This year, the grade 9 and 10 New stream students were given the opportunity to explore and learn from the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in their Rabbinics classes. This new curriculum was introduced to meet the needs of the New stream cohort who arrived at TanenbaumCHAT with less Hebrew text knowledge, but with a curiosity to learn about Judaism and living a Jewish life. The Melton School’s Rhythms of Jewish Living textbook was developed as an adult learning course, but we have adapted it for teenage learners. The curriculum focuses on the Jewish calendar, Jewish living, and rites of passage. Each chapter offers a wealth of Jewish texts, ranging from biblical and medieval sources to contemporary essays. This allows for students to explore different interpretations of a topic, and encourages discussion around values and Jewish identity.

Four teachers participated in this curriculum project; Eliezer Robbins and Keren Romm from TCK along with Lyla Abells and Lori Cohen from TCW. The grade 9 curriculum focuses more on the Jewish calendar, including Shabbat and the chaggim, while the grade 10 curriculum focuses more on the Jewish rites of passage.  In parallel with the text study we have built in experiential components. For example, while studying Sukkot the students had the opportunity to learn in the Sukkah, to write midrashim about the lulav and etrog, and to participate in the rituals.  We have also devoted classes to have both Tu B’Shvat and Pesach Seders.

As teachers, we have benefitted from the clear text and methodology that the Melton School has developed. We’ve had a Melton advisor, Rabbi Morey Schwartz, with whom we have met, both in person and over Skype from Jerusalem. He has encouraged us to share and adapt the curriculum for our students’ needs. We have also been in touch with other Jewish Day Schools in the United States to see how they have successfully used the Melton curriculum.

Students say…

Megan Werger:  “This curriculum exposed us to a perspective and interpretations which make sense, relate, and are useful to us.  This new curriculum caters perfectly to the questions we had entering TanenbaumCHAT.”

Josh Slan:  “The new Rabbinics program has allowed us to think outside the box. Learning different aspects of Judaism and grappling with different concepts, allow us to discuss the question: why?”

Jaime Turk:  “I enjoyed Rabbinics this year.  I enjoyed the discussion we had as a class and how we questioned various Jewish texts.”

Erin Zahavi:  “This year the Rabbinics curriculum was so much more meaningful than last year’s.  Instead of just memorizing facts about Judaism we were able to explore current Jewish issues and ideas, such as the sanctification of time, the conversion process and death and mourning.”

Harrison Berman:  “This new curriculum made me appreciate the smaller moments in life and gave me a larger appreciation for Judaism.”

Hannah Greenspan:  “This year’s curriculum encouraged us to reflect on our own beliefs, traditions and what is important to us.  We explored controversial topics in Judaism and learned new relevant and modern information helping us shape our Jewish identity stemming from our newfound knowledge.”

Simon Grammer:  “The new Rabbinics program enables us to have a new, beneficial way of learning Rabbinics that is easier to understand and is much more relatable to grade 10 students.”

We look forward to continuing to develop this curriculum and to expand it to the upper grades with a focus on philosophical and theological issues using the second half of the Melton program, Purposes of Jewish Living.

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This article was written and published in the November 21, 2015, issue of the CJN.

http://www.cjnews.com/living-jewish/jewish-learning/chat-offers-parents-tuition-discount-for-taking-classes

 

A pilot project that will give parents a discount on their tuition in exchange for taking Jewish studies classes will be launched at the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto next school year.

The program, which will only be open to families who are new to the school, offers a $5,000 discount on tuition for parents who commit to a 24-week course of Jewish studies, taught by TanenbaumCHAT’s own faculty.

The initiative, called Scholars’ Circle, will be open to parents, regardless of income, but will certainly assist those who find tuition steep, said head of school Rabbi Lee Buckman. Tuition for 2015-16 is $26,500.

Scholars’ Circle is also intended to give parents a greater understanding of what actually happens during the school day. Parents generally only spend a few minutes a year meeting their children’s teachers.

“If parents have a deep connection with our teachers and the quality of our teaching, they’ll be stronger ambassadors of the program,” Rabbi Buckman said.

The program will demonstrate the importance parents place on Jewish studies and give parents and children a common background to discuss what is being taught in school.

