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Bringing Moses into the classroom as a guest speaker is a fun Hebrew School lesson relevant all year long

Bringing Moses into the Hebrew School classroom is a fun lesson relevant all year long

The Passover Haggadah tells us to think of the Exodus story “as if we all came out of Egypt.” The bitter herbs and the parsley dipped in salt water are supposed to be reminders of the tears of slavery.

It’s “We,” and “Us,” not “They” and “Them.”

Encouraging our children to forge an emotional connection to the Jewish past and the Jewish future is one of our primary goals as teachers and parents. That’s why I’ve found the Moses press conference to be one of the most engaging Hebrew School exercises over the years.

Look at the kids’ beaming faces in the group photo above.  They were some of my fifth graders at Boston’s Temple Israel, where I taught for six years in the 1990s. These kids — who incidentally are now having their own kids — acted like a movie star had walked into the room. They all wanted their photos taken with Moses and asked him ethical and theological questions that made me proud to be their teacher.

The Moses press conference is actually a lesson that is spread over several classes and involves a home study component. First, students are told that they are about to become Biblical-era journalists and that they need to know as much as possible about the Book of Exodus. They form their own media organizations — such as the Canaan Register-Times, the Sinai Enquirer or in a nod to modern times, GoldenCalf.com — and research the background of the Ten Commandments and why it took so long to get to the Promised Land.

Feeding their curiosity is a press release teasing the upcoming appearance of the one and only Moses!

HOLY MOSES: 5TH GRADERS
TO MEET TEN COMMANDMENTS SCRIBE

“In an unprecedented example of Biblical time travel, Moses is scheduled to meet with young reporters at Temple Israel for an informal press conference on Sunday, November 3.

Moses, a bearded prophet best known for leading the Jewish people out of Egypt after 400 un-fun years of slavery, will be in Boston on vacation. Besides Temple Israel, he has planned to take trips to Faneuil Hall, Bunker Hill Monument and the Swan Boats.

Among the questions he will be happy to discuss are:

• How did you do that trick with the Red Sea?
• Did it take long to write down everything in the Five Books of Moses?
• Why don’t you have a last name?

Of course, Moses also will be delighted to talk about the Ten Plagues, the Passover Seder, the fight he had with the Egyptian taskmaster, what it was like to look at the Promised Land but never get there, and any other incident in the Book of Exodus.”

(Click here to download full sample press releases used at Temple Israel and Congregation Shalom, two of the synagogues that Moses has visited in Massachusetts.)

Moses can be anyone from the community willing to put in the effort and kavanah. I’ve hosted seven press conferences over the years and have had college professors, parents and even my husband (pictured here) play the role. Of course, I advise that you politely ask your Moses to brush up on his Bible, too.  It gets embarrassing when the students have to correct the Prophet.

Also make sure that Moses talks in the first person plural, mentioning how “we” were freed after 400 years of slavery and how “our” feet got muddy walking on the Red Sea floor. This is definitely not meant to be a lecture, but an interactive exercise reinforcing our collectively shared experience with each other!

Students will take notes during the press conference and write up their reports in their respective media publications. As a trickle-down bonus, this lesson also incorporates creative writing, geography, anthropology, public speaking skills and critical thinking in addition to sparking meaningful discussions about Jewish values, spirituality, culture and identity.

The Moses Press Conference is a great way to engage Hebrew School students to think about Jewish values in a fun way

You can adapt this exercise to include additional Biblical characters to the mix. Perhaps inviting Miriam for a woman’s perspective about desert hikes or Pharaoh’s psychologist to analyze why he felt compelled to enslave others.

But it is important to note that this is NOT a Passover play. The costumes are cute and the role-playing is fun, but there is a serious exchange of ideas. If you pick your Moses well, he should push the kids to explore deeper issues.

I don’t claim authorship of this idea — I know numerous educators who have implemented variations of the same theme. Personally, I’ve mostly tried this lesson with fourth and fifth graders, but it certainly can be adapted for older students, who could tackle it at a more sophisticated level.

