Twins Fighting in the Womb? So Jewish.

Have you seen this cinematic MRI clip of a pair of twins duking it out in utero?

Any Jew who stays awake in shul during Genesis will be reminded of those famous Biblical twins, Esau and Jacob — or as I introduced them to my Shalom Schoolers, “Hairy” and “Heel Grabber.” (Literal translations! Look it up!)

Their ugly rivalry began in poor Rebecca’s uterus, which can’t have been any kind of comfortable, and resulted in Jacob tricking his elder bro out of their papa’s birthright and blessing. I always used this story to illustrate to the kinders how siblings should be nice to each other ’cause karma will catch up to your sorry ass and you’ll marry the wrong sister.

What is totally whack, and maybe only us amateur Torah nerds will care, is that this week’s Torah portion is about Jacob reconciling with Esau! The viral interwebs intersecting with the scriptures of long ago? It’s blowing MY MIND, MAN.

This definitely calls for some Grateful Dead — “My Brother Esau,” natch.

Sunday Morning Sniffles

Today was the last Shalom School session of the year, and though I am verrrry much looking forward to spending my Sunday mornings contemplating the ladybugs on my favorite dahlia plant instead of herding a gaggle of 5 year-olds into submission with promises of challah and stickers, I sure am gonna miss those little kinders.

I’m feeling fairly farkelmpt about it, in fact. No more “David Melech Yisrael” handjive or knocking down the Tower of Babel made of wooden blocks. Or giving in to the roaring hilarity that, yes, Adam and Eve were in fact, NAKED. And where else can a grown woman hoard glitter and crayons without attracting the attention of the authorities?

One of my favorite parts of Shalom School is coming up with crafts made out of cheap (ahem, free) everyday objects. Last week we learned about Shavuot a little early with some brown lunch bags and what I consider to be the best invention given to humankind since the Torah: Glue sticks.

First, we crumpled up the bags to make them look really, really old. Then we cut them into tablet shapes, just like the ones Moses shlepped down from Mount Sinai, only much lighter. Then everyone had to glue down the 10 Commandments in order, which sounds easy but you’re not in kindergarten, are you?

Anyway, I had a great time with these, talking through the commandments and finding a child-friendly translation for adultery (let’s just call it “Do not cheat,” ‘kay, kids?)

Another one of my favorite projects is making mezuzot out of tongue depressors and cardboard tubes that come from the bottom of drycleaner hangers that I filch from the dumpster. This may sound sacreligious, but when all is said and done, these Jewish kids have a mezuzah for the doorposts of their bedrooms, which everyone knows keeps out the monsters.

The scroll gets tucked in the top, see? Even though the prayers are only copies, not the fancy kosher parchment kind, I still counsel the kids that the words are precious and should be treated with respect. Unless they want the monsters to get them. Just kidding. Maybe.

I’m sharing these with y’all in the hopes you’ll pass them on to Hebrew school educators everywhere, as I don’t foresee supervising these projects anymore as I am officially retiring from teaching kindergarten. If anyone’s interested, I also have cheap-n-awesome seder plate craft that I’m happy to share.

But just because I’m hanging up my rounded scissors doesn’t mean I won’t be teaching Shalom School come next fall. I will be–to the seventh graders. A bunch of brainy, too-cool-for-shul, b’nai mitzvah know-it-alls.

Sure, they may read Hebrew way better than me and can talk d’var Torah like other kids analyze their friends’ Facebook updates.

But if they think they’re too old for glue sticks and glitter, they don’t know the Yenta, yo.

Sunday School Redux

Thas’ right, the Yenta’s back in her old classroom, herding the little Jewish kindergarteners into circle time and picking sequins out of my hair on Sundays.

I know I left my post a year and half ago to have just the tiniest amount of free time, maybe spend a morning alone with El Yenta Man noodging him to clean out the chicken coop or leisurely reading a magazine while drinking fifteen cups of tea. Since my new job is even more booty-kicking than the old one, it’s been nice to have a couple of hours to spend in the garden or perform a thorough examination of my sock drawer.

But I couldn’t stay away from the bissel yiddishe kinders. I missed making mezuzot out of cardboard tubes salvaged from dry cleaning hangers and explaining the nuances of animal reproduction on board Noah’s Ark. I love seeing the looks on their faces when I announce that God made the world in 11 and a half days and then go, “What? Is that not right?” I also really love apple juice and crackers.

Plus, the nice lady who replaced me left to have a baby.