“My hope is that it will create conversations among parents and kids that will enrich the Jewish experiences of the child,” he said.

A version of the program was first initiated by the Kohelet Foundation in Philadelphia, a private foundation that explores how to improve day school education. Rabbi Buckman implemented a variation of it at Atlanta’s Greenfield Hebrew Academy, where he was head of school before coming to TanenbaumCHAT two years ago.

In Atlanta, about 60 parents participated, but both the time demands and the tuition subsidy were smaller.

Donors Dov and Nancy Friedberg, who are underwriting the program here, wanted the bar to be higher in terms of the Jewish studies requirement.

“The donor was clear that [instead of] just giving away money, we could leverage that money and get something back that was more valuable and enriching to a child’s education,” Rabbi Buckman said.

Funding has been provided for 16 families to participate in the 2016 academic year. Parents will be required to participate in 24 weeks of 90-minute-long classes on Jewish history, Tanach (Bible) and Jewish ethics taught by faculty from both the north and south campuses. Twice a year, before Chanukah and Passover, parents and students will study together.

The tuition discount for families who complete the program will be applied the following year.

The Scholars’ Circle initiative fits into the school’s strategic plan aimed at increasing enrolment, enhancing education, tightening expenses and intensifying fundraising.

After a few years of declining enrolment, the school has shifted to actively recruiting new students, rather than simply managing applications, Rabbi Buckman said.

Enrolment at both campuses is 1,035 students. This year’s Grade 9 class was slightly larger than the previous year’s, he said.

As well, a group of 35 parent ambassadors has been formed to promote the school. It’s anticipated that participants in the Scholars’ Circle program will also bolster efforts to promote the school.

TanenbaumCHAT has also stepped up its fundraising efforts. In addition to the funding for the Scholars’ Choice program, a $1.5-million donation from Anita and Daniel Chai was recently announced for a new robotics and engineering program.

The theme for this year’s commemoration is framed by a question:  “How do we connect to Yom Hashoah when we are so far removed?

For myself, I try to read a book every year at this time about the Shoah. This year, I re-read “Man’s Search for Meaning.”  It’s a short book that I first read in high school and I recommend you read too.  It’s written by a psychiatrist named Viktor Frankl who survived four concentration camps.  Dr. Frankl wrote a memoir about the psychological impact of the barbaric treatment he and his fellow inmates endured.

He writes:

Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food, and various mental stresses may suggest that inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone.    Fundamentally, therefore, any person can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him…He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp.

Quoting the Russian novelist and philosopher Fyodor Dostoevski, he says:  “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.”

Frankl explains:  the way we respond to our trials is a freedom no one can rob us of.  In the bitter fight for self-preservation we may forget our dignity and become no more than an animal.  Or, we may bravely retain our dignity and perform some act of courage, generosity, or encouragement that only we can perform even in the worst conditions conceivable.

How can we connect to Yom Hashoah when we are so far removed?

This year, I connect through by grappling with the powerful words of Dr. Viktor Frankl.

To paraphrase him:  How do we live our lives so that we are worthy of the life we are given?

Thankfully, we live in a world and a time when we are not fighting for self-preservation.  Yet, it is also a  world where most people are preoccupied with satisfying their own needs and wants.

In such a world, it takes courage to grapple with the question: What can we give to others? What can we do for others?

In a world where most people believe that life owes them something, it takes courage to ask ourselves:  What does life want from us?

We each possess unique gifts and talents and skills and abilities.  There is a task in this world that only we can do.  What is it?

If we live with these questions, our lives will be imbued with greater significance.  We will  live life with purpose.  Our lives will gain greater meaning.

And we will have found a response to the challenge:   “How do we connect to Yom Hashoah when we are so far removed?

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This article was written and published in the April 10, 2016 issue of the CJN.

http://www.cjnews.com/perspectives/ideas/have-you-had-enough-jewish-studies-by-grade-8

 

As head of school at the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, I frequently speak about the importance of a Jewish high school education and why I love what I do. It centres around three factors.

First, a Jewish high school education plays a vital role in solidifying a teenager’s Jewish identity. Adolescence is such a turbulent period of life that teenagers often reject, challenge, question and doubt some of the most sacred family values and norms. This is even true for children who have had an elementary Jewish day school education – one week of adolescence can wipe out a lot of tuition dollars quite speedily.

