Owning The Seder
04/01/09
Staff Writer
In Mick Fine’s classroom, the sixth-graders are creating cartoons and board games and posters for their family’s upcoming seders. In the classroom of Nicole Levy and Vanessa Miller, the kindergarteners are putting the finishing touches on artworks that will be bound together into mini-Haggadot to be shared with their families next week. Throughout the classrooms of the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, the K-8 students are learning about the traditions of Passover in other non-traditional, hands-on ways. Every year the school’s teachers have the option of guiding their students in making their own Haggadot —  simple, artsy works like the kindergarteners,’ or sophisticated texts in the upper grades that include the students’ own commentaries. This year, it’s the second-graders’ turn. The childrens’ finished laminated-and-collated products, which were to be done in time for a school-wide model seder this week, feature the entire Haggadah text, the students’ interpretive drawings about some seder themes, and a few words of explanation. At the front of the class, Alisa Weisser and Sarah Kay at a dry-erase board are introducing one crucial holiday theme — slavery and freedom — through the lens of the “cool” and “warm” colors the students will use to illustrate their hand-drawn front and back covers for their Haggadot. Cool colors, under Avdut, the Hebrew word for slavery, colors like black and purple, represent sadness, the students decide. Warm colors, like orange and yellow, under Cherut, freedom, mean happiness. “Think about how it felt to be a slave in Egypt,” Weisser instructs the students before she and co-teacher Maya Waichenberg hand out the crayons and heavy-bond light-brown paper for the covers. Sitting at small tables, with a Ma Nistanah CD softly setting the mood, the children discuss their artistic ideas with each other. Soon, yellow suns and blue skies appear on the Cherut back cover. Will the students use these Haggadot, instead of their families’ standard ones, next week? “Yes,” the students shout in unison. “You have a real one,” declares Sophia Reiss. The best part, adds Jordanna Palmer, “is getting to color it.” Both the students and the teachers enjoy the level of personal expression that the Haggadah projects allow, says Steven Lorch, who has served as head of school since it was founded 13 years ago. “They find it exciting.” Lorch, who has rabbinical ordination and a doctorate in education, designed the elementary school’s curriculum, with progressive “conceptual emphases” for each grade, based on what he had found lacking in the high schools he had led in this country, Israel and Australia, “Kids learn from making connections from their own lives,” he says. In other words, lessons sink in when they respect the students’ views. Hence, the give-and-take about the colors of slavery and freedom that precedes the drawing of the Haggadah covers. “The kids love it,” Lorch says. “If I walk into the class” when the students are making their Haggadot, “they will crowd around me and show me what they’ve done. “What we hear from family after family.” He says, is ‘”our children didn’t leave the seder table once. Our children were completely engaged. The other kids stayed for five minutes and left.” “I don’t know if other schools do it,” Lorch says of the individualized Haggadot. Many day schools, in their month of Pesach instruction that follows Purim, supplement their formal teaching with Dvar Torah sheets of yom tov questions and answers. Some schools produce a single Haggadah based on the students’ collected commentaries. In addition to the Haggadah, the students at the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan are introduced to daily prayer by making their own condensed Siddur that includes the student’s artwork reflecting the themes of key prayers. The school, which was the initiative of nine Conservative rabbis in the borough and has grown from its original 14 students to 140, now meets in the classrooms of two Manhattan congregations – the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, on the West Side, and, across Central Park, Park Avenue Synagogue. A building for the school in now under construction on the Upper West Side. Many members of the Jewish community, Lorch says, mistakenly believe that his school was affiliated with a Solomon Schechter School, located at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, which moved to Teaneck, N.J., as part of a merged Schechter Regional High School, then closed two years ago. The target of the Passover teachings at the school, which begin with visits to a matzah bakery in the lower grades and conclude with a review of Pesach laws from the Talmud and other advanced sources in the upper grades, is the students’ seders with their families. “It’s tremendously effective,” says Elisheva Urbis, a past president of the school and the mother of three children who have studied there. “The kids have tremendous ownership” of the holiday’s concepts. Urbis says her daughter brought a hand-made Haggadah to the family’s seder a few years ago. A nephew wanted to leave the table and go off to play after a few minutes. “No,” said Urbis’ daughter. “This is my Haggadah. This is my seder.” Urbis’ daughter prevailed, she says. “She stayed and he stayed.”

Last Update:

12/01/2009 - 16:47

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