Affixing the Mezuzah – Our Last Class

Shalom L’CHAIM families!  Our final Sunday class of the year was a very special one. We combined the lessons learned in earlier classes to culminate in a moment where we marked our room as a  Jewish classroom — by affixing a mezuzah!


The custom of affixing a mezuzah to a doorpost fulfills the biblical commandment: “You shall write them upon the doorposts of they house and upon thy gates” (Deuteronomy 6:9)  It distinguishes a Jewish home and is a visible sign and symbol to all those who enter that a sense of Jewish identity and commitment exists in that household. The mezuzah reminds us that our homes are holy places and that we should act accordingly – when we enter them and when we leave them and go out into the world.

The mezuzah and its contents were a theme throughout our L’CHAIM lessons this year: Starting in the fall, we learned to sing and understand the meaning of the Sh’ma prayer, which is our defining prayer about our monotheistic religion. Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad – Hear O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One.  For Passover we learned about the Children of Israel and how they painted blood on their doorposts to protect themselves from the Angel of Death who would “pass over” the Jewish homes marked on their doorposts. And in our penultimate class we learned about a Sofer, or Scribe, whose job it is to hand-write Torahs and mezuzahs with special ink and on special animal skin called klaf.

We read a lovely story called A Mezuzah on the Door by local writer and educator Amy Meltzer, which is about a little boy who moved from the city to the suburbs, and the special ritual Hannukat Habiyit – Dedication of the Home – that his family had in which they hung a mezuzah on their door. It was a good reminder that the word Hannukah (Chanukah) means “Dedication,” something we also learned about in December when the Maccabees helped “rededicate” the Temple after the Assyrians had dirtied it.

This led into a class discussion about what a mezuzah is, and its origins.

I had invited  Rabbi Kevin Hale, a local Sofer, or specially trained Torah Scribe, to join our classroom, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to make it.  Rabbi Hale was once the rabbi of Beit Ahavah, in its first year! However, Rabbi Hale loaned me a wonderful book about his Sofer-writing teacher Eric Ray, and he even supplied a blank piece of real klaf (kosher parchment) for us to explore. We took turns touching the parchment and were amazed to think about all the work that went into making it both so rough and so smooth, even before a drop of ink touched it.


Speaking of ink, the book had a recipe for the kosher ink a Sofer uses, which comes from the Talmud!  Since I love recipes…

After learning about the mezuzah, what it represents, how it is made and why we hang it, it was time to hang our own mezuzah on the door to our classroom!  I was especially excited because it was a pretty mezuzah from Jerusalem I was given as a gift and had wanted to hang at Beit Ahavah. After making the brachah which is the mezuzah blessing:

Baruch Ata Adonai, Elo-heinu Melech Ha-olam, asher kideshanu b’mizvotav v’tzivanu lik-bo’ah mezuzah.

Blessed are You Adonai Our God, Creator of the Universe, who has made us holy by your commandments and commanded us to affix a mezuzah.

And the Shehechiyanu prayer:

Baruch Ata Adonai, Elo-heinu Melech Ha-olam, she’hechiyanu, v’kiyamanu, v’higiyanu la-zman ha-zeh.

Blessed are You Adonai Our God, Creator of the Universe, who has kept us alive, and established us, and brought us to this special moment!

The children helped nail it on our classroom door post with a real hammer, and no fingers were squashed!  They nailed it up on the right hand side, tilting in towards the room, and low enough that our smallest students can reach it on tiptoes to touch or to kiss as is a custom when you enter.


Then we finally made our own beautiful mezuzot to hang in our own homes!  These are real mezuzah-covers that the children all created out of mosaics, tiles, a wooden mezuzah kit.  Rabbi Riqi can help you get a kosher-klaf (parchment with the Hebrew Sh’ma and words written inside) and hang it in your child’s room or a doorpost of your house.  They are usually about $18-20 dollars.


We left extra time at the end of class to collect our past art projects and have our snack.

A special thank you to our teen helper Max, who did a fantastic job on the last day.  

I can’t believe the year is up, and I hope you will return next year for our expanded and improved L’CHAIM program!!  Thank you for being the starting class!!!

20180510_163118.jpgLastly:  On Mother’s Day my daughter surprised me with this card she made at school.  It was wonderful to be her teacher, too. (I did not prompt her to make this.) Thank you for a wonderful year!


