April 14, 2024
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Hebrew School Curriculum Celebrates Diversity of Jewish Culture

Hebrew teacher Chana Zinstein, of Temple Emanuel of Pascack Valley, recently developed a new curriculum that explores the similarities and differences between Sephardic and Ashkenazi holiday minhagim, and how Jews from both Israel and the diaspora celebrate the holidays.

With the help of Temple Emanuel Principal Rabbi Shelley Kniaz, Mrs. Zinstein was able to put together the curriculum through the organization Center for Israel Education during a workshop in Los Angeles last November. Mrs. Zinstein introduced the curriculum to her students around Purim time, and plans to further implement it in the upcoming school year.

The goal of CIE is to advance the study of modern Israel for students in North America, and the curriculum had to have a Zionist message in order to be approved by the cohort. Participants in the five-day workshop took part in a variety of learning sessions that emphasized learning techniques related to Israeli politics, history and culture.

The curriculum, which can be tailored for Hebrew school students from third to seventh grade, delves into the difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews and the customs that come with each culture.

Mrs. Zinstein found many different minhagim during the Pesach celebration, and saw that holiday as a perfect example of Judaism’s cultural diversity. She pointed out specific differences for her students to grasp. “I go through the entire seder and Haggadah and explain how things are different,” she said.

For example, Persian Jews have a custom to hit each other with scallions during Dayenu to symbolize the whippings our Jewish ancestors endured during their time as slaves in Egypt. Mrs. Zinstein spoke with Jews who personally practiced these customs to gain an authentic view of how they are celebrated.

Mrs. Zinstein, who has been teaching at Temple Emanuel in Woodcliff Lake for about eight years, also included Israel in the curriculum’s central theme. She included videos and timelines of Indian Jews, for example, who have moved to Israel and how Israeli culture has melded in with their holiday customs. She also has an interactive Smart Board lesson that helps teach the students different holiday customs in each of the four different regions of Israel.

The goal is to highlight that despite the differences in each sect of Judaism, the meaning behind each custom is ultimately the same. She wanted to use this curriculum to stress how special Israel is to the Jewish people and to emphasize a love of yiddishkeit in her students. “We may look different, speak different languages or do things differently,” Mrs. Zinstein said, “but the core is still the same.”

By Elizabeth Zakaim

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