Simanim for a Sweet New Year with Jewish Learning Works

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We recently collaborated with JewishLearningWorks on a day of reflection in preparation for the High Holidays, and I’d love to tell you about it! Our workshop was the second element of a day that began with text study with Rachel Brodie, the Senior Educator for the Jewish Studio Project. We both tracked the theme of Hachanah - preparation. During the Atiq creation portion, we considered the question: What do YOU need to prepare for the coming year, not only to be your best self, but to be your best self in community, in relationship - with friends, family, the world, the Divine? If you were going to focus on ONE thing, what would that be?

There’s this tradition to eat Simanim during the night meals of Rosh Hashana, foods that have symbolic significance (often arising from a play on words with the food name) that points towards a particular prayer or blessing for the new year.

To bring our reflections on our ONE thing we were preparing into the real world we ventured to create our own unique simanim, symbolic items that we might use (but probably not eat!) to serve as touchstones for that preparation, and for crossing the threshold (as Rachel put it) into the year ahead.

I don’t have all the photos from the event yet, so I can’t share pics of everyone’s beautiful creations, but I can describe! One person made a sweet little finger pull game (you know the kind that you get your fingers stuck in the more you pull?) that he intended for use by two people, to remind him to bring connection and playfulness into the new year. Another made a sort of worry stone to hold in her pocket that had some words of prayer made in wire, felt and thread.

On thing that I forgot in the workshop (aaargh!!!) but will encourage you to do should you create your own siman for the new year: compose a little intention or prayer to accompany however you might interact with your creation! The traditional ones begin with Yehi Ratzon Milphanecha - May it be your will, our God and the God of our ancestors - you can begin yours in whatever way feels most at home for you!

What’s your ONE thing that is you’d like to prepare to be most healthfully yourself, in relationship, in this new year?

Collaborative Torah Portion Crankie

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Have you ever heard of a crankie? I was first introduced to the concept of these awesome moving storytelling contraptions (actually not unlike a Sefardi Torah scroll!) by Risa Lenore, of Jelly Jam Time, and was delighted when a few of my summer colleagues at the Brandeis Collegiate Institute (BCI) proposed trying our hand at making our own version.

Every Shabbat at BCI includes a creative rendering of the traditional weekly Torah service, in which one portion (of the 52 total) of the Torah is read in Synagogue. We figured we’d experiment with bringing the Torah reading - that week was the portion of Balak - into the form of a creative performance, accompanied by our crankie!

After creating the initial structure of the crankie, we worked with a small group of participants to distill the story into discreet chunks or phrases, that we then transferred on to cardboard cards. (The basic story: Balam - man who speaks to God - is summoned by Balak - Moabite king - to go curse the Jewish people in the wilderness. After Balam’s donkey verbally clues him in to the presence of a threatening angel in his path, a chastened Balam continues on his way, and ends up blessing the Jews instead of cursing them, including one of the most well known phrases - Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov - How goodly are your tents o’ Jacob. But unfortunately the Jewish people brought a plague upon themselves by acting in immoral ways. Oof.)

Outside of the dining hall, we rolled out two long rolls of white butcher paper, along the course of which we placed watercolor paints and brushes, as well as the Torah portion cards that detailed the story in 14 parts. We invited everyone in the BCI community - participants, staff, staff kids, visitors - to take a few minutes before or after a meal to sit and contribute their painted interpretation of a section of the Torah portion.

Once the two scrolls were nicely filled out, we attached them to the crankie. After a bit of practice, we were ready for showtime during the Shabbat Torah service! One of the things we puzzled about was how to include the last section (about the Jewish people bringing a plague on themselves/ourselves) without it being a huge bummer, but authentically representing the whole Torah portion. In the end, we concluded with this thought (contributed by Michelle Brint), and a request:

Perhaps blessings are always effective, but maybe significantly less so when they are from afar, when they don’t take into account your specific needs, your specific struggles. So we should take the opportunity to bless when we are close, when we can see in greater detail the needs and struggles of each other. So we asked people to turn to the person next to them, and say one or a few things that they felt they needed blessing around, and the person listening would offer a blessing – from close – to them.

How about you? Have you ever received a blessing that was particularly meaningful to you? Do you have any sort of blessing practice in your life?

Living Prayer - Atiq at BCI

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The Brandeis Collegiate Institute (BCI) is an intensive learning and arts summer program outside of LA for young Jewish adults ages 20-29, from all around the world. There are five Jewish learning tracks that meet every the morning, and five arts workshops every the afternoon (participants join a consistent cohort for learning and arts, respectively, for the whole summer); Atiq went on the road to BCI this summer to facilitate one of the arts workshop tracks!

For our time at BCI, I had this dream that we could create a tactile, interactive experience of prayer by creating sacred objects aligned with and inspired by each of the key elements of traditional morning prayer (morning prayer, Shacharit, is in a certain sense an archetype for all other liturgical prayer). I was hoping we could weave together a focus on fixed/liturgical prayer and personal/spontaneous prayer.


Morning Blessings/ Birchot Hashachar - Liturgical

We began this sacred tinkering experiment with each pair/chevrutah of participants working on a different morning blessing. The morning blessings are one of the first primary elements of traditional Jewish prayer. In Kabbalistic thought they’re connected to the world of Asiya - the world of action, of particular attention to the body, the physical world. Morning blessings are an opportunity to express gratitude in that arena, as well as a sense of hope, aspiration and compassion. Each pair of participants worked with their assigned/chosen blessing through movement, drawing, and sound exercises and then brought those to bear in the creation of an automata (a simple machine that uses motion to convey a story or emotion) inspired by their blessing. It always feels pretty magical to experience how truly minimal, simple motion can be so evocative, and that was indeed the case with these Morning Blessing automata (automatas?).

Morning Blessings/ Birchot Hashachar - Personal

Part B of our Morning Blessings section involved creating personal morning blessings and objects. We’d been using Lynda Barry’s journaling method, which I love, where you simply gather data about your day (7-10 things I did today, 7-10 things I saw today, a drawing of something I saw, a snippet of something I heard someone say...) so we surveyed what the first 2-3 items were in our “what I did today” lists, and tried to create something that honored or elevated, brought more thoughtfulness or gratitude to one of our typical modes for beginning the day. The form of the blessing and of the interactive object was completely open - no specific parameters. We ended up with a special box to put a natural treasure in - a mini sanctuary; a series of different trees towards the prayer “grow where you’re planted”; a meditation sign on the gift of music; a food basket for the car to hold snacks for homeless people; a tiara for centering appreciation of animate and less-obviously-animate worlds.

Verses of Song or Pruning / Psukei D’Zimra

The second major element of morning prayer is the Psukei D’Zimra, which translates to either verses of song or verses of pruning (like pruning a plant or a tree). This section of Shacharit is kabbalistically associated with the world of Yeztirah, which is rooted in emotion. It is an encounter with many psalms and other verses of praise for the Divine, aimed at either elevating our appreciation of Divinity as expressed in this world, or at clearing our hearts (pruning), to allow for greater attunement to the Godly presence.

Our work for this section focused on the pillars of Psukei D’Zimra - Baruch She’Amar, Ashrei, and Yishtabach. We reflected on arenas of experience that have connected each of us to a sense of Divinity, awe, wonder. We brought these into the physical realm through methods of embellishing and cutting away - papercutting, block print making, pop ups, and other forms of paper engineering - all designed to heighten a sense of glory, royalty, awe.

Shema and Associated Blessings

Shema and associated blessings before and after is the third major element of morning prayer. Kabbalistically this section is connected to the world of Beriah - intellectual, cerebral understanding. The first verse - Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad - Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One - is one of the most widely known verses of Jewish prayer and belief. It has associations of being both a very personal intimate prayer, and also a prayer of communal connection and belonging. To reflect that, we did a variety of exercises to arrive at our own personal and communal pathways within Shema - we cycled through declaiming the Shema to individual people in our group, using their own name in place of the more general/communal “Yisrael” (ie, Shema, Adina, Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Eched) - this exercise was imagined by Reb Zalman Schachter Shalomi, of blessed memory, and was suggested to me by Yoel Sykes - may he live and be well!; we also share our own memories and associations with hearing, learning, and saying the Shema. We then used a “Yes, And” approach, borrowed from the improv comedy/improv theater world, to collaboratively answer the question: What are we making that helps us and others inhabit the space and sensability of the Shema? Then, we set our intention: We trusted each other to put these items on this list, without editing or erasing, and now we can trust each other to create the physical expression of this list, in whatever way that needs to manifest. We worked alone and together, but always with the surrounding intention of collaborative yes and-ing with no need to shut any ideas down, but instead to work from an assumption that we were all on the inside, on the level.

Silent Standing Prayer / Amidah

The fourth primary element of morning prayer is the Amidah - Standing Prayer also called Shmoneh Esrei (the prayer of 18, or in reality, 19, blessings). The Amidah can be considered the pinnacle of prayer, and is Kabbalistically associated with the world of Atzilut - complete intuitive connection and presence with the Divine. We brought this sensibility and intention to the process of designing and building our interactive, immersive experience, and also included it as a distinct element at the end of the experience. As visitors/pray-ers arrived at the threshold to emerge from the Living Prayer experience, they arrived at the Amidah section, which included a gateway of precisely braided threads, representing the 19 blessings of the Shmoneh Esrai, and as they emerged into the fresh air and sunshine, were encouraged to pause for a moment of standing silent prayer before reconnecting with the world around them.