Learning About the Synagogue

What is a temple?  There are so many ways to describe a “House of Worship” in Judaism – the place where Jews have come together for meeting, prayer and community for thousands of years!  This week L’CHAIM explored the different words and concepts that are used, and investigated what might be found in the building, the Sanctuary, and the Ark.


Why are there so many words to describe this place we call Beit Ahavah?  Is it a synagogue, a school, a building, the temple, a community center, a gathering place? Students brainstormed. (We also discussed that we are also special because we housed in a church – and how our different schedules of worship and ideas of Shabbat work well for sharing a building.)

Some use the Hebrew words Beit Knesset, which means “House of Assembly.”  Beit comes from the word Bayit – and “Beit” means “House of.” Knesset is the same word used in Israel for “Parliament” which is like the American Congress. “House of Assembly” does not sound as good as Beit Knesset.

Then, there’s Beit Tefillah, a House of Prayer.  

In the Torah, Moses established the “Ohel Mo-ed” or the “Tent of Meeting.”  We talked about what if our temple was housed in a tent! (It might be fun.)

A common English word is Temple, a building devoted to worship.  

Another word, Synagogue comes from the Greek word meaning to assemble.  So Synagogue is a lot like Beit Knesset.

Finally, Shul is a Yiddish word that comes from the German schule meaning school.  

We then tried to answer the question — What makes something a synagogue?  What, or who, do you think belongs in one? To find out, we went on an adventure to the Sanctuary at Beit Ahavah to investigate the instruments for worship.

First we examined the beautiful wooden Aron Kodesh in the Memorial Room. Aron translates as a receptacle, or ornamental closet that holds things, including the synagogue Torah. Kodesh means holy. The Aron Kodesh or “Holy Ark” in a synagogue setting reminds us of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle the Jews carried around the desert. That way, God could dwell among his people. This portable sanctuary was the place where the Jews would bring their sacrifices to atone for their sins or express their gratitude. The Mishkan traveled with the Jews for 40 years in the desert.


When we opened the Aron we found a silver Yad, which is the pointer the Ba’al Korei, or Torah Reader, uses to read the Torah. (It happens to be Rabbi Riqi’s special Yad, a gift from her mom at her ordination!)  It technically means “hand” in Hebrew, and oftentimes the top of the Yad is actually shaped like a hand with an index finger pointing. We looked at the Torah, wrapped in velvet, and examined the box of kippot, which people typically wear on their heads in a service – just like the kippot we made in class to wear when we study Torah! We ran our fingers through the fringes of the Tallit that people wrap around themselves during a service. And we flipped through the Siddur, the prayerbook. That word reminded us of the word Seder, our special meal made in a special order during Passover.

We went into the Sanctuary and walked on the “Bima,” or stage where the Torah is read and the rabbi and sometimes also a cantor and leaders stand.  We listened to our echoes calling from the bima.  Next we zipped up our coats and went outside to hunt for something very unique to Beit Ahavah: A solar panel affixed behind the church. This is connected to the solar-powered Ner Tamid, the Eternal Light which hangs over the Ark!  The Ner Tamid hangs in front and above the Ark in EVERY sanctuary.  It is symbolic of the light and truth of God.


After our investigative tour, students each designed and decorated his or her own Aron Kodesh — especially with lots and lots of glitter. Our room got a little messy in the process (think sea of glue), but all the students were a terrific help in cleaning up.  

For our final half hour, we joined our parents, families and Rabbi Riqi for a special experience in the Memorial Room… We unrolled a Torah in our laps and learned how to touch the holy object!!


Passover Education Day

We began our RUACH Passover Education Day by discussing the Passover story. Because our L’CHAIM class already knew the story of Baby Moses and his brave sister Miriam, and the parting of the Red Sea, this class served as the perfect moment to connect all the storylines together.


Using illustrations provided by the Reform Movement, we quickly covered the story of Moses: His defending the Hebrew slave who was being beaten by the Egyptian taskmaster; his fleeing to the land of Midian; the discovery of the Burning Bush; Moses’ special rod, the 10 Plagues, and how the Children of Israel marked their doorpost so they would be passed over by the final plague. Phew!