What Jewish high schools do is maximize the investment that parents and teachers have made during the early years of life and help students emerge Jewishly whole and strong.

Second, the big, complex questions are discussed and debated in high school. In elementary school, children gain a foundation in Hebrew, Jewish history and Jewish texts. The deeper questions lie ahead. I often hear some parents say that their children don’t want to continue their Jewish studies after their bar or bat mitzvah. Sometimes I hear middle school students say that they already know “enough” Hebrew and Judaics.

I’m not sure why so many parents accept that argument. If a Grade 8 child were to say, “I know enough math already,” we would roll our eyes and say, “That’s why I am the parent!” The same should be our response when 13- or 14-year-olds say to us that they know enough about their heritage or Israel and don’t need to continue their Jewish educational journey. There are a lot of understandable reasons for why parents may not choose Jewish high school for their child. “Knowing enough,” however, is not one of them.

Third, a Jewish high school education prepares students to feel comfortable in their own Jewish skin when they face the “real world” outside the Jewish bubble. Some parents will be surprised to hear this because they think that Jewish day school only solidifies the bubble. They believe that only public schools or non-Jewish private schools prepare their child for the “real world.” Skeptics will say: “How will my child ever be able to deal with the open, diverse world of the university if he or she is sheltered in a day school all his or her life?”

The most perceptive response I’ve heard to this question comes from a former high school student of mine. “When I get to the university, I will have developed such a strong sense of who I am as a Jew that I will be able to contribute to that diversity,” he said. “And that’s only because of my Jewish day school education.” Out of the mouths of babes comes the most powerful advice to us adults.

So, has your child had enough Jewish studies by Grade 8? Hopefully you will agree, absolutely not. Every day that I walk through our school doors, I see firsthand the path to passionate and committed Jewish adulthood being shaped – each student strengthening a Jewish future for all of us.

 

This is the question that stands at the center of “A Different Life,” TCK’s drama production that opened and closed to a packed audience.  The play tells the story of a typical Jewish immigrant family and the conflict between a mother who wants her son to grow up and become a (wealthy) lawyer and a father who wants his son to take his God-given talents and use them for the purpose he sees fit:  writing and theatre.

This year’s theatre production was unique in that the script was written by TCK’s English and Drama teacher Ms. Socken and because the theme is so pertinent to our 21st century world where parents worry that their children won’t be successful, well-employed, and well-off.  The play is so relevant that several students asked Ms. Socken if she was writing about them.

Sadly, too many kids are being pressured to live someone else’s dream.  Too many see their fate and self-worth being measured in terms of a score or a mark. Too many are pursuing a course of study or career not because they’re passionate about it or because they feel they can make a difference in the world but because our society lionizes wealth and status more so than the inner life, creativity, and a life of meaning.

The students and Ms. Socken artfully gave voice to an important message that all our parents should hear.  The play was serious but punctuated with clever humor.  It was content-filled but not sappy.  It was Jewish but not heavy-handed.  If you missed it, ask Ms. Socken to read it.  It’s worth your time and may liberate yourself from the tyranny of a dream that is someone else’s.

Below are a few poignant excerpts:

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BEN

Everyone belongs somewhere, you know? And it seems incredibly sad to spend your life where you don’t belong.

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BEN

Can you imagine if Arthur Miller’s mother had told him to “just be a lawyer”? What about Mozart or Picasso? If every artist—and their mothers—just thought: nah, it’s not worth the risk, then there would be no music or art or anything beautiful in this world. There is a reason that people are packed into the Metropolitan Museum of Art every, single day, and lined up outside theatres on Broadway, and the ballet, and Carnegie Hall. Because art matters. Because it is not a dream or a luxury—it’s as real and important as anything else in this world. How can you not see that?

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BEN

(calmly, with deep wisdom) You know, people think that tragedies are things that happen to you. But no one understands that something not happening—the gaping absence in your life where something amazing could have been—that’s a tragedy too. I finally realized; I’m more scared of spending my life mourning that loss than I am of taking this chance.