Chagigah - Arts Celebration

Our Living Prayer experience touched off Chagigah at BCI, a powerful opportunity to experience the culmination of work from each of the five arts workshops. We were so delighted to be able to invite all the BCI participants and staff into this opportunity for sacred attunement, as the entry way to all of the creative offerings that evening. So honored to get to share our work with you now in this space!

You still here? Can I tell you the best part? Remember I said at the way beginning that I had a dream of creating a tactile, interactive experience of the arc of morning prayer? I didn’t exactly convey the fullness of this dream to workshop participants - it felt like it would be too overwhelming to try to lay out some grand plan. So after giving just a taste of prayerful progressions by playing the Arba Bavos, a lengthy and revered four part Chabad melody, and following that with Bohemian Rhapsody, by Queen (ok, I recognize that considering these both forms of prayer is a bit whacky), we set off into the tinkering and making for each section of morning prayer.

By the time we got to the work of putting it all together to share our work for Chagigah, I watched and listened in amazement as my students began creating their own version of my dream. With minimal facilitation from me, they engaged in a continuous process of making space for each other’s ideas - including, by the end, spray painted walls that mapped our theme for summer - Talmudic sage Hillel’s three part teaching of “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?; If I am only for myself, what am I?; If not now, when?” - on to the progression of morning prayer. In doing so they brought to life an immersive instillation that was better than a dream (real life basically always is), and was a version of the best kind of communal prayer - space for individual expression, creativity, connection, but with the energy that results from shared journey towards relationship with the Divine.

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Love and endless gratitude to the participants of the BCI/Atiq Tinkering Workshop: Valerie Brown, Kanaan Goldstein, Eliana Schnulner, Emily Resnik, Olya Malov, Revital Moses, Pam Green, Oliver Pemberton, Shirel Buechler, and Alexa Vecchio; and of course, to the Source of creativity and prayer.

Atiq Hanukat Habayit - Studio Housewarming Party

Getting to officially kick off our work in our new studio space with sweet friends learning Zelda poems (translated by Berkeley native Marcia Falk), reflecting on the gifts, struggles and hopes of ancestors, making block print blessings inspired by those poems, and eating yerushalmi kugel, bourekas and babka, was pretty darn dreamy. Special shout out to Atiq Rabbi-in-Residence Ariel Evan Mayse for his key role in overseeing the unofficial children's programming, and to Atiq Creative Director Rachel Bickel for helping with every aspect of setup and cleanup, and ya know, for being in Berkeley for this! Can't wait to see the fruits of this space in the upcoming year, and looking forward to welcoming you here!

Photos by Hagit Caspi and Adina Polen

Poetic Automata with Wonderful Idea Co. at Maker Faire Bay Area

Maker Faire workshop in collaboration with the Wonderful Idea Co. was just breathtaking in its quiet loveliness. Amidst a fabulous carnival like/world’s fair atmosphere (e.g. a brass marching band wove through through the large tent where the workshop spaces were located), we focused on the theme of Attention, read poetry by Mary Oliver and Czesław Miłosz (the Miłosz poem a beloved one learned from my Esti and Elisha’s (my sis and brother-in-law) wedding invitation). We created our own unique erasure poetry on the foundation of a prose essay by Mary Oliver, and shared our reflections b’chevrutah, in learning pairs. On that foundation we designed automata with wood and wire and words and bits of other materials to convey something from the poems. And then we shared our gallery of poem artifacts, listening and looking with attention while the activity in the big tent buzzed around us.

Check out the Wonderful Idea Co.’s write up of this workshop here for their take!

Celebrating at the Trees’ Party - Limmud Seattle

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Tu B'Shvat begins a new arc of the year, which leads us back to the beginning, to Rosh Hashanah, the New Year for the world (as celebrated in Judaism). By learning more about the tree-ness, and the celebration of the New Year for trees that is at the center of our Tu B'Shavt observance, we can place ourselves more fully at this juncture in the year and move forward from there in a meaningful way. 

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How do we celebrate tree-ness, and what is the significance of doing so? The parable in Gemara Ta'anit tells of a person considering what blessing to give to a tree, a blessing that would truly be of benefit to the tree. The person takes time to consider what nice qualities the tree already has, and therefore which blessings would be redundant. Considered and rejected options: Sweet fruit? Pleasant shade? A stream of fresh water nearby? These things the tree already has. Finally the person settles on a blessing that all saplings grown from this tree should be like the tree. In essence, the person is saying, in order to be able to truly bless you, I had to really be present to what you're all about, who you really are and what gifts and blessings you already have. And when I found that you are essentially perfectly yourself, with no need of any improvement, I know I should bless you that your saplings be like you. Really, the true blessing, and the true relationship upon which the blessing is based, arises from the time and care and attention taken to see the other, to truly take them in, with no preconceived notions or requirements.

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In the workshop, we tried to do that for the trees by choosing one tree from a selection of photographs of Berkeley and Seattle trees, and creating that tree in paper form, and then reflecting on what we perceived or noticed through that act of seeing through making.

We’re so like trees in some ways and so different in other ways. Through verses in the Torah we see how much we aspire to be like trees and are also called to be stewards of the trees who are in some sense defenseless against humans. Trees have their own umwelt, (a term coined by Jakob von Uexküll, which I learned through the amazing book The View from the Oak), their own unique context through which they experience the world By showing up as guests at the trees’ party, we exercise our ability to be present to those who are both so like ourselves and also so other (whether trees, humans, or anything else) in a way that celebrates connection and true distinctions as the same time.

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And then by decentralizing ourselves as humans at the New Year for the trees, we are better positioned to progress more meaningfully towards the increasing particularity - as humans and as a Jewish people - of Purim, and Passover, and Shavuot, and Tisha B’Av and eventually towards the next arc of the year at Rosh Hashanah.

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This workshop, and Tu B’shvat itself, coincided with MLK day this year. While I didn't make the explicit connection to MLK day (I’m always hoping people will arrive at these and other connections organically, but should probably be more direct about it) I think there’s a lot here regarding the humility, patience, and attention required to be a diverse healthy community, where our experiences, even our umwelts are often overlapping but also have areas that are quite distinct.

Make Hanukkah Summit

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Make Hanukkah Summit - an incredible experiment, every step of the way. After getting postponed due to the terrible wildfires in Northern California, we were grateful to arrive at the day we had planned for so long!

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Summit participants chose one of four maker workshops, which were each designed and led by a team of an artist/maker and a scholar of Jewish text.

Workshop 1: Radiating Light - with Adina Polen and Ariel Mayse

Through selected Hasidic texts, and creating papercut lanterns, we will focused on the illumination of the menorah as embodying the "hidden light" of creation described in Jewish traditions and considered how this light can reveal the hidden miracles concealed in the ordinary world, and in ourselves. Thinking about the mitsvah of pirsumei nissa, of publicizing the miracle of Hanukkah and making it known to others, we considered how our inner qualities do -- or do not -- radiate outward into the public sphere as radical expressions of love and courage. Such reflections, embodied in our lanterns, were directed at guiding us to become storytellers and shapers of history through the act of making.

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Workshop 2: A New Spin on Dreidle: Breaking and Remaking an Old Game with Natan Kuchar and Peretz Wolf-Prusan

Abraham Joshua Heschel encourages us to face the world from a stance of radical amazement. Participants in this workshop investigated Heschel's concepts of radical amazement and wonder, and applied them to create unique dreidle game play surfaces. Constructed with collaged textures, text, photos, mixed media, these served as a reflective artistic creation and a useable (foldable) board that elevates a holiday amusement to a shared activity that promotes dialogue, connection and reflection in community. This board ultimately disrupts the narrative we have heard in the past about the dreidle game, and encourages behaviors that are the reversal of the losing/winning goals the traditional game incites.

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Photo by Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz

Photo by Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz

Photo by Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz

Photo by Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz

Workshop 3: On the Spirituality of Descent with Yosef Rosen and Aliza Weiss

To explore the Hanukkah theme of "we ascend in holiness and we do not descend in holiness" workshop participants looked at mystical texts that navigate the value of making occasional "descents," where we embrace the difficult parts of ourselves and the world around us. We then explored the kinetics and mechanics of descent & ascent by making paper circuit creations. This was a chance to integrate our mind, heart, and hands!

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Photo by Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz

Photo by Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz

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Workshop 4: Flickering Candles: Recasting the Hanukkah Story through Shadow Puppetry with Deena Aranoff and Daniel Barash

This workshop explored the many ways of telling the Hanukkah story. Participants dived into the living art of story-telling and the living symbolism of the Jewish holidays themselves. We began with an exploration of the four paradigmatic modes in which the Hanukkah tale is often told. We then created shadow puppets to bring our own versions of the Hanukkah story "to life" on the shadow puppet screen. Participants came away from the workshop with a new kind of storytelling practice and beautiful personal shadow puppet theater that can become part of family holiday celebrations for years to come.

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Photo by Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz

Photo by Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz

Photo by Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz

Photo by Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz

Photo by Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz

Photo by Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz

Photo by Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz

Photo by Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz

Photo by Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz

Photo by Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz

The Make Hanukkah Summit was an experiment in shared investigation into a Jewish holiday along different pathways, and involving the collaborative wisdom of scholars, maker/artist educators, and the community. Its ultimate placement on the second to last day of Hanukkah allowed it to be one final immersion in the spirit and themes of the holiday. It was everything we imagined, but in real life, because of these specific magnificent human beings who gathered and learned together, was so much more. We’re so excited to continue experimenting with this conference/summit format in the future, and we’re excited for the reverberations from this making and learning to make their way out into the world, and ever deeper within us...

