Friday, May 26, 2017

Shabbat Around the Table -- Bamidbar

This week we begin reading from the book of Bamidbar. In the first parsha, we learn about the descendants of Jacob and the 12 Tribes of Israel. This parsha provides us with a wonderful opportunity to talk about different kinds of Jews, different examples of Jewish culture, and different expressions of Jewish faith. 

Just like we want our children to know about and respect the religious and cultural differences of our friends and neighbors, we should also remember that within Judaism there is also quite a lot of ethnic and cultural diversity. Not all Jews eat gefilte fish! Instead of making a "traditional" Shabbat dinner complete with matzah ball soup and kugel, try experimenting with Jewish recipes from Morocco, Yemen, Argentina, or Italy. There's no better way to learn about a different culture than to eat its food!

Joan Nathan has a new cookbook that explores the world of Jewish food. Check out the link for recipes from Greece and Persia or to learn a little more about the evolution of Jewish food traditions. B'tayavon

Friday, May 19, 2017

Shabbat Around the Table -- B'har-B'chukkotai

On Shabbat, the seventh day, we rest. We refrain from work, work often being understood as the act of creating something, or changing or altering something in a fundamental way. We refrain from creating in order to give our minds and our bodies an opportunity to rest, relax, and rejuvenate.  Let's not forget that even God needed a day of rest after creating the world.

In this week's parshaB'har-B'chukkotai, we learn about Shmitah. We learn that even the earth needs a rest. Millennia before scientific research confirmed the importance of crop rotation, ancient Israelites were giving their fields a rest from planting and harvesting every seven years. Their fields would lie fallow for an entire year during Shmitah. This is both a simple act and a profound sacrifice, especially when you think about the practical implications in an early agrarian society. This is a beautiful lesson to teach children, and one easily done by marking off a spot in the yard or garden and saying, "This part of the earth gets a rest this year. We won't plant anything; we won't pull any weeds. It can just do it's own thing. The earth works hard for us, and it deserves a break every now and then just like we do."

Friday, May 12, 2017

Shabbat Around the Table -- Emor and Shabbat Ha-Malkah

In this week's parsha -- Emor -- God gives Moses the laws pertaining to our most important holidays: Rosh HaShanaYom KippurSukkot, Passover, Shavuot, and SHABBAT! In my opinion, the best thing about Shabbat is that it happens every week!

God tells us not to work on Shabbat, and the Temple service is described. But what you won't find in this parsha are commands to light candles or say kiddush overwine. Those are traditions that evolved later. Every now and then, my family stumbles across a custom that we love so much that we then incorporate it into our own traditional Shabbat meal. One of those is the poem by Chayim Nachman Bialik called Shabbat Ha-Malkah, or Shabbat Queen. Bialik lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and is considered a pioneer of Hebrew poetry. Not only do I think this is a beautifully descriptive poem, but I appreciate the feminine language. In my family, I recite it as the only woman at the table. I hope you like it, too.

Shabbat Ha-Malkah
The sun on the treetops no longer is seen.
Come, let us welcome Shabbat, the true Queen.
Behold her descending, the holy, the blessed,
and with her God's angles of peace and of rest.
Come now, dear Queen, with us abide.
Come now, come now, Shabbat, our Bride.
Shalom aleikhem, angels of peace.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Neurodevelopmental Science and Social-Emotional Development in Young Children

Shortly after Passover, I attended Children Together’s spring conference. I can’t describe Children Together any better than they do themselves, so let me quote directly from their website: “Children Together is a labor of love; a community based, non-profit organization committed to increasing opportunities for the inclusion of children with disabilities and their families in Alexandria’s quality early childhood programs.  Children Together seeks to connect families of children with disabilities to quality programs as well as to link staff who serve children with disabilities with needed resources in the community.

Children Together envisions a future where children with disabilities and their families are openly welcome into quality early childhood programs in Northern Virginia.  In this ideal future, the directors of early childhood programs would be knowledgeable of available community resources which support the education of children with disabilities; and all early childhood teachers would feel confident that they have the skills and support systems needed to successfully meet the special needs of all their students.”

This year’s conference, presented by Dr. Beth Tuckwiller from The George Washington University, was entitled Neurodevelopmental Science and Social-Emotional Development. The essential understanding was objectively simple but essential and profound. In order to be successful in the classroom, children need to form attachments with their teachers in ways that are similar to those they form with their parents. While nothing ever could or would replace the parent-child bond, the teacher-child bond is nevertheless crucial. Too often, classroom teachers focus too much on routines and procedures, which, to be fair, do serve an important purpose. But focusing on routines and procedures to the exclusion of building relationships can actually be counter-productive. If children love and trust their teacher, if they have a positive, authentic, and mutually respectful relationship with their teacher, children will be more likely and able to comply with their teacher’s requests, whether the request is to line up or count to ten. Children are able to learn only when they feel supported emotionally and socially.

Every single aspect of a child’s healthy development, including academic growth, involves a social component. There are always two people involved, and in a classroom, one of those people is always a teacher. To take the essential understanding a step farther, this means that when a teacher encounters a challenging child, one who doesn’t meet the typical expectations, the teacher needs think about what they are bringing to the relationship before they can even begin to think about what extra support the child might need. The more challenging the child, the greater the need for a stronger teacher-child bond. I am reminded of something Haim Ginott, the psychologist and educator, wrote: “I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”

Parents are always welcome to attend Children Together’s semi-annual conferences, and scholarships are available through the Anne Lipnick Parent Support Fund. Anne Lipnick (z”l), a beloved member of our congregation, was also a founding boarding member of Children Together in the early 1990s. Thanks to her unwavering commitment, hundreds of educators and parents continue to learn about best practices in educating and parenting. For more information, or to make a donation, please contact Carol Keller at 703-671-3939. Save the date for the fall conference: Thursday, October 19, 2017 from 4:00 – 7:00 pm. 

The Socially Awkward Person's Guide to Playing with Children

The title of this piece is a little misleading. It should be the "Any Adult Person's Guide to Playing with Children."  A...