Things have changed a little at the Shalom School since the last time I led a rousing version of the “Dovid Melech Yisrael” hand jive. We have an awesome new principal, who’s incorporated more religious study for the older kids and incentives for everyone getting their tushies there on time. Our transitional rabbi has brought ruach and balloon animals into the mix.

And the kids from my first class back in 2007 are in fourth grade already.

It feels kind of amazing to know I’ve contributed to their Jewish education, that maybe all the Aleph Bet yoga helped them with their Hebrew lessons, that the “Shhhhhh-Mmmmmm-Ahhhh” breathing exercises I use to calm the room when everyone’s spazzing out after snack time might aid them in finding personal peace.

I must’ve made some kind of impression because they all remember me. In fact, one stopped me in the hall last week to tell me he still had the Moses baby basket we made until his dog ate the stryofoam head a couple of months ago.

No, it’s not like he named his first child after me, but look, I’ve got to find something to keep me motivated on Sunday mornings.

To Teach or Not to Teach?

Yo, y’all! The Family Yenta has finally returned from our mountain sojourn adventure (remind me sometime to tell you how El Yenta Man slaughtered a chicken) and our little Jewish camper loved his three and half weeks away. He now sings the entire Birkat Hamazon after every meal (partly to get out of helping with the dishes, I suspect.)

Like it or not, summer’s is creeping to a close on its humid little squirrel feet. Of course, it’ll stay hot here in the South for months, but there’s been a shift in the air that always comes when it’s time to buy school supplies. There’s the requisite packs of black and white composition books and the specific type of nerdy mechanical pencils that Yenta Boy insists upon, but I’m also talking Hebrew bingo cards and punchout hamsas.

Yes, Shalom School season begins again next week, and I’m in a bit of a quandary:

I’ve taught Jewish education to kindergarteners on Sunday mornings for the past three years. For you non-Jews who are thinking “Why Sundays? I thought the Jewish Sabbath was on SATURDAY”, I share your confusion completely. Seems to me if synagogues wanted to get families back to services, then there should be Saturday programming before worship for everyone, including adults, since the thing about Judaism is that you could study it 24 hours a day, six days a week and still need Cliffs Notes.

Some Jews send their kids to Jewish day school so there’s no need for them to supplement their Hebrew education, but most of us need some extracurricular schooling. But in the Reform and Conservative movements, expecting the least observant Jews to come to synagogue BOTH days of the weekend has never seemed like an effective plan. Unfortunately, I do not make the rules.

Anyway, as I was saying, I’ve spent the last three years of Sundays gluing sequins to Shabbat candleholders and trying to instill some Torah basics in five year-olds (seven days of creation, two of each animal on the ark, 40 days and nights of rain, 10 commandments.) I’ve sang songs and prayers and taught the Aleph-Bet using yoga. I’ve heard some super classic lines (Me: Now children, why is it that we put a mezuzah on our doorframe? Little girl: So Santa we’ll know we’re Jewish?)

In spite of the fact that I sometimes flick off the lights so we can pretend we’re in the belly of a whale, I’ve taken my role as a Jewish educator very seriously. While no one would ever describe me as the kind of teacher who speaks gently and greets her students with fresh-baked cinnamon challah every week, I believe the kids who have passed through my class have had some good times and leave knowing a lot more than the first time they sit on my special round holiday rug. It feels good to give back to the community, to know I’m helping build a positive Jewish identity for dozen kids a year.

But here’s the deal: My new day job is wicked demanding. My mother-in-law has taken another downward turn (oh, how many levels does this dementia spiral have, Lord?!) I want to work on a book. I need my weekends to regroup. I’m not someone who handles stress well; my coping skills when feeling overwhelmed tend towards crying, yelling and drinking wine (though yoga has diminished the need for those lately.) I’ve been thinking for a while that I need to take Shalom School off my plate for my own sanity, but I didn’t think the new principal could find a replacement and I don’t go back on agreements.

Well, it turns out, there IS some other meshuggeneh who wants to spend their Sundays with Jewish kindergarteners. There’s an exit for this issue right there, with no hard feelings. All I have to do is turn over my rug and I’ve got Sunday mornings free. I’ll be just another Jewish mom dropping her kids off and then heading to the coffee shop to read the paper.