All workshop descriptions adapted from the descriptions written by their respective facilitators. All photos by Adina Polen unless otherwise noted.

Digging Wells with Pardes

Small but super sweet Atiq + Pardes gathering this past Thursday night, where visiting educator Rav Alex Israel helped us truly see the unique personality of the biblical Isaac. We focused on Isaac’s tenacity in digging and re-digging wells, and his commitment to place, to sticking it out and making it work one way or another. We brought that learning into our own muscle memory by choosing a subject to draw or make in 3D form and returning to create the same subject over and over again. We then reflected: when did we notice ourselves getting bored, going deeper, finding another way to express the same things. So grateful for this amazing opportunity to collaborate with the Pardes Insitute!

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Parsha painting inspired by the Atiq/Pardes event…

Parsha painting inspired by the Atiq/Pardes event…

Tinkering and Making at Edah

One incredibly exciting direction Atiq has taken this year is our collaborations with other local Jewish organizations. Rabbi Yoshi Fenton is the Executive Director of Studio 70 - A Learning Laboratory, the org that runs the Edah afterschool program, among other Jewish education related activities, and is always on the lookout for ways to expand and deepen the ways that Edah invites learners into Jewish tradition. So when Yoshi called us at Atiq to suggest that perhaps we could adapt our typical program (multi-age geared towards ages 10-adult; around 3 hrs per workshop), to work within their framework (multi-age kindergarten-6th grade; rotating groups of students who may be with us anywhere from 15-30 minutes at a time; 2 days a week every week), I knew we were in for experimenting within a space of mystery. And so, amidst weeks interwoven with holiday after holiday, we dove in, and began to tinker.

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Our first arc of learning tracked beginnings - the first actions of creation, as well as the start of the new year. Week 1/Creation: We explored the first verse in the Torah which speaks of dividing (and implicitly, of connecting) as one of the first motions of creation, and so we ourselves divided with scissors or tearing, and connected things with various forms of glue and tape. We used a small selection of basic materials - glue, paper, scissors, tape - to really put the focus firmly on attending to what we were noticing, learning from the materials themselves. We asked the materials, what are you capable of, what do you want to do or be, or would you rather not do or be? What can I do with you?

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Second week which also coincided with the week of Rosh Hashanah: a forsaken grand piano became the landscape for exploring the New Year, and RHs other names of Kesah (eg hidden, the holiday that occurs when the moon is completely hidden), Yom Hadin (day of judgement) and Yom Hazikaron (day of remembering). We explored those concepts as we thought of ourselves as individuals entering the new year by asking as we tinkered with the piano: what does this contain? How might we dismantle this without breaking it, in order to possibly build it back up in a new way?

Our third week, as we approach Yom Kippur, brought us to the topic of collaboration: Who can we be with someone else that we couldn’t be ourselves? Edahnicks (ie program participants) were tasked with creating a contraption that could only work with two people (eg like those tin can walkie-talkies).

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Sukkot took us into exploring what it looks like to work on a collaborative project designed to create a space for sacred gathering as a community.

Can’t wait for new adventures in the weeks ahead. Post-chagim we will be tinkering and creating within longer thematic arcs - looking forward to sharing more when we dive into that! 

Blessing each other into the new year

Our pre-Yom Kippur workshop, generously hosted at Studio 70 (which houses the Edah afterschool prorgam) was a sweet window of creative spiritual preparation in an otherwise incredibly busy and potentially hectic feeling time of year. It was also our first workshop inhabiting our new name - Atiq: Jewish Maker Institute, and an experiment with fulfilling one of our meta-goals at Atiq - multi-generational contexts where people of all ages and all stages of life can all feel included and valued, in learning and creating and playing together (in this instance we had makers ages 7-ish and up, while younger participants were mostly in the on-site babysitting, except when they toddled over to contribute their own artistic experiments, or an occasional cry for a parent's attention). 

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This workshop focused on the power of blessing and in particular, a really special blessing whose arrival I eagerly await each year, but is not especially well known.


First, a bit of background: On Friday nights, around the Shabbat table, some parents have the custom to bless their children. "May you be blessed like Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah (for a girl)/ May you be blessed like Ephraim and Menashe (for a boy); May God bless and protect you, may God's radiant face shine upon you and regard you with favor, may God turn God's face towards you and grant you peace."


As Yom Kippur approaches there is also a custom for parents to bless their kids, and the traditional blessing begins with the same format as the version on Shabbat. On Yom Kippur, though, the blessing continues in rich detail, with prayers for all sorts of spiritual and physical aspirations for the year ahead.


Every year, at some point in the afternoon before Yom Kippur, I receive this blessing from my parents (ok, really from my dad, but my mom is for sure included in spirit, even while she is actually cooking the pre-fast meal). There are some years where this happens in person, and some years that I listen to the blessing over the phone. Either way, once I've received my pre-Yom Kippur blessing, I feel that I'm standing a bit taller, I have a greater sense of focused energy with which to enter the inspiring but also arduous hours of Yom Kippur. In fact, it often feels like the energy I receive from the one minute pause in the rush of a day preparing everything before the fast reverberates to carry me through the entire year ahead.

How, I've been wondering, can one blessing carry with it so much energy-giving power? When I reflected on what text I might share in our workshop, it was the words of this blessing that stood out in my memory, more than any others that we say in the liturgy of Yom Kippur (beautiful as those are). Why?

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This workshop was a sustained reflection on those questions. Rabbi Nehemia Polen (my dad, a professor at Hebrew College, but more relevant for this purpose, Atiq's Director of Content), has noted that "blessing is not the time to impose our desires and expectations. So what is being conveyed? Acknowledgement, regard, a sense that I value you, I trust you, I put the future in your hands, I see an abundance of great possibilities for you."


While the special "Children's blessing" before Yom Kippur is generally recited by parents to the children in their nuclear family, we broadened our focus to include anyone in the role of parent or child, or really anyone who wishes to access the power of blessing -- either as a giver or a receiver. Our tradition teaches (see, eg. the Piacetzner Rebbe, Eish Kodesh parshat Hukat) that a parent is anyone who teaches Torah or something of value to another person, and a child is someone who continues the legacy or project of someone who could not complete it themselves. In a sense we are all trading off these roles all the time.

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Working in hevrutah pairs, we learned through the text of the blessing, and each person highlighted words that they felt particularly drawn to as yearnings for the new year, or added words or prayers that resonated more personally.

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Hevrutah partners then swapped pages, such that now my hevrutah had my page of highlighted words, and I had theirs. The prompt for creating: weave those resonant words, those specific points of focus into a visual blessing for your hevrutah that they will then carry with them into the year.
And so we dropped into an hour of thinking, and tinkering, investigating textures and smells (I've begun to include a selection of spices in our materials for workshops), and interviewing/asking refining questions of our hevrutas ("when you said 'facing what's really there' I noticed you used the word appreciation a lot..."), and pausing for the occasional puzzle making with younger siblings. 

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By the end we had created 10 specially designed blessing-gifts to share with our hevrutah partners, and say (whether explicitly or implicitly) something along the lines of: I appreciate you, I wish for you the best that your heart imagines and even more, the world needs your unique contributions, and you are truly valuable!

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A quick overview of the creations: A lot of people highlighted the words Yehi Mekorcha/Mekorech Baruch - May your source be blessed, and reflected on when what's at the source is blessed, then everything that follows from that is also blessed.

Daniel created a sign for Elijah, incorporating Elijah's favorite navy blue color.

Daniel created a sign for Elijah, incorporating Elijah's favorite navy blue color.

Elijah created a contraption with a colorful sphere that moves and is attached by a string to a watercolor painted disk at the top. This one really reminded me of a Hasidic story about a Rebbe that was slipping down an ice-covered mountain in Russia as he was trying to get down to dunk in the mikvah (maybe before Yom Kippur). When he returned unscathed his followers asked him how he hadn't gotten injured in the fall, and he responded, when you're holding on to the rope that's connected up above, you don't slip (ie, when you're connected to God, you aren't impacted in the same way by physical "realities").

Elijah created a contraption with a colorful sphere that moves and is attached by a string to a watercolor painted disk at the top. This one really reminded me of a Hasidic story about a Rebbe that was slipping down an ice-covered mountain in Russia as he was trying to get down to dunk in the mikvah (maybe before Yom Kippur). When he returned unscathed his followers asked him how he hadn't gotten injured in the fall, and he responded, when you're holding on to the rope that's connected up above, you don't slip (ie, when you're connected to God, you aren't impacted in the same way by physical "realities").

Liora's chosen words included a prayer for income security and Asher thoughtfully created a structure that she could metaphorically stand in, where he imagined that from that vantage point she could receive what she was praying for. Which felt so insightful, and reminded me of this notion that we need the kli, the appropriate vessel before we can truly receive a blessing.

Liora's chosen words included a prayer for income security and Asher thoughtfully created a structure that she could metaphorically stand in, where he imagined that from that vantage point she could receive what she was praying for. Which felt so insightful, and reminded me of this notion that we need the kli, the appropriate vessel before we can truly receive a blessing.