And the beauty of inviting Moses to the classroom is that you can keep inviting him back. Naturally, he’s very central to many of our sacred texts and cuts across many curricula. It would make sense to have Moses drop in on classes focused on Jewish history, Torah, Jewish Holidays, Prophets and Israel.

You could hold your press conference especially for Shavuot, our celebration of receiving the 10 Commandments on Mt. Sinai.

One last thing: You also don’t need to limit your pool of potential prophets to men.  Via the magic of Photoshop, here is my best effort at channeling my inner Moses!

Stacy Garnick was up for the role of Moses in the "Ten Commandments," but was narrowly beat out for the part by Charlton Heston

Matzah sneakers

Unleavened Sneakers: Kosher for Passover?

Hey, Seder Fashion Hounds, what will you be wearing when Elijah pops by your house for a sip of Manischewitz?

You can order matzah-print sneakers at Zazzle.com and as a bonus, you can choose between cookie-cutter, mass-produced matzah and handmade shmura matzah, which tends to be a bit on the burnt side.

Splash a little horseradish on these babies and you’ll be ready for the runway!

How Ancient Egypt could have funded its pyramid construction

This isn’t keeping me up at night, but do you think back during the rule of Ramses II that he ever imagined he would wind up on New Hampshire Lottery scratch tickets?

Come to think of it, if the Egyptians had sold lottery tickets back then, wouldn’t they have been able to completely fund the pyramids and pay for construction with worker’s comp, vacation, dental insurance, 401K, etc.?

For some reason, the Las Vegas casinos also have a fascination with Ancient Egypt, giving us absolutely no credit whatsoever for the Mids:

Celebrity Toy Lookalikes: Moses the Duck and King Friday the 13th

My family loves Jewish novelties and kitsch, and this Moses Duck — related to Celebriducks like Obama Duck and Marilyn Monroe Duck — has parted the waters of our bathtub AND kept a watchful eye over the Promised Land of our home office.

But on closer look, this Moses doesn’t look much like Moses at all. He kind of looks a little like Santa Claus (with orange lipstick) and a little like King Friday XIII, the ostentatious puppet ruling the Land of Make-Believe in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Perhaps that’s why the company doesn’t sell him anymore.

Other than the typical toy frogs and locusts, do YOU have any goofy novelties at your Pesach table?

How many audience members knew that Ben Stiller's nonsensical alien Oscars speech contained part of the Hebrew prayer for wine?

Ben Stiller, who played a rabbi in “Keeping the Faith,” is no stranger to Jewish humor.

At last night’s Academy Awards, he slipped in an inside joke that I wonder how many people noticed. Presenting the honors for Best Makeup, Stiller was flamboyantly dressed as a Na’vi alien from the blockbuster movie “Avatar.”

His presentation speech in the Na’vi language was actually a string of jibberish, tongue clicks and familiar phrases blurted out in a funny accent. Anyone unfamiliar with Hebrew would not recognize two of those phrases: “Pesach,” and “Boray Pah-Ree HaGaffen.”

The guttural letter Chet at the end of “Pesach” definitely sounds like it is from another planet. Just not the Alpha Centauri moon of Pandora. (I had to look that up. I haven’t yet seen “Avatar,” but I want to).

What do you think? Is sneaking in the last part of the prayer for wine into the Avatar speech a gesture of Jewish pride? Or does it mock Judaism — or the Na’vi culture for that matter — by inferring that all foreign languages are just jibberish?

I don’t profess to intimately know Ben Stiller’s soul, but I think he meant well.

In fact, given that Avatar takes place in the year 2154, I see it as a positive development that Passover is getting some extraterrestrial airplay. We Jewish educators are obsessed with Jewish continuity, after all.

And although Judaism does not encourage proselytizing, the religion is very welcoming to all who want to learn Torah. No matter what planet you come from.

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This blog is dedicated to preventing another generation from dreading Hebrew School. I seek to exchange stories, ideas and tips with other parents, teachers and everyone who shares my love for Jewish history, culture, spirituality, arts, and Israeli produce. Care for a pomelo, anyone?

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