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Last year, I shared the story about two students who spontaneously wrote a speech for the flustered and unprepared non-Jewish delegate from Israel at Model UN.  This year, one of those students and the Jr Head of Model UN at TCW, Josh Benjamin, challenged the Model UN organization.  Of all the burning issues taking place in the world today, the organizers picked Islamophobia.  Josh questioned MUN’s priorities, and I proudly share his brave, articulate, and respectful inquiry below and its response.

Here’s what Josh had to say:

To whom it may concern,

I am curious to know why combating Islamophobic violence is number one on the topics for the UNHRC.

While Islamophobia is an issue, in the US for example, there are roughly four hate crimes against Jews for every hate crime against Muslims. So maybe we should discuss combating global antisemitism instead. Additionally, Jews are persecuted in Muslim countries and there is a mass exodus of Jews from Europe due to the large amount of antisemitism happening there.

Millions of people are oppressed by tyrannical regimes in the Arab world, Africa and Cuba. Women are treated with the same respect as cattle in Saudi Arabia, gays are thrown off the roof of high rise buildings in Iraq, but somehow Islamophobia is the topic of discussion.

How many Muslims are killed around the world because of Islamophobia compared to Jews and Christians?

Additionally, there are no topics on fighting global anti-semitism, persecution of Christians and minorities like Yezidis, radical Islamic terrorist groups, and rogue nations.

I heavily urge SOMA to rethink your topics to something more appropriate for today’s world.

Thank you, Josh Benjamin

 

Josh received this response:

At SOMA, there are only a limited number of issues which we can address each year. For our 2016 conference, we sought to select areas of discussion that were topical and pertinent, and would result in fruitful discourse with a variety of perspectives. Given the concerning global rise of Islamophobia that has been exacerbated in recent months, we find that the issue of Islamophobic violence is more than relevant to our world, and should be considered in our global dialogue. You are free to disagree; in fact, many nations do. This is exactly the kind of variety of perspectives we encourage at SOMA, and which are the goal of bodies like the United Nations. That diversity of opinion, however, does not negate the severity of the problem.

Choosing to focus on one issue, does not mean that others do not exist. Our choice to have a discussion on the subject of Islamophobic violence, does not mean that anti-semitic violence, and similar acts against other religious minorities, are not transpiring. We do not, and would never, wish to minimize or diminish the horrors of such acts. However, we must ultimately make a choice to focus on certain issues for our conference, and we found that the issue of Islamophobia is certainly pressing and undoubtedly growing.

We believe that any form of undue violence against a religious minority should be considered to be an issue, and engagement in the question of which form of religious-based violence is the worst is ultimately meaningless. Religious based violence is unacceptable. Full stop. Bodies like the UN must respond to these issues, and we are proud to have this reflected within our choices for discussion topics for SOMA XLIV.

We hope that this has answered your concerns sufficiently. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to let us know.

Sincerely,

Owen Torrey

USG Communications

SOMA XLIV

 

Rabbi B and Josh Benjamin

 

The following letter was sent to TanenbaumCHAT graduates at McGill University earlier this week.

 

Dear TanenbaumCHAT graduates at McGill University,

I read in this week’s CJN the good news that the student-led motion in favour of BDS was voted down after the Student Society initially passed it.  I know that many of you were in the forefront of campaigning, educating, and networking to defeat this anti-Semitic motion. Todah Rabbah and Yishar Koach!

I understand that although the BDS motion wasn’t ratified, 43% of the students voted in favour of it.  I can only imagine how uncomfortable it must be to study in an environment where nearly half the student leadership believes that your people, our people, the Jewish people, should be denied the right to national sovereignty.  I also imagine that some Jewish students have begun to hide their identity and deny a connection to Israel.  That’s why I am even more proud of you for remaining loyal to the Jewish people, to the State of Israel, and to the values that you were raised on both at home and at TanenbaumCHAT.

Whatever role you played, you should know that a community of over 1000 students, 200 teachers and staff, and 7,000 alumni stands behind you and supports you.  Behind you is the Canadian Parliament as well. Our national leaders understand that BDS supporters, cloaking their arguments in the language of human rights, have one true goal–Israel’s destruction.  Our elected officials know well that the obliteration of our homeland negates fundamental Canadian values and interests and is bad for the entire civilized world.