Asher's words (inspired by the Children's blessing, and with some of his own) were "desire for Torah and Mitzvot...and time to play!" so Liora created him an amazing clock with components representing all of those elements.

Asher's words (inspired by the Children's blessing, and with some of his own) were "desire for Torah and Mitzvot...and time to play!" so Liora created him an amazing clock with components representing all of those elements.

Raizy created an interpretation of the many positive directions that can develop out of being blessed at the source, and included little bags of spices along with each of those metaphorical blessings on this interactive wall hanging, with a blue background evoking water.

Raizy created an interpretation of the many positive directions that can develop out of being blessed at the source, and included little bags of spices along with each of those metaphorical blessings on this interactive wall hanging, with a blue background evoking water.

Andrea, woking with the same theme, created a mug coaster, that was filled with hidden and revealed spices, which would waft out fragrance when the were warmed when a mug of tea or coffee was placed on them.

Andrea, woking with the same theme, created a mug coaster, that was filled with hidden and revealed spices, which would waft out fragrance when the were warmed when a mug of tea or coffee was placed on them.

Ezra's words included time learning MIshnah (he and Ariel have recently started that), an elephant and just enjoying creating and being alive, so Ariel created a diorama including a six petaled flower, representing the six books of mishnah, with spices at the center which you encounter when the petals of the flower open, and two trees that can also be seen as one, representing the Torah as the tree of life (which in Hasidic thought is also seen as ultimately the same as the tree of knowledge)...and of course an elephant at the center because of course.

Ezra's words included time learning MIshnah (he and Ariel have recently started that), an elephant and just enjoying creating and being alive, so Ariel created a diorama including a six petaled flower, representing the six books of mishnah, with spices at the center which you encounter when the petals of the flower open, and two trees that can also be seen as one, representing the Torah as the tree of life (which in Hasidic thought is also seen as ultimately the same as the tree of knowledge)...and of course an elephant at the center because of course.

(As a side note, this was the first time that Ariel, our Rabbi-in-Residence at Atiq, and also by day a professor at Stanford, participated in the creating component of Atiq. This was a source of great delight for me, and he noted "I'll never forget the power of creating a tangible blessing for someone I love.")

(As a side note, this was the first time that Ariel, our Rabbi-in-Residence at Atiq, and also by day a professor at Stanford, participated in the creating component of Atiq. This was a source of great delight for me, and he noted "I'll never forget the power of creating a tangible blessing for someone I love.")

Ezra made Ariel a drawing that represented "all the worlds".

I noted to Aliza my feeling of connection to the words "Einayich l'nochach yabitu/ May your eyes always perceive what's in front of you/be able to look straight ahead," and my hope to better appreciate all the blessings that are right in front of me in the coming year, and to generate income from my work that allows me to keep doing it and allows it to grow and flourish.

I noted to Aliza my feeling of connection to the words "Einayich l'nochach yabitu/ May your eyes always perceive what's in front of you/be able to look straight ahead," and my hope to better appreciate all the blessings that are right in front of me in the coming year, and to generate income from my work that allows me to keep doing it and allows it to grow and flourish.

So Aliza created a viewfinder that can also serve as a bookmark for the machzor during Yom Kippur services, and an additional piece with two parts - the purple ball represents prosperity/financial stability, so that ultimately one can turn their attention to what really matters, what you see right in front of you (represented by the mini viewfinder).

So Aliza created a viewfinder that can also serve as a bookmark for the machzor during Yom Kippur services, and an additional piece with two parts - the purple ball represents prosperity/financial stability, so that ultimately one can turn their attention to what really matters, what you see right in front of you (represented by the mini viewfinder).

For her words, Aliza had reflected on wanting to find more ways to connect with things that would nourish her intellectually and spiritually, during otherwise very busy days attending to family, etc. So I created something that ended up looking like a fancy magnifying glass, to help her remember to focus in on interesting books or podcasts even in small windows of time, and little clips that she could hang her top 3 things to turn to on.

For her words, Aliza had reflected on wanting to find more ways to connect with things that would nourish her intellectually and spiritually, during otherwise very busy days attending to family, etc. So I created something that ended up looking like a fancy magnifying glass, to help her remember to focus in on interesting books or podcasts even in small windows of time, and little clips that she could hang her top 3 things to turn to on.

Speaking for myself, I was truly relieved and gratified that someone with Aliza's discerning eye for design and beauty liked the object I made for her, and I was incredibly moved to receive her interpretation of my words, and look forward to using it on Yom Kippur.


As we reflected on the process of creating, some noted that it felt freeing and especially fun to create something for someone else. For others it felt a bit nerve-wracking, and some perhaps felt a tiny twinge of loss in giving away their creation. While we didn't reflect on it quite as directly, my sense is that everyone felt gratitude and joy upon receiving their partner's blessing-object. But there can sometimes be a bit challenge there as well - perhaps a deeper layer felt missed, unseen. My hope is that through this process, the complexity and amazing power of how we give and receive blessings was appreciated and experienced in a really visceral way. As we approach Yom Kippur, as individuals and collective, may we accept the gift of being connected with those around us enough that we can both give and receive blessings for living with a greater sense of purpose, vitality, presence, joy, and connection in the year ahead. 

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Thank you to all who joined for this workshop, to Rabbi Nehemia Polen, Ariel Mayse, and Aliza Weiss (our talented Program Manager) for insights into sources and structure (as always) and to all of you readers for joining from afar (and for any thoughts or reflections you might care to share, especially on privileged objects or blessings from parents or friends that have been a source of positive energy for you). And one more shoutout: Immense gratitude to Atiq mentor and advisory board member Rabbi Dr. Michael Shire. When I reached out to him on Friday before the Sunday of the event to say, I still can't figure out how to manifest the learning in the prompt for making, he said "call me! I'm only writing sermons!," and proceeded to pause his sermon writing for an hour long chat about spiritual meaning making through making. Inspired by his example, another blessing to walk into Yom Kippur with: May this be a year in which we have wise teachers, mentors, family and friends whom we know we can reach out to for counsel, and may we have the patience, time, and thoughtfulness to pause when friends reach out for our help.


May we all be sealed in the book of life for a sweet new year! Shana tova!

New Year, New Name - Beyond Noah's Ark becomes Atiq: Jewish Maker Institute

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Beyond Noah's Ark is now Atiq: Jewish Maker Institute.

A bit more about the name, and what we're up to around here: Atiq means Ancient in Hebrew/Aramaic, and in Kabbalistic terminology is a term that refers to the source from which all creativity springs (also known as Keter, one of the Sefirot).

Our central aim at Atiq is to use art and object making and Jewish text learning as a means of giving people of all ages and backgrounds a sense of vibrant personal connection to the depth and richness present in our ancient sources. The process of learning and creating is meaningful in its own right and also produces a sacred material culture that can ground our personal practice and be shared with family and friends. When we weave together our contemporary voices and perspectives with the our most ancient traditions, we succeed in crafting individual lives and communities of living Torah.

There's a lot that we have in the works for this year, and lots more that we're planning in the long term. A quick overview of things we're already doing, mixed in with some dreamy visions for the future: Atiq currently features community maker programming and makerspace + Jewish maker consulting/workshops for various orgs. And when we’re daydreaming, we dream of a maker yeshiva (aka, Pardes for makers, aka maker institute) where mid and post-college folks and any stage of life folks can learn Torah, collaboratively create things, and also participate in programming with the other amazing East Bay experiential Judaism and arts orgs + funded maker fellowship at the heart of the Institute where artists and educators can make things that will be sent into the world.

(Whew.)

I do wonder how all of this will come into being, but as dear friend and Atiq Creative Director Rachel Bickel affirmed last night, it's already being created, in a heimish punk rock sort of way. In the coming year I'll plan on sharing both what is materializing in real time, as well as a bit of behind the scenes re: how the pieces are being woven together. Whether you're interested in vibrant Jewish material culture as a source for meaning making, or whether you're just looking for some inspiration for getting your own dream project up and running, we'd love to have you along.

Shavuot and Revelation (for everyone)

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Let's be honest: Shavuot is sort of a mysterious holiday. In contrast to Sukkot and Pesach where there are very clear guidelines regarding what we're required to do, on Shavuot we have options and tasty food, but none of it is required/a mitzvah on the level of dwelling in the sukkah or having a seder and eating matzah.

As Ezra (4 years old at the time of this story) once asked me, Mama, is Shavuot actually about anything? 

At our recent Shavuot prep event with Oakland Hebrew Day School for parents and children we tried to get a handle on some of that mystery through our learning and tinkering.

We grounded our investigation by learning b'chevrutah (in pairs) the original account of Matan Torah in Shmot/Exodus 19:1-20:18, the giving/receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, an event which is traditionally and calendrically linked to Shavuot. We also looked at two Hasidic reflections on the Jewish people's experience of this event.

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The giving/receiving of the Torah can also be described more broadly as Revelation -- becoming aware of God's presence, and of our personal relationship with God. The Torah can then be understood as a framework for scaffolding or giving structure to that personal relationship.

Shavuot, like every Jewish holiday, returns us to a singular moment in our history and invites us to reenact that in some way. It also provides the opportunity for reawakening to the continuous re-occurrence on a spiritual plane of that singular event. On Shavuot we received the Torah way back in the desert, but our tradition teaches us that that giving of the Torah happens anew (or continuously) all the time. (The source for this got bumped from our source sheet, but take a look at Devarim/Deuteronomy 5:19 and accompanying Rashi if you're interested!)