But it turns out this isn’t so easy give up. I would miss the weekly connection—but that could easily be remedied by going to shul on Saturdays, where the rabbi does the lesson plan. I would miss seeing my own kids in the hall—but wow, drinking coffee and relaxing sounds much nicer than having to remind Little Miss So-and-So to quit picking her nose eight times an hour. I was SURE I wanted bow out and figure out another way to serve the Jewish community. I was already planning a couple of weekend trips away. But somehow yesterday, I found myself down the street trawling through the dry cleaners’ garbage, pulling the cardboard tubes off hangers for my favorite mezzuzot project.

What do you think, friends? Should I jettison the guilt and take the gift of a clean getaway? Or do I shoulder the stress (minimal, since I’ve already got three years of lesson plans) and take on another year belting out “Rise and Shine” and “Shalom Rav” ’til I’m hoarse? Oh, and I need to make a decision by the staff meeting tonight at 7pm.

This would be so much easier if it all took place on Saturdays. Maybe I should trade Shalom School for a place on the policies and programming board of the Union of Reform Judaism?

Idolatry: An Inexact Lesson

So after making 10 Commandment tablets out of paper bags last week (we crumpled them up to make them look old, then I handed out strips of each commandment and challenged the kinders to glue them on in numerical order — turns out, glue sticks are enough of a challenge), we finally got to the Golden Calf shenanigans in yesterday’s Shalom School lesson.

(Have I ever shared how much I love Torah Aura’s Child’s Garden of Torah? It’s perfect for kindergarteners, and the student pack comes with worksheets and the best possible teaching aid ever: STICKERS.)

You already know that Moses goes up Mount Sinai to study some Torah from the Source for 40 days and nights, but the freed Israelites got impatient and had Moses’ bro Aaron melt down their baubles and make something shiny they could worship. When Moses came down, he saw that the people he’d gone through all this trouble to save were not following the very simple directions he’d left, and he was pissed.

In fact, I told my charges, he was so mad he broke the tablets he’d spent all that time scraping out so that these nudniks would have something to reference the next time they forgot the basic rules of the game. “Have you ever been so mad that you broke something you loved?” I asked my Shalom Schoolers.

A few solemn nods.

“I once broke my sister’s favorite pencil because she wouldn’t let me use it,” confessed one boy with a mournful look.

“I cut off my Barbie’s hair because she was being bad,” said a little girl in a pink “High School Musical” t-shirt. “But it was an accident.”

Another hand. “Um, I never did anything like that but one time my daddy was so mad at the basketball game on the t.v. he threw the remote control at the wall and it split into a million pieces and we had to get a new one and now my mommy can’t figure out how it works.”

“Okay,” I said. “So we all make mistakes, especially when we’re angry or scared. The families of Israel made a gigantic mistake dancing around the cow statue. Moses broke the tablets. You broke something that belonged to your sister, you scalped your Barbie. Your dad smashed the remote control. Eventually, everyone was forgiven, right?”

Shrugs all around. “Well, Mommy still has to make Daddy set the DVR, but yeah, I guess.”

“So when we make a mistake, or we don’t follow the first ten commandments, let alone the — wait, how many commandments?”

“SIX HUNDRED AND THIRTEEN!” my smarty Jewish kids shouted.

“Right! So that’s a lot to remember, and when we don’t get it exactly right or break something, or act in a bad way, we can be forgiven. As long as we’re truly, deeply sorry, we can grow into better people. But at the same time, you need to know how to act and to use your common sense,” I explained, ’cause I really don’t need any parents calling and asking me why their child said I told them they’d be forgiven for poking holes in the sofa cushions with a pair of chopsticks because it wasn’t expressly forbidden in the Torah.

“So God forgave the people for worshiping the idol, and he let Moses come back and make another copy of the Ten Commandments. But from then on, everyone was expected to keep it together. Got it?”

More nods, and I felt like we’d really accomplished some Jewish learning here today. We moved onto snack, a rousing rendition of the “Dovid Melech Yisrael” hand jive, and to illustrate the “hand of God,” this super cool hamsa project. Unfortunately, it required some basic adhesive skills and therefore turned out stickier than I imagined, but it was nothing an entire packet of Tough N’ Tender cleaning wipes couldn’t handle.

During pick-up, I overheard a parent ask their child the requisite “So, what did you learn today?” I turned my ear towards the sweet little voice and heard: “Something about a golden cow and ‘American Idol.’ And we’re supposed to worship these pretty hands!”

I think next week we’ll just start with how to use a glue stick.

*Photo via’s “Top Ten Lame Golden Calf Pickup Lines.”