Jewish Values 7th Grade B'nai

Mitzvah Workshop

 

Subject:  Jewish Values Workshop

Target:  7th Grade Students

Time Frame:  3 hours

Congregation:  United Hebrew Congregation

Contributor:  Rachel Persellin-Armoza

Overview

Seventh grade students and their parents discuss Jewish values and their applicability to current events.

Goals

To illustrate to students and parents, through a variety of engaging activities, the relevance of Jewish values and traditions in current happenings in the world and in their lives.

To highlight the importance of each individual’s contributions, as well as community efforts, on issues of social justice, and to emphasize the important role youth play in social action.

To encourage interaction and discussion between young teenagers and their parents on Jewish issues, and to promote further discussion in their homes.

Objectives

Students, their parents and other families compare different attitudes and approaches to observing the traditions of  Rosh Hashanah and other Jewish celebrations and values.

Participants discuss the response to and implications of Hurricane Katrina.  This can obviously be changed to whatever is current at the time of the workshop.

Families write down their thoughts and agree to discuss their writings within their families at a later date.

Target Population

This program is targeted for 7th grade Religious School students and their parents, with a total group size of about 50 participants.  Depending on the subject matter (this specific program highlighted Hurricane Katrina), the structure, length and varied programming could appeal to 5th-6th graders and up through high-school age students.

Location

This program can be held in an auditorium or classroom.   For part of the program, two rooms are needed when parents and students meet separately.

Staff and Specialists

United Hebrew Congregation has a Multigenerational Programming staff and a Religious School staff.  Both groups were involved in the planning process for this program.  UH Religious School also has on staff a 7th-9th grade coordinator who helps oversee classroom and supplementary activities.  The Jewish Values 7th Grade Workshop was facilitated by the Multigenerational Programming Coordinator.  Additional facilitators included the three 7th grade teachers who discussed the program with their students prior to the date of the activity.  The presence of the teachers provides a necessary element of familiarity and comfort for the students.

Program Activities

1.  The workshop begins with a Shehechiyanu prayer and a song, and follows with the Jewish Values pyramid activity.  Here each person gets his / her own pyramid and sheet of Jewish Values stickers.  Participants are instructed to read through the values, and rank them in order of personal importance (with the lower tiers intended for values  of lesser perceived importance, and the top tier reserved for the item with the highest perceived value.  The values covered issues concerning Jewish mitzvot, Israel, intermarriage, college education, personal characteristics and more..  Students and their parents compare results, and whoever would like can share their pyramid with the group.

2.  The next activity is a four-corners game.  All participants gather on one side of the auditorium, and are asked to choose how they feel Rosh Hashanah should be observed. There are four signs posted in different “corners” of the room, and people choose the corner that best represents their views.  The four options are:  1)  On Rosh Hashanah, we should go to school as usual;  2)  On Rosh Hashanah, we should go to High Holiday services.;  3)  On Rosh Hashanah, we stay home from school and relax;  4)  On Rosh Hashanah, we should go to services, and afterward it’s OK to go to the mall. 

A discussion follows the results of this exercise.

One can have a brief break here. 

3.  Parents and their children are separated for this next activity. This is a discussion regarding the response to and implications of Hurricane Katrina.  This twenty-five minute segment included reading aloud a poem by Rabbi Naomi Levy, sharing fears and concerns, and discussing responsibility as human beings and as Jews to assist victims of the disaster.

4.  The group came back together, and teens and parents briefly shared some thoughts from their discussions.  Families then wrote some of their thoughts down in personal letters, and agreed to discuss their writings within their families at a later date.  The program concluded with a closing circle, and people summarized some of their feelings about the morning’s events.

Budget

The cost for the Jewish Values 7th Grade Workshop includes supplies, folders, handouts, laminating of signs, and refreshments.

Suggestions

Immediately following the event, facilitators informally talked with families to assess their response to the program.  The following week in class, teachers and students discussed the workshop.  People appreciated the activities planned, even though the subject matter (Hurricane Katrina) was a bit too uncomfortable for some of the young people.  People did leave with their folders and materials, and this was encouraging.  During the discussion segments of the program, it was much easier to encourage the students to participate and voice their thoughts than their parents.  One parent said: “Thank you for making me spend time with my adolescent”.  

The most popular activity of the morning was the four-corners game.  It seemed that the least popular activity for families was composing the letters and agreeing to discuss them at home later.  Some families struggled with putting together a letter, and several participants expressed doubts regarding actually sitting down as a family to readdress the issues in their letters.  During the week, several parents stopped by the Religious School office and expressed their positive reactions to the workshop.  As mentioned, this was the first B’nai Mitzvah workshop of the year, and it was a good way for families to begin bonding into a group as they looked ahead to the next series of workshops.  This workshop is already in place on the UH calendar for the coming year, and while many of the activities and the basic format remain the same, a new central topic for discussion will be chosen.

References and Resources

Text suggestions:

The Mekorot, holy books, such as the Torah, Pirkei Avot (The Sayings of the Sages), and the Talmud.

Books:

Talking to God:  Personal Prayers for Times of Joy, Sadness, Struggle, and Celebration, by Rabbi Naomi Levy, Image Publishing (2003) .