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As we learned the Matan Torah biblical text, each chevrutah reflected on the following question: What are three central elements that contributed to the experience of Revelation at Mount Sinai?

One parent noted that initially the introductory text to the Ten Commandments felt confusing. "There's so much going on, smoke, people being told to do this and that, and everyone is just waiting to hear the ten commandments."

To which I say, exactly! What is the story with all that smoke, the loud shofar blasts, the very specific choreography and instructions? 

Another person noted that we were there alone. On our own as individuals? No, alone together. 

Everyone arrived at their own nuances in answering the question of what three components were central to the Revelation experience. Torah, community, majesty of nature. Fear, Torah, Commitment/relationship.

We also wove into this the insights from the Maor V'Shemesh (Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Epstein of Krakow) and the Derech Hamelech (Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapiro, great-grandson of the Maor V'Shemesh). Each of these Rebbes reflect on how how our access to revelation arrived (and continues to arrive) through each other.

From that foundation we dove into making, with the goal of creating items that reflected our personal understanding of revelation. Ways we access that awareness already, and ways that we'd like to be more receptive to it. Reflecting on the singular event of Matan Torah, and the ongoing continuous revelation. 

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And then...after some mysterious alchemy involving lots of hot glue guns working over-time; delicious smelling cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and assorted greenery; many colors of clay and paper and tape; with an increasingly Master Chef level of energy; and especially, with some amazing conversations happening...we were suddenly in the presence of a whole host of wonderfully rich and unique 3D reflections of Shavuot and revelation.

A newly beloved book in our household (Beekle, by Dan Santat) concludes: And together, they did the unimaginable. 

To which Ezra (now 5.5 years old) asked, what does the unimaginable mean?

While I came up with some answer at the time, these creations would have been the prefect means of explanation, as they were literally unimaginable. I could never have dreamed up what each chevrutah arrived at, and neither, I believe could they have before actually just rolling up their sleeves and getting to work, learning and creating with hands heart and brain all together.

All of which feels quite fitting for Shavuot. The great mystery remains, the impossibility of totally understanding how we are in relationship with God, even the fact that the Torah is on some level unimaginable. And yet being aware of the access points through Community, Nature and Torah, or whatever components of revelation most speak to you, allows us to walk into Shavuot and the mystery of revelation with the excitement and energy of an explorer, as we each search for the doorways that speak to us in this moment, and connected through history.

And with that, I'm just about to send you on your way into the last few days of the omer. But I can't leave you without giving a few notes on each of the creations, because they were not only unimaginable, they were also totally fabulous in ways that a single photo can only begin to convey.

Juliet and Leif: We're on our way to Shavuot, always striving to get ever closer. The contents of the baskets represent the 7 species of the land of Israel that would have been brought as bikkurim. The elements above the box represent the 10 plagues that finally touched off our leaving Egypt, and walking towards receiving the Torah and entering the land of Israel.

Juliet and Leif: We're on our way to Shavuot, always striving to get ever closer. The contents of the baskets represent the 7 species of the land of Israel that would have been brought as bikkurim. The elements above the box represent the 10 plagues that finally touched off our leaving Egypt, and walking towards receiving the Torah and entering the land of Israel.

Tania and Daniel: (Quoting from Tania's Facebook post, because she'll say it best:) "We learned the text about Matan Torah, then chose three essential elements of Revelation and represented these concepts in our collaborative 3D triptych. The first window shows the beginnings of a clay vessel, just emerging from the earth/slavery/wilderness. The second window features a formed vessel in the fire, in a state of awe. The final window’s vessel is adorned, colorful, ready to engage in holy relationship/mitzvot.

Tania and Daniel: (Quoting from Tania's Facebook post, because she'll say it best:) "We learned the text about Matan Torah, then chose three essential elements of Revelation and represented these concepts in our collaborative 3D triptych. The first window shows the beginnings of a clay vessel, just emerging from the earth/slavery/wilderness. The second window features a formed vessel in the fire, in a state of awe. The final window’s vessel is adorned, colorful, ready to engage in holy relationship/mitzvot.

Ruth and Sara: A tree of Torah, with many doorways and access points in. There's even a person parachuting in!

Ruth and Sara: A tree of Torah, with many doorways and access points in. There's even a person parachuting in!

Vered and Be'eri: Vered noted that for her the most powerful component of Shavuot is the extra time learning Torah. But one also wants to feel that fire of a communal experience. So Vered and Be'eri depicted that as arising from the sefer, the holy book, where one arises from the other. They had originally hoped to do a pop-up book, but decided to do this version to make something that could be accomplished within the time we had.

Vered and Be'eri: Vered noted that for her the most powerful component of Shavuot is the extra time learning Torah. But one also wants to feel that fire of a communal experience. So Vered and Be'eri depicted that as arising from the sefer, the holy book, where one arises from the other. They had originally hoped to do a pop-up book, but decided to do this version to make something that could be accomplished within the time we had.

Vered and Tamar created a personal image of Mount Sinai.

Vered and Tamar created a personal image of Mount Sinai.

Pilippa, Jakub and Aidan: When we were all reflecting together, I asked, what surprised you in the process of creating? Jakub said he was surprised that their creation centered around the story of the golden calf.

Pilippa, Jakub and Aidan: When we were all reflecting together, I asked, what surprised you in the process of creating? Jakub said he was surprised that their creation centered around the story of the golden calf.

Naama, Melia, Chana Ella and Dovid: The mountain has a mechanism in the back that causes it to shake, which reflects the midrash. The luchot at the top of arch represent our ketubah/marriage contract with God that is the Torah. The bottom section is an interactive 10 commandments that you can scroll through,

Naama, Melia, Chana Ella and Dovid: The mountain has a mechanism in the back that causes it to shake, which reflects the midrash. The luchot at the top of arch represent our ketubah/marriage contract with God that is the Torah. The bottom section is an interactive 10 commandments that you can scroll through,

Nechama, Adi and Ori created an image of standing at sinai, where everyone is an individual, but collectively make up Yisrael, the people of Israel dancing together.

Nechama, Adi and Ori created an image of standing at sinai, where everyone is an individual, but collectively make up Yisrael, the people of Israel dancing together.

Judah, Jacob and Zach: An image of mount sinai, surrounded by greenery and the names of this item's creators. the Moshe figure has a mechanism in the back that allows him to move up and down the mountain. Pretty awesome.

Judah, Jacob and Zach: An image of mount sinai, surrounded by greenery and the names of this item's creators. the Moshe figure has a mechanism in the back that allows him to move up and down the mountain. Pretty awesome.

Imagine, create, share, play

Hey dear readers! As promised, we wanted to share some of the fruits of our work during the Pesach Prep Maker Beit Midrash series. Immense gratitude to the adventurous and creative makers who comprised this first BNA Maker Beit Midrash Cohort. Their work and willingness to experiment was incredibly inspiring!

To start us off, we're so excited to share this video we produced with talented filmmaker Ellie Lobovits, which takes you inside our process at the Maker Beit Midrash.

We're also really excited to highlight two projects that you can help us test out and develop further! To that end we have two printables for you. Print them, cut out, tape or staple together and use at your seder. If you do we would LOVE so much to hear your feedback -- what worked, what didn't, how did you extend the basic idea?

Ok, to the projects... One theme we discussed in this cohort: dualities.  The big one we started with: we're supposed to inhabit an experience of leaving Egypt, and yet it's also clear that we're supposed to be seeing that experience from a birds-eye-view. 

Two chevrutot really took up the dualities theme and designed ways to actively engage with the various haggadah dualities during the seder. 

Eliezah and Andrea designed these little lift-the-flap windows that can be passed around the table, and serve as discussion prompts, either as a group or amongst seat neighbors.

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The basic framing questions: What's the connection between these things? How are they similar? How are they different? What relationship do I have with this duality?

They created felt and glitter versions, designed to be durable and fun. Your paper and staples print out version will be a bit more modest, but feel quite encouraged to color them in, add drawings, etc.

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Ariel and Aliza created duality themed mobius strips. They had initially considered linking them all, having a chain where seder participants could hold each hold a link. In the end they created individual elements that could be placed throughout the seder table. The dualities they chose are: exile/redemption; slavery/freedom; future/past; pain/praise; nation/broader world; celebration/mourning; cleaning/mess; biblical/historical; structure/flexibility.

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These mobius strips can invite seder participants to reflect together on the creative tension embedded in the seder and throughout Pesach. What is being asked of us when we're called to hold these dualities in our sights at once?

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A note about creating these mobius strips: You're gonna print them out, cut out each pair (leaving the center line intact), fold and staple. Mobius strips are a bit fiddly to get into position. I checked out this how-to, but ultimately success came just from testing it out a few times.

The other projects were inspired and amazing but slightly less sharable in print-out form. Chana Ella and Desmid created a shadow puppet theater, in which a grandparent tells the Pesach story to a grandchild, by way of shadow puppets. They created all the puppets and wrote out scripts for each scene. One interesting aspect of their work was that the shadow puppets were a lot more intricate and detailed than would be typical for that form. Desmid's response to my wondering about this: Since Chana Ella will be using this live at her seder, I wanted to really just enjoy the process of creating the components themselves, and putting a lot of care into the details 

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Now let me tell you, shadow puppets are magical, there's no two ways about it. If you feel inspired to whip up your own version, know that even something fairly simple can accomplish a lot. We got some inspiration from this how-to on the Eric Carle museum blog. The blog is worth checking out in any case if you haven't seen it yet. 

