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This Rosh Hashana, Be a Jewish Superhero!

by Ron Wolfson

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Rosh Hashana is a time for looking back on the year past, looking forward to the year ahead, and looking inward to figure out what we ought to be doing with our lives. As Jewish educators, the High Holy Days are a terrific time to encourage our students to do the same. What’s on your New Year “to-do list?” I hope it includes this: “Being a Jewish superhero!”

Superheroes are everywhere. This summer, it was “The Avengers” and “Batman.” Why are they so compelling? One reason is the fantasy of having superpowers; what kid doesn’t imagine how cool it would be to fly…or have superhuman strength…or to become invisible? Well, the superheroes of comic books and movies are, indeed, fantasies and their superpowers are not real. In Judaism, we are taught that God – The Superhero! – has given each of us “superpowers” to do the things that God needs us to do as God’s partners on earth. And these powers are real!

This is the pedagogic gambit in my new book, Be Like God: God’s To-Do List for Kids (Jewish Lights Publishing). Take one look at the super-cool cover and you’ll see that the book has a “superhero vibe.” It invites kids into a conversation with me that encourages kids 8-12 years old to build a relationship with God, to see themselves as God’s partners on earth.

This “seeing” begins with the notion that every human being is made “b’tzelem Elohim,” in the image of God. I explore that with the kids (one reviewer said I’m like a “friendly uncle” in the book) in a great exercise and then bring home the point that it means every one of us has the “spark of divinity” within. Our job, as Jewish educators, is to ignite that spark of divinity, to give kids the empowerment to feel that they themselves can be God's partners by using the “superpowers” God has given us.

Dr. Gabe Goldman teaches a great lesson in the book. The powerful gods in Greek mythology and native cultures never share their powers with mere human beings. Our God does. According to the Talmud, when Adam and Eve are afraid of the dark, God teaches them how to make fire. Similarly, the Rabbis teach that the way to build a relationship with God is to emulate God’s middot, God’s characteristics, God’s superpowers.

What are these superpowers? Just look at what God does in the Torah. What's the first thing God does? God creates. So if God is creative…and you're made in the image of God and you have the spark of divinity in you…then you can be creative, too! Be like God! What’s the next thing God does in Torah? God blesses…the animals, human beings, and Shabbat. You can bless, too! And so on…we learn about ten superpowers that God has given us to do the work of creation and repair on earth.

Once the kids have learned the Torah texts (presented in Hebrew, transliteration and translation) describing God’s superpowers, I offer them stories of kids their own ages doing great things with their powers. Like 8 year old Olivia, who used her superpower to “give” by asking friends to bring a frozen turkey as a present to her birthday party, and then donated the turkeys to a food bank. “Giving” was on her personal “God’s to-do list.” After suggesting ways to use their superpowers, I encourage kids to create their own “God’s to-do list.”

Throughout the book, I ask kids questions for reflection and there is space for them to write in their thoughts and ideas. In a sense, the book is both a text and workbook.

I am thrilled with the response to Be Like God, especially from kids. Eva Brous, 8 years old, wrote the best “blurb” for the book: “By page 13, I could tell this book was awesome. It's different from any other book I've personally have ever read.” Her Mom, Rabbi Sharon Brous, wrote: “It’s hard to say what delighted me more: reading this book as a rabbi or a mother.” You can use the book in class and as a resource for Jewish family education. The ten chapters are short reads and make for a nice unit. Jewish Lights offers a significant discount on multiple copy purchases of the book, so help build a Jewish library for kids and families. And, please let me know how you use the book and, especially, the kids’ reactions. Remember, you too are God’s partner on earth!

Shana tova u’metuka!
Dr. Ron Wolfson
Fingerhut Professor of Education
American Jewish University
rwolfson@ajula.edu


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