Then we looked at some colorful seder plates and discussed what we put on it, and what it all symbolizes. We talked about the maror, the bitter herbs, a symbol of how harsh slavery was in Egypt. Karpas, the springtime vegetable which we dip in salty water, reminds us of our tears during our slavery. The charoset, the apple and nut spiced paste, symbolizes of the bricks and mortar used to build the Pyramids. The baytza, the roasted egg, is a stand-in for the springtime offering, and the zaroah, the roasted shankbone, symbolizes the Paschal lamb. Finally, the chazeret, the bitter Romaine lettuce, is used to make the Hillel sandwich with matzah, charoset and maror.

After discussing our Seder Plate, we dove deeper into the parts of the Seder. We filled Kiddush cups with grape juice, and then used our pinkie fingers to count off the 10 Plagues, dabbing drops of the juice for each plague onto our small plates. We also spent some time discussing Modern Day plagues. The students came up with ones like Greed, Homelessness, War and Fighting.


To get us even more prepared for Seder, we practiced Ma Nishtana, The Four Questions, for about 15 minutes. We even had vocabulary words to go along with the singing: bitter herbs, vegetables, dipping, reclining. Some of the students already knew that we recline because we are free, just like the Greeks reclined on couches during their festive meals.


Finally, we joined our families and Rabbi Riqi downstairs for making of the charoset for our own seder plates, and designed some really beautiful pillow cases to recline on during the seder.


Purim Fun!

This week in our L’CHAIM class we celebrated Purim with an astronaut and a butterfly in the classroom, to name a few of the wonderful costumes the students wore!

Purim Manischewitz Kiddush Jewish Slime made with Rabbi Riqi – recipe found at

The holiday of Purim takes place on the full moon on the 15th day of the month of Adar. Purim is exactly a month after Tu BiShvat, and exactly a month before Passover, but they are all very different holidays!

We shared the story of PURIM: how the brave Queen Esther saved the Jews from the wicked Haman. We read it from the megillah, which looks different from a Torah because it has one scroll instead of two scrolls. As we read the story, questions arose that we tried to answer. Why didn’t Queen Vashti come when King Achashverosh called for her to come to his party? Everyone shared their ideas.

Purim Twister is a favorite Justice Fair tradition!

That lead into a discussion of the concept of Midrash, stories that the Rabbis told often to explain and enhance stories in the Torah. Just as the Rabbis asked questions and discussed their answers, we are doing the same. That is how Jewish law was developed.

The group explored different ways we celebrate the holiday. We make and deliver Shalach Manot baskets which contain at least two different foods. We give Matanot la-Evyonim which is tzedakah, or charity, to those in need. We hold a feast or party and celebrate with food. We use groggers, noisemakers, to boo Haman’s name in the Megillah. Some people now wave a flag with bells for joy and “Hurray!” every time they hear Queen Esther’s name in a new tradition. We eat triangle Hamentashen fruit cookies, which are shaped like Haman’s hat, ears or pockets, depending on translation.

The Hamantaschen Bake-Off entrees were manifold and delicious!

The class enjoyed reading The Purim Superhero, an LGBT-friendly Purim story that is well loved in my house.

We then joined the PURIM JUSTICE FAIR & HAMANTASCHEN BAKE-OFF festivities downstairs and watched a performance by the older class, listened to Rabbi Riqi read the megillah, ate lots of delicious hamentaschen of many varieties and enjoyed the Purim Justice Fair!

Celebrating Tu Bishvat

We had a wonderful time celebrating Tu Bishvat in our L’CHAIM classroom! It was made even more special once we joined the rest of the Beit Ahavah community, and special guest Rabbi David Seidenberg, for a tasty and spiritual Tu Bishvat seder.


First we discussed what Tu Bishvat exactly means, and where it falls on the calendar. It is on the full moon during the Hebrew month of Shvat. It translates to “15 of Shvat.”  The letters that spell out the word “Tu” equals 15 in Hebrew.

Tu BiShvat is the new year for the trees. Just like the calendar starts in January but the  school year starts in the fall, there are four different “new years” in the Jewish Year. In September we celebrate a holiday with apples, honey and the shofar. When asked what the holiday was, the spectacular L’CHAIM students recalled that the holiday is called Rosh Hashanah. Rosh means head, and Shanah means year.

We also use the word Rosh in another way to describe Tu BiShvat, as it is also called “Rosh Ha-ilanot – The Head of the Trees!”

