would steal it away! With fewer and fewer rocks, the game became harder! Much to my chagrin, the children were very clever and found many creative ways to reach safety. In the end, they created a chain and, in an impressive display of teamwork, made it all safely across.

At this point in reading my recounting, if you’re anything like the students, you’re very excited and have completely forgotten that I am not just a lava monster, but also a yeshiva student. In true Pardes style, we transitioned to a havruta session on source sheets. On them, we have written the Hebrew, Turkish, and English of Hillel’s “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

In havruta discussions dancing between Turkish, Hebrew and English, we spiritedly discussed the meaning of these questions posed by a Rabbi thousands of years ago, and how they are relevant to us today. I’ll leave the question to you to discuss with your own havruta – how is this teaching relevant to the lava “game” we played? How are these words relevant to your life, today?

I concluded by doing what all good Jewish Lava Monsters (JLMs for short) do before Shabbat, I taught a song. Click here to enjoy the video!

Shabbat Shalom!