Leah was working on what got titled "The Introvert's Haggadah," which is essentially an interactive haggadah that could engage even one person one their own. (I know introverts don't only like spending time on their own. Believe me, I wave my introvert flag high, and I love being around people. Neverthless...) At any rate, the components thus far included some sort of magical decoder ring style layered dvar Torah. It was mid-way towards become manifest when the series ended, so I hope to be able to provide updates post-Pesach.

Mira and Eli were working on a few items, but the one that especially stood out was a woven basket, for people to pass around and share a blessing or wish for future blossoming. One of the themes we had tracked during the series was that some of the seder text is actually from the Bikkurim/first fruits declaration in the Temple. While we bring the first fruits at Shavuot time, we mark of the first flowers of the fruit trees in Nisan, the Jewish month that Pesach occurs in.

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Jonathan created a wire centerpiece that symbolized youth and renewal, but the group also helped him make progress on an incredible multi-layered papercut seder plate he was working on.

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Jonathan notes: These papercut seder plates are available by special order! Email him to hear more details and snag one for yourself at jvlyon@gmail.com.

Each of these projects, in their own ways, are still definitely in process. In so many ways, this is at the heart of the work that we're doing here at Beyond Noah's Ark. Tinker, create, share, tinker some more, etc. etc. etc.

Mitchel Resnick and Natalie Rusk of the MIT Lifelong Learning Kindergarten group have this great diagram in that spirit which they call the Creative Learning Spiral.

Image courtesy of Mitchel Resnick

Image courtesy of Mitchel Resnick

Veering just a bit from their diagram, we've done the imagine and create, and now we're excited to share with you. At the seder we'll play, and then time to reflect, and dive back in to imagining.

See you on the flip side!

I wonder what this could really be?

Friends, it's so great to have you journeying along with us here. To be perfectly forthright, it's been an interesting challenge to play the roles of facilitator, chevrutah partner, and documentor all at once. Then again, how appropriate for a series leading up to Pesach and the Seder, right? Ideally, at the seder we get to be leaders and participants, and in some sense, documentors of our own experience, all in one staged and planned, yet unanticipatable journey. 

We've now been learning and creating together for a few weeks, so at the start of our fourth session we were ready to do a little reflection on where were in our process. Aliza designed a project diagram for us to concretize what we were working on, and we'll use our notes as a guide as we move forward. 

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To start us off, here's a little video, just to give you a sense of the focused energy in the room as we tinker our way into exploring the existential questions within the Pesach experience.

A few of the chevrutot have been exploring the ways that we're both in the story and above the story, almost watching from a bird's-eye view at various points in the seder. We see this in the choice of the Vidui Bikkurim (the concise retelling of the Exodus story when bringing  first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem) as one of the central texts that the Haggadah is spun out from. We might have expected that the whole text of the haggadah would be based around a more present-tense statement of the drama, so it's meaningful that this isn't wholly the case. We also see this in the Talmud's declaration that "בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים" (Psachim 116b), "In every generation one but see themselves as though they themselves had left Egypt." There's a wonderful multiphonic situation being set up here, in which we are enjoined to both see experience being actors in the drama, but also recognize that we are constructing that experience of the drama -- we are tasked with seeing ourselves AS THOUGH we had left Egypt. 

On this basic foundation, Aliza and Ariel have been testing out different prototypes for tangibly illustrating multiphonic themes or dualities that we are asked to hold at once during the seder. They've been playing with the idea of interlocking mobius strips, which might have various dualities written on them, or perhaps related questions. The materials used to make each mobius strip will signify the themes it speaks to in some way. Participants in the seder might hold on to a link in the mobius strip chain, and this could serve as an entry point for conversation -- they're still figuring out how that might work!

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Andrea and Eliezah are working on two projects simultaneously. The first they see as a framed set of prompts that, as above, explore dualities in the seder. They do this by means of little durable framing squares, with a reveled word, and its pair word hidden underneath the flap. Participants hold up the squares, and as a group, guess what the pair word might be. When it is reveled, discussion can ensue as to what the significance of that pair or duality is to our Pesach experience. They've been experimenting with what materials would feel fun and be durable, but would also convey a sense of meaning with regard to the themes they're highlighting, and a sense of beauty. (Also, there's an abiding love for glitter paint in this group, which I initially didn't understand, but am grateful for the opportunity to grow.)

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Andrea and Eliezah's second project is much more open ended. They're constructing a number of objects, each of which highlights a key element of the seder. The objects will be placed along the length of the seder table. Participants can pick up an item, and use it as a prompt for discussion of its possible significance in the seder amongst the group of people sitting near them.

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Jonathan (and, when she graces us with her presence, Rena) describes his project at this stage like this "Minimalistic Baby Face with one piece of wire symbolizing unlimited potential, interest, experimentation, and Freedom - getting ready for Passover with “Reishit”." We had a few minutes last session to ask each other questions about our projects (which remained unanswered, thus far, by design), and the questions Jonathan was asked included, "How will this be used at the seder? Do participants engage with it in tangible ways? Or is it intended to be looked at and discussed?" and "This seems like a very fragile piece. Is that intentional, and have you considered exploring what might happen by making it more durable in some way?"

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Eli and Mira are have been in serious tinkering mode, starting from a real enjoyment of testing out what various materials might shape up to be, and from that foundation considering exactly how those speak to the themes they'd like to explore. They're still investigating what exactly the box with semi-translucent paper is and how it will be used. Eli was experimenting with watercolor painting on the tracing paper, while Mira was weaving a bikkurim basket out of wire and cardboard. Can't wait to see what comes of all this tinkering!

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Desmid and Chana Ella started with a really clear idea early on, and they've been building the components ever since. They're working on a shadow puppet theater, which will tell the story of one family's journey across generations and places, but in a way that strips away certain details in order to highlight universal themes. 

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Laya and I have the least to show since our chevrutah formed a bit late in the game, but we are excited to begin creating on the basis of our learning and discussion this past week. We've been discussing how we process the Mitzrayim/Egypt experience as one which is described as
אנוס על פי הדיבור, forced by way of Divine command. How do we process experiences that we seem destined to go through, but that we also need to get something out of, and to have some sense of agency in the experience. What did we need to get out of the MItzrayim experience? How do we gain access to that through our experience of the seder, and what might help us do that?

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And so here we are. I'm super excited to be continuing to bring these projects to clarity, and just generally be asking big questions by way of cardboard and hot glue guns with these beautiful makers. 

Let us know what you're working on, what you're thinking about in advance of the seder, or wanting to change or keep from seders past. We'll check back in soon with more updates.

First Maker Series -- Journeying together towards Pesach

The thrill of an unexpected discovery, the frustration of reaching a dead end, the focused energy from working with a chevrutah (study/creation partner), the joy of learning, creating and preparing in personal, tangible ways rooted within the cycle of the Jewish year. These were all on hand last night, as our inaugural cohort gathered for the first meeting of our six part Pesach prep series. 

We're starting a new section on the site called Maker Beit Midrash, where there'll be more in depth info about the sources we're learning during the series and the work we're creating. If you're interested in learning more, or in creating with us from afar, we'd be honored to have you along with us!

For the moment, a couple pics to give a taste...

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It's alive!

What a thrill to experience this dream of study and chevrutah creation within a community of makers come to life! 

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This Maker Beit Midrash section will be a place where you can get an in depth look at what we're learning and working on as the Pesach Prep series progresses. We're also hoping some folks might join us in creating from afar -- convince a friend to be your maker hevrutah (creative partner), learn the texts, and get to tinkering! If you do please share picture of your work with us! Send any images and explanations to bnacollaborative@gmail.com, or share on our Facebook page!

We kicked off the first session of our 6 session Pesach Prep maker series with introductions from cohort participants (such shining wonderfully interesting people, all!), and an overview of Beyond Noah's Ark's mission and values

We then broke into hevrutah pairs to study our central text for the evening, and the central biblical text that the Pesach Haggadah is based around. Deuteronomy/Devarim 26:1-11 is a concise retelling of the story of redemption from Egypt and the first Passover. It is also the Biblical formula to be recited by a farmer bringing first fruits (Bikkurim) to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem on the holiday of Shavuot.

Why, we wondered, was this the text chosen for the central Maggid section of the seder? What's the significance of drawing upon a collection of verses that are located in future from the perspective of the seder, as opposed to those from Exodus/Sh'mot, that present a more present-tense version of the story.

We also took a quick look at the Mishnah in Pesachim 116b, which we'll look at in greater depth during the second session. This Mishna contains the central spiritual posture of the seder -- that we are each enjoined to see ourselves as having personally left Egypt. What resources or experiences might help to further our ability to feel that we are, in this generation, at this time, in our lives, leaving Egypt?

After some really interesting discussion as a group, we were ready to turn to the art and tinkering portion of the evening. Unlike how the other sessions will be, everyone was invited to work on one specific type of interactive object, the cardboard automata, as a foundation for creating and following a thread of inquiry b'hevrutah (paired/in a creation team). This provided a shared and hopefully fairly comfortable project to begin experimenting from.  