Tu BiShvat is a holiday with a practical origin. It is how Jewish farmers count the years of the new trees. In ancient Israel, you couldn’t eat the fruit of a young tree under 3 years old, because that wouldn’t be good for the tree to have to work when it was so young. Ancient Israelites were required to tithe, or give donations, to the Temple from fruit trees that are older than three years. Tu BiShvat was used as the official cut-off date.

Today, Tu BiShvat marks the beginning of springtime in Israel, and Jews celebrate it by hosting kabbalah-inspired seders and eating the seven fruits and grains named in Deuteronomy as the main produce of Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.


Jews in Europe used to eat carob from Israel — or bukser, because that could travel from Israel to those countries and not spoil. We recited the bracha borei pri ha’etz then tasted carob. Today carob is made into carob-chips and tastes a lot like chocolate!

Then we washed our hands and made a special food project using one of the Seven Species of the Land of Israel. In Hebrew we call it a Tamar, and in English we call it a date. Using clean hands and butter knives, we stuffed dates with cream cheese and made beautiful tray of them for the seder.

Once we completed our stuffed dates, we washed our hands again and planted seeds that will hopefully grow until we need them for our Passover seder.

We filled pots with soil and parsley seeds. This parsley can be grown through Passover in the spring, or the Hebrew month of Nisan. We will use the parsley as our Karpas, the leafy green vegetable that represents spring and rests on our seder plate, which we dip in salt water.  



Then we washed our hands one last time, and carried our platter of stuffed dates down stairs to the Tu Bishvat seder where we sat with our community and learned and enjoyed all together.


Our First Shabbat B’Yachad

We held our first Shabbat B’Yachad of the year on Saturday, January 20th, and it was absolutely wonderful! There were 45 people total, ranging in age from 9 months to 60 years. “Shabbat B’Yachad” means “Sabbath together,” and so after learning in our classroom we joined Rabbi Riqi and Morah Marlene and had a service all together with the rest of the Beit Ahavah community.  Afterwards we shared a delicious lunch catered by Tandem Bagel from a grant from HGF Rekindle Shabbat.  There are three more scheduled for February 10, March 10 and May 12.

Our class began by reviewing what we learned in our previous Sunday L’CHAIM session about Sojourner Truth and Miriam the prophet (sister to Aaron and Moses). We explored more about the origin of the beautiful tambourines the children created: When the Children of Israel realized they were safely crossing the Red Sea and would escape from Egypt, they sang a Song to praise their one true God.  When the reached the other side of the Sea, Miriam took out her timbrel – her tambourine – and sang a praise-song while all the women followed her with singing and dancing.

We looked at how the text of the Song of the Sea appears in the Torah.  We examined a Tikkun, a large book you can use to prepare reading from the Torah. The Tikkun has vowels, dots and symbols among the letters, called trope or cantillation, to help the reader learn how to sing and read it.  But the Torah doesn’t have vowels or trope marks, so the reader can practice with a Tikkun to learn how to pronounce and sing the words.

Here is an example of how the Song of the Sea section looks in an actual Torah scroll, which we got to see up close during the service while Rabbi Riqi chanted with the special melody:

We looked at how the song visually could look like waves, or people walking through, and that it looks different than the rest of the columns in the Torah. Studies have shown the best way to learn new information is to sing a song, like a children’s song or lullaby! In fact, these songs were likely the earliest parts of the Torah written, because you can recite or remember a song much more easily than just telling a story.

Then we explored the Shabbat morning service we were about to join, including the most important prayer in Judaism called the Sh’ma.  The Sh’ma is a reflection of everything we’ve learned about so far. It was what set Avraham and Sarah apart from everyone else, and why Moshe (Moses) wanted to lead the Hebrews into the desert: To worship one God. There’s a big word to describe it: Monotheism.

People worship and pray differently all over the world. There is no wrong way to pray and have a religion. But because we are Jewish, we only have one God.

And we have a very special prayer we say every day about that. The Sh’ma!

Sh’ma, Yisrael, Adonai, Eloheinu, Adonai, Echad.

shin shalo

Hear, O Israel, Adonai, Our God, Adonai is ONE.

Sh’ma starts with the Hebrew letter Shin. We created the letter with our hand, by meeting our thumb with our pinkie, and having the three middle fingers stand up tall. Sheket, quiet, Shamayim, sky, Shabbat, Sabbath, Shalom, peace, and Sh’ma, Hear – all start with shin.  So does Sheleg, snow!

