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Learning Leading to Action

by Shana Zionts, Coalition Educator

Picture this: it’s two weeks after Hurricane Sandy, and the 7th graders of Havurat Torah are sitting in a circle sharing their experiences in the storm. Rabbi Goldman and I introduce our new unit in our year of learning about hesed and tikkun olam – providing homes for those in need. It’s a timely topic as we share stories of staying in hotels and friends in other areas of New York who were still without power.

We spent our time together than evening talking about our Jewish history as a homeless people (during the Exodus from Egypt, the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, pre-State of Israel, etc), and we played a game that illustrated the idea of what it means to be a wandering people, searching for a home. We studied Jewish texts together, arguing over whether Vayikra 25:35 is really telling us that we need to open our homes to strangers, or if this is a metaphor for helping those who are need. We argued passionately about these texts in a “fishbowl,” taking turns observing and participating in the conversation.

Was this a powerful learning experience? Definitely. Was it enough? No.

The following week, we made our own mezuzot, which are being donated to Jewish communities in Long Island, the Rockaways, and New Jersey through the organization NECHAMA, as a symbolic gesture of support during this difficult time. The next week we volunteered at Kids Kloset, which not only provides clothing for local kids in need, but is also dedicated to donating clothing to kids whose families were affected by the storm.

PictureOur sages teach us, “study is great, for it leads to action” (Kiddushin 40b). This is the underlying principle of the Havurat Torah 7th grade program. For each unit, our learning is grounded in Jewish texts, allowing learners the opportunity to engage in conversation with one another and with our tradition. Then, we leave Temple Israel Center and venture out into the world to put our learning into action. We partnered with Eden Village Camp to cut down our carbon footprint by making bicycle-powered smoothies. We went to the JCC of Mid-Westchester to meet with a chef who helped us cook a meal for a homeless shelter. At the end of December, we’ll visit seniors at the Esplanade and hear their stories about how they’ve changed the world in their lifetimes.

Neither learning nor action can take place in a vacuum; one without the other wouldn’t be nearly as meaningful. I’m looking forward to another exciting semester of learning and action with the 7th graders in Havurat Torah.

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