The Exploratorium just closed an exhibit on the most wondrous intricately crafted automata.

They developed a do-it-yourself explanation sheet for creating cardboard automata, and we used that as a roadmap to help guide us. 

All that having been said, a number of hevrutas ended up interpreting the prompt in quite diverse ways. Eliezah was hard at work on a complex system of automata levers out of which she was constructing an opening and closing red sea. Desmid was following the thread of personal history by creating an enclosed Torah scroll, upon which she handwrote her father's life journey.

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Mira and Jonathan followed the straightforward automata path to arrive at a poignant encapsulation of the Jewish people's cycles of redemption and exile.

Andrea and Laya, and Aliza and Sarah were in the midst of constructing some very interesting looking contraptions when we paused our work until the next session. 

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When we pick up at session two we'll hear a recap of what everyone worked on last session, and meet the handful of new people that are joining the group. We'll learn some more text together as a group and b'hevrutah and we'll match up into the hevrutah pairs that we'll hope to stay in for the next five sessions. The main task set before each hevrutah is to choose a thread of inquiry, a particular question they'd like to explore with regard to Pesach, and then investigate how to bring those explorations to life in visual, accessible form. 

As we begin our tinkering we'll consider a variety of possibilities for interactive objects, interesting storytelling devices, etc. as potential frames for creating.

Some on the list so far:

Kavaad: A traditional Indian unfolding storytelling box

This is a modern adaptation of the form, a version by artist Bruce Handelsman, which will be on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in their exhibit "Contraption." Image courtesy of the  Contemporary Jewish Museum .

This is a modern adaptation of the form, a version by artist Bruce Handelsman, which will be on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in their exhibit "Contraption." Image courtesy of the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

Shadow puppet theater

Zig-zag 

Photo of a work by Lynn Avedenka which was on view at the YU Museum

Photo of a work by Lynn Avedenka which was on view at the YU Museum

Zig Zag books at the Eric Carle Museum

Zig Zag books at the Eric Carle Museum

Interactive Scroll

Purim story scroll created by Tammy Edell Gottstein and her kids

Purim story scroll created by Tammy Edell Gottstein and her kids

Story Boxes

Steve Light/ Guidcraft storyboxes. This is Hansel and Gretel

Steve Light/ Guidcraft storyboxes. This is Hansel and Gretel

Another Steve Light storybox, The Girl Who Loved Danger

Another Steve Light storybox, The Girl Who Loved Danger

Illuminated storybox

These are by artist  Karishma Chugani Nankani . Images courtesy of the artist's website.

These are by artist Karishma Chugani Nankani. Images courtesy of the artist's website.

All sorts of other paper engineering storytelling ideas

Image courtesy of Brain Pickings, from Kelli Anderson's This Book is a Planetarium 

Image courtesy of Brain Pickings, from Kelli Anderson's This Book is a Planetarium 

Image courtesy of  Brain Pickings , from Kelli Anderson's This Book is a Planetarium

Image courtesy of Brain Pickings, from Kelli Anderson's This Book is a Planetarium

Whew. And with that, adieu & shalom for now. Can't wait to check back in after tonight's session. Excited and nervous for the hevrutah pairs to solidify. We'll spell out in a bit more detail in the next post why doing this work b'hevrutah is a key component of the vision.

Until then, happy tinkering!

 

 

BNA + JTD

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Friends, exciting times for Beyond Noah's Ark! We had our first community-invited event yesterday, and we're about to be starting our Pesach Prep Maker Series this Tuesday. 

It was an honor and a pleasure to collaborate on this book-talk/learning/chevrutah creation event with Jessica Tamar Deutsch, the creator of The Illustrated Pirkei Avot. Along with the learning we did from Jess's book, I shared some selections from Sun and Moon, Together. We were thrilled to be hosted by Nell and Chaim at Afikomen Judaica, amidst lovely Judaica purchasing people.

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As we discussed selections from each work as a group, we compiled a list of the facets of chevrutah we were coming across in the texts. 

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And then we broke into the art materials and got to work, inspired by the presence of Ezra, age 5, who had, in point of fact, been tinkering and creating the whole time. The basic prompt we offered was to create a wire mobile to remind us of the various modes or opportunities available within Chevrutah work. Some people took this in a pretty straightforward direction (ok, that was actually just me) but others spun the basic idea off into a new direction. Some worked in a huddled, intensely focused chevrutah pair, while others shared ideas for direction and inspiration, but created separately. 

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Andrea and Baruch developed a concept for a multi-tiered world mobile, with two pairs of chevrutas, and a central hebrew letter vav, all together representing the word zug (pair).

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Lior created a wire hourglass, with sun and moon radiating from each side.

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Jess designed a modern ner tamid (eternal flame) with many hands as the supportive base.

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Do you have a study or creation partner -- a Tversky to your Kahneman, A Gauguin to your Van Gogh, A Miro to your Calder? Do you relate more to the aspects of chevrutah study that nurture a shared sense of purpose, or the more tension driven elements? What opportunities have your best chevrutot/study/creation partners brought to your life? 

of Retronyms and Makerspaces

From   The Art of Tinkering  , by Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich

From The Art of Tinkering, by Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich

Retronym. It's one of my father's favorite words, possibly edging out eschew and obfuscation. It refers to words that have to be retrofitted with a modifier to distinguish the original meaning from newer more widespread usage. Examples include acoustic guitar (to distinguish from an electric guitar) and cloth diaper (diaper nowadays would likely be assumed to refer to disposables).

Well, add to that list tangible interactive design. Or high-touch interactive design. Or non-digital interactive design. I'm actually totally unsure of what the appropriate retronym is, but I know there needs to be one. While researching resources for better understanding interactive design (ie, in toys, museum exhibitions, classroom settings etc.) it became clear that this term now almost invariably refers to a purely digital environment.

This is a shame, I think, for a whole host of reasons many of which have been explored by folks thinking about: the societal ills brought about by the industrial revolution; the significance of being able to see the hand of the creator in a designed object; traditional Shabbat observance; non-traditional, yet spiritually oriented Shabbat observance; general interest and educational and spiritual value in interacting with actual things, not screens -- I could go on...

Seriously though, I'm not a luddite -- I promise! I will never be calling for an iphone burning ceremony. But as even the most tech connected insiders tell it (e.g. and e.g.), we really really need to have a broad range of media that we're interfacing with on a daily basis. As absolutely true as this is for adults, it's even more true for kids. 

I get it, I know, I'm likely preaching to the choir here (thanks for being here choir!). But I still feel like we've gotten far enough away from living into this in our day to day lives that we need to reclaim these basic truths over and over again, even by something as small as noticing the ways that our vocabulary is pushing us in a digital consumer/superficially interactive direction. (Yet another disclaimer: This is totally not to say that amazing stuff isn't happening Jewishly in the digital sphere -- BimBam and AlephBeta, I see you there. You are the best. As one friend recently told me, "I never understood Sukkot until I saw the BimBam lego sukkot video." )

Makerspace at the  Lawrence Hall of Science : What will  you  make?

Makerspace at the Lawrence Hall of Science: What will you make?

One recent development here at Beyond Noah's Ark is our adoption of the term makerspace into our description/way of envisioning the vision. The maker movement, while assuredly not totally removed from the digital sphere, has championed and revived an appreciation of the serious value of tinkering. Maker Faire, one of the leaders in this movement, used to have this as their slogan: "If you can't open it you don't own it." I'd say that's a really apt encapsulation of what we're getting at here as well: In religion and spirituality, if you can't open it, you don't own it.

Asking questions collaboratively - b'hevrutah - of our texts and traditions, truly noticing how we individually and collectively interact with those, is at the absolute core of what Judaism is and has always been about. 

On the texture of our days

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A pre-post note: I wrote this post a good while before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year that was celebrated this past Wednesday night-Friday. And then I fiddled, added a bit, deleted a bit, forgot about it, and generally felt like it wasn't clear enough, or you know, the complete and final word on everything I wanted to say about the thinking behind Beyond Noah's Ark, ever. And so, I'm dedicating this post towards my New-Years commitment to striving for non-perfectionism, and its more important corollary, actually getting stuff done. In a professional sphere, definitely. But in addition, as you'll see I reference below, there's so much swirling in the global sphere that I feel a responsibility to respond to, to not turn a blind eye to the world's incredibly painful realities. I think that's part of being an adult, and one who hopes to convey that sense of responsibility to my kids. But how to respond when there's just so much, and so much that feels way beyond my pay grade. To my current thinking it comes down to acknowledging that we often respond most authentically to the things we feel most connected with. For me, as an ex-pat turned re-pat (ie, moved to Israel, currently in the US), and after having read Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy and a whole bunch of other related books/articles/hearing my friend Dena Weiss's personal reflections about her volunteer work/living in America, working to move us away from our system of mass incarceration of people of color especially is what feels most personally relevant and urgent. How to do that in a real way beyond donating money to EJI.org (recommended as that is!) as a busy mom, entrepreneur, person with no legal expertise or qualifications, introvert, etc, is the question I'm currently investigating. I'd love your thoughts, suggestions, etc, and I'd love to hear what you've been focusing your brain, heart, and time on. 