It is also a custom to say the Sh’ma when we go to sleep at night. One tradition is to focus on “listening” by actually covering our eyes gently when we say the Sh’ma, and that way we are not distracted.

After that we went downstairs to join Rabbi Riqi in our S”habbat B’Yachad” morning service. We entered singing and dancing with our tambourines like Miriam and the Children of Israel!  



January 14 – Social Justice Day

Our Day of Social Justice began with our L’CHAIM class upstairs, talking about Social Justice and Women in the Torah. We learned two stories about strong women: Miriam and her role in the Book of Exodus, and Sojourner Truth, a freed slave and abolitionist who lived in Florence for a time.


First we learned about Miriam and her important role in the Exodus story. Miriam and the other Hebrew people lived as slaves in Egypt, or Mitzrayim in Hebrew, where the Egyptians made them build their pyramids and the whole new cities of Pitom and Rameses. Despite the hard work and bad treatment, the Hebrews grew in strength, so much so that the new Pharaoh, which is what we call the king of Egypt, got nervous at their numbers. He declared that the newborn Hebrew males be thrown in the Nile River. But the Hebrew midwives Shifrah and Puah didn’t listen to his commands because they feared only in God. They saved many Hebrew babies.  

Miriam’s father was named Amram, her mother was Yocheved, and she had a brother named Aaron. Amram was a leader of the Jewish people, and there is a story that he responded to Pharaoh’s order by telling the Hebrews to stop producing any children at all. Miriam, his young daughter, said to him, “You’re even worse than Pharaoh because now there aren’t going to be any baby girls or boys born!”

Then Yocheved gave birth to a baby boy. She nursed him and cared for him, and kept him out of sight from the Egyptians. When the baby was three months old, Yocheved put him in a basket of reeds and tar and pitch and sent him down the Nile River. Miriam followed the basket and watched Pharaoh’s daughter, the princess, find the basket. The princess knew immediately that this was a Hebrew baby. Miriam bravely emerged from the bullrushes and said she knew of a Hebrew woman that could nurse and wean the baby. Then she would bring the baby back to the Princess so he could be raised in the palace.

Of course, that woman was her and the baby’s mother, Yocheved! Miriam’s baby brother grew up to be Moses, who would lead the Hebrews out of Egypt and to the Promised Land. We learned that Moses’ names means “to draw out”, because he was drawn out of the river.

We briefly touched on the story of the splitting of the Red Sea, which we will learn more about during our first Shabbat B’Yachad class. Then we watched part of a short video about Miriam’s role in the Jewish people’s story of Exodus.


Then learned about Sojourner Truth, whose statue is right across the street from where we’re sitting. Some of the students had heard of Sojourner Truth. We learned that a “sojourner” is a person who lives temporarily in a place. Abraham and Sarah also “sojourned” — they lived for a while in one place, then moved to another. So did the Hebrew people after they left Egypt, for 40 years in the desert.

Sojourner Truth chose her name for herself after she was freed. Her name when she was a slave was Isabella (Belle) Baumfree. During an era in which both racism and sexism were the norm in the country, Sojourner Truth insisted that black people should be treated as the equals of whites and that women deserved the same rights as men.

Sojourner Truth was born into slavery, and escaped to freedom with her baby. She found out that another one of her children, her young son, was illegally sold into slavery. She went to court (a new word to many of our students) and won her case. It was very unusual for a woman, let alone a black woman, to go to court and win!

We discussed why she might have described herself as a “sojourner” and what truth she might have wanted to share. The word “Emet” in Hebrew means truth, and it is a very important value to us.

We talked about the things that Miriam and Sojourner Truth’s stories had in common. In both stories, a son is saved by a strong and quick-thinking woman. Sojourner truth got her son back, and Miriam got her baby brother back for her mother. Both of them knew they had to speak up to do the right thing, and they had to be smart to come up with their plans.

Then we bundled ourselves up and joined Rabbi Riqi’s class and carefully walked across the street to see the Sojourner Truth statue up close. We talked about what we just learned in class, and listened to the older students read some passages by Sojourner Truth.


When we got back inside we had a late snack and continued on working on our art projects, tambourines to use during Shabbat B’Yachad. Miriam danced with tambourines and sang a song to exalt in God after the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea. We were so engrossed in our project that we set aside our Hebrew letter of the day, Daled, for another class!