And now, on to the post:

I'm starting to think that I should have a series in this blog called Personal Cheerleading Squad (we also have a Tiny Art Director, but that's another story!), in honor of Ariel's many creative cheerleading efforts to support my entrepreneurial journey. Our most recent addition, in response to my concern that I didn't belong at a networking event for already somewhat established ventures: You're not an alien, you're a pupa! (ie, future butterfly!) And an earlier classic, upon my complaining that I work too slowly: You know who wrote slowly? Rabbi Dov Ber Soloveitchick! That's who!

As you can tell, he's really pulling out all the stops with these, which is, for better or worse, often exactly what I need. 

Friends, there's so much going on right now, as no doubt, there always is. Leave-takings from this world of beloved people. Crazy weather patterns that are disastrous for those in their wake. Constant reminders to be vocal in an authentic way for the things we believe in. And of course, blessedly, the Jewish month of Elul, when, as Bubby Nettie a"h used to quote her mother as saying in Yiddish, the leaves start to shiver. They shiver at the first brisk winds of fall -- I'm pleased to say that even here in Berkeley, where September and October are generally hotter than the summer months, I've felt some faint gestures of my beloved autumn -- certain smells, the change in the light, maybe some leaves changing color here and there. And the leaves shiver, of course, because even (especially?) the natural world is awake to the arrival of the High Holy Days season, of the more imminent presence of the Divine in our midst, accompanying us as we walk into the new year.

As Maira Kalman has written (in the context of her personal grief. I hope she wouldn't mind my quoting her here...) I could collapse, thinking about that. But I don't want to talk about that now...

Well, perhaps I want to talk about one very particular aspect of all that, which, as I see it, is a way into the rest. I want to talk about those gentle sensory experiences that accompany this season. The smell of the air and the leaves in autumn, maybe someone is making a fire in their fireplace already. As we enter the High Holiday season we get the sweet tang of the pomegranate, and that shock of sweetness from the apples and honey. The pink stains on our fingers with the stickiness from honey drips. On Yom Kippur, the quiet solemn beauty of stripping away so many sensory inputs. And then sukkot with the incredible lush smells and sights of the schach, the hadassim and etrog.

I also want to talk about Froebel Gifts, Reggio manipulatives and Montessori materials. While each of these had a distinct approach, they were all designed to nurture focused experimentation and learning through play in young children in developmentally appropriate stages and using natural and/or beautifully crafted elements.

What all of these do at their best (although they can certainly be pigeonholed into much less) is provide children with something in between toys and pure (narrowly focused) educational materials. Something in between total freedom to interact (or not) with whatever is around and rigid rules that prescribe particular actions. That something, that sweet spot in the middle, is then ideally a resource for deep personal and intellectual development.  

So here's what I've been pondering lately: What would that look like in a religious context, when we're talking about tools and resources to nurture a deeply personal path within Judaism, one that has an awareness of formal constraints but also is vibrant with a sense of experimentation, play, and ongoing exploration? How do we locate the incredible pure sensory experiences of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes of the holidays in a slightly more constructed learning context to provoke inquiry and fruitful connections? 

Child-centered or constructivist learning environments (as the three I mentioned above are often categorized) can be present in a classroom or in the home, but we most readily associate them with a school setting. So too in our assumption of where the bulk of religious education is happening. Other than in traditionally observant families (and not always then either) religious education is quite often presumed to be mostly the purview of some sort of organizational context, whether Hebrew school, Jewish early childhood program, Synagogue groups, summer camp. What would we gain by having the tools, the basic building blocks of religious life within which to experiment, investigate, play located first and foremost in our homes? How might our religious journeys be rooted and allowed to flourish in more vital ways if our homes were the foundation of those religious adventures, not bracketed out of them, due to supposed lack of fluency in the vocabulary and answers of our religion?

These ponderings, they are winding their way towards clarity through sensory experiences and creation b'chevrutah (learning/creation pairs) -- building blocks in what Beyond Noah's Ark is working on, what we are becoming. At the core of it all is the goal of making two things more manifest in this world: A framework for creation of Jewish experiential items (Judaica? Craft? We interestingly have no great word for this...) by collaborative pairs/teams of makers in a mode that is rooted in a spirit of deep authentic inquiry and creative play, and for those items to enable families to feel that they are in the driver's seat of their religious journey.

I'll leave you for the moment with a poem that Krista Tippet, host of the ever-inspiring podcast OnBeing, recently sent out, that speaks in other words to what we generally don't or can't get in school but (I assert) is such a sphere of possibility and opportunity within our homes. Sending you all, dear readers, so many blessings for a sweet year, at school, at home, and everywhere you travel!

What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade
by Brad Aaron Modlin

Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen
to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,

how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took
questions on how not to feel lost in the dark.

After lunch she distributed worksheets
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s

voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep
without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—

something important—and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home. This prompted

Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing
how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,

and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts
are all you hear; also, that you have enough.

The English lesson was that I am
is a complete sentence.

And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation
look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,

and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking
for whatever it was you lost, and one person

add up to something.

Shavuot, and Isaac going shluffy on the rocks

Well, it's been a while. There are exciting developments underfoot both personal and, more importantly around here, organizational. On the personal front, most of our worldly possessions are Berkeley bound at this moment, and we will soon be making that journey. On the organizational front, we have this shiny new website (welcome!) and a suuuuper fantastic announcement that will go out in the next month or so, along with a more detailed manifesto of sorts around what Beyond Noah's Ark is all about. If you're an artist, maker, educator, or want to be any of those things, keep your eyes tuned to this channel!

In the meanwhile, I figured I'd check back in with a short word about Shavuot, the holiday we celebrated a few weeks back, which is significant both in an agricultural cycle, and as a high point following the Jewish people's redemption from slavery in Egypt on Passover, coalescing in receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai on Shavuot. The traditional observance involves learning Torah all night to be ready to receive the Torah anew in the early morning, and eating dairy foods. If you remember, we had lamented the very few kid-friendly angles besides ice cream, cheesecake, and blintzes. That post led to a wonderful suggestion by Shoshana Kordova (you are now rivalling Rabbi Dr. Michael Shire for the frequent mention award here on the blog, Shoshana!) of including the kids in Shavuot prep by learning some Torah in the lead up to the holiday, and then having them participate in a siyum (a small party to celebrate the completion of some portion of Torah learning).

Did you know that in Hasidic thought the spiritual preparation for a mitzvah is considered to be almost as significant as performance of the mitzvah itself? While I have learned this many times, it has always felt hard to make good on this, especially once I was out of a Jewish educational context that structured this in to the lead up to each holiday. The notion of preparing for a siyum with my kids gave me the motivation to finally take the time for them and myself. 

We chose as our text the Illustrated Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) by Jessica Tamar Deutsch, published by Print-O-Craft, which has gotten some nice press already, and deservedly so! Insofar as it is aesthetically beautiful and clearly has intense amounts of thought given to the precision and clarity of the content, it definitely gets the Beyond Noah's Ark seal of approval. The illustrations are engaging and fun, but not so detailed or specific as to distract by pointing to one particular sort of community or other. They are also black and white, which allows the book to have both a coloring book and graphic novel feel, thereby inviting the interest of a wide range of ages. One small point for improvement in future printings is the thickness and quality of the paper -- markers bled through fairly easily to the backs of pages, which resulted in lower readability, and gave a feeling of shorter lifespan to the colored on sections. The book or sefer, as the illustrator encourages you to think of it (sefer = holy book for sacred study) is quite useful for visual learners. Someone I was speaking with happened to refer to one of the sections in Pirkei Avot that I had learned in the illustrated version, and at their description of the text, the corresponding images and words in the book floated before my eyes. 

Learning sessions generally involved my son coloring the pictures, while I or my husband read from the accompanying words, kiddo asking questions that lead to many interesting conversations, tangents, and eventually getting distracted by other things and putting the book away until the next snatch of time presented itself. The illustrated aspect of this Pirkei Avot did make for some some awkward moments. When we got to the listing of the ten tests that our forefather Abraham withstood (Section 5, Mishnah 3), and more specifically the image illustrating Number 9 -- God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac -- my astute 4 year old inquired, pressing forward in the face of my delay in explaining the word sacrifice, "Mama, why is Isaac tied up and going shluffy on those stones? And why is Abraham holding a sword over him?!? Why Mama?!?" So yaaaaahhhh, didn't anticipate covering that episode at so young an age. It's an interesting quandary in general, here at Beyond Noah's Ark, since any time one is really engaging in a truthful way with the traditional canon you bump up against things that can quickly feel like they've spiralled way beyond a G rating (an even earlier example is our eponymous Noah's Ark).

I muddled forward with some sort of answer (Hmmm, it does look like that doesn't it!) that I can only hope will be more spiritually pedagogically sound next time around. We ended up doing our siyum on the first 8 mishnayot (sections) of the fifth chapter which is pretty nontraditional as far as siyums go, since that is a smaller unit than is typically celebrated. Nevertheless, it seemed a wholly appropriate unit for celebration with a 4 year old, and we were all quite delighted to have the opportunity. 

We actually ended up doing our siyum at a kiddush (pre-lunch toast) the shabbat after Shavuot since the chief celebrant was asleep by the time the traditional post-meal nighttime learning rolled around, and we never found the time after that. The kiddo passed out ice cream bars to all who wanted, taught a bit of what we learned while holding up the pictures, and I said a short improvised blessing based on the original in which I prayed that we merit to begin more sections of learning together, and complete them. As far as we could tell an inspired time was had by all, and I think it kicked off semi-focused parent and child Jewish learning in the home on the right foot.