As well, our Parliamentarians understand that Israel is a place that provides the Jewish people the best opportunity to be Jews not just in our homes but in the public sphere as well.  To deny Israel that right and compel us to hide who we are–to deny our inalienable right to self-determination– is to rob us of a fundamental human freedom.  I am proud to live in a country where at least our politicians understand this; hopefully university students will one day get the message too.

As the Head of School of TanenbaumCHAT, I am proud of your courage and persistence and thank you for standing up for Israel in the face of what is often the toughest opposition:  the hostility of peers.  Chazak Chazak V’nitchazeik!

Sincerely,

Rabbi Buckman, Head of School of TanenbaumCHAT

I’m always impressed when our students make their mark on the outside world.  This week the March 1 edition of the Globe and Mail published an essay that Laura Goldfarb (TCW, Class of 2016) wrote for the Facts & Arguments column.  I recently had the pleasure of studying with Laura in her Jewish history class and was struck by her intelligence, maturity, and inner calm.  Laura’s insightful and well-written essay about the power of speech confirmed my impression.

Laura agreed to be a guest columnist in my blog.  Below is her fine essay.

 

I was diagnosed as clinically mute not long after I learned how to talk. I spoke solely to my immediate family members and sparingly so, even to them. It was not that I couldn’t speak or that I didn’t understand the utility of language. Rather, it was my hyper awareness of its power that made language a precarious resource and one that I dared not use recklessly.

Kindergarten was an ordeal, to say the least. I dreaded “play hour,” the seemingly endless portion of the day allocated to compulsory socialization. I would regress into a catatonic state at the mere thought of having to approach another child and ask to play. When my teachers would become frustrated and plead with me to “use my words,” I would hyperventilate, turn blue and pass out. (This was a function of my cyanotic spells, with which I was subsequently diagnosed.)

For years, I persisted in my silence. On multiple occasions, I rode all the way home in carpool without my seat belt on because I couldn’t do it up myself, and I was too afraid to ask for help.

“You’ve been sitting here all this time without your seat belt on?” the carpool mother would say. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

I thought but never said, “Because I’m terrified of speaking.”

I was almost seven years old when I “broke my silence,” so to speak. I was on a walk with my mother when we bumped into her good friend. She was a woman whom I was well acquainted with and also a woman whom I had never uttered a single word to. When I saw her approaching, I promptly performed my routine procedure, concealing myself behind my mother’s legs.

As I observed the two women converse, I felt unaccountably moved to say “hello.” It was hard to fathom this impulse; it was so foreign, yet so instinctual. The desire to talk came over me like a tidal wave – wholly and forcefully; it was a phenomenon that was not a result of perseverance, but a product nature.

Having had no experience with the task of greeting someone, I managed a meagre “hi” before cowering in confusion at the sound of my own voice. She didn’t hear me, but that didn’t matter. Because, with that one word, I unleashed myself into the realm of talkers, inexplicably leaving behind my trepidation.

My shyness no longer debilitated me, but I remained frugal with my words throughout elementary school. My brothers would return home from school and share drawn-out stories about their day or excitedly exchange predictions about the upcoming hockey game; they spent their words frivolously. I, on the other hand, preferred to express myself through drawings and diagrams, providing brief verbal explanations where my artistry failed me.

“Is that a ladder over there?” my mother asked softly, with one hand pointing to the fence that I had drawn and the other resting gently on my shoulder as she carefully examined my artwork.

“It’s a fence,” I explained.

As I matured, I became increasingly liberal with my use of speech. The gnawing fear of words that once controlled my life eventually dissipated. I was completely emancipated from my childhood anxiety. I was unrestrained. I was reckless.

When I was in seventh grade, I learned what shame tastes like. I was sitting with my friends at lunch, chatting mindlessly about TV shows and the latest gossip. One of my friends began remarking about the new haircut of a girl in our grade.

“She looks like a boy,” my friend snickered.

“I know,” I replied, “it looks horrible!”

Our words were careless. Idle. But powerful, nonetheless.

The following day, I found myself in conversation with that girl; we were discussing our work during class. After a few minutes, she looked down at the ground and whispered to me, “I don’t like my haircut, either.”

I had never felt so ashamed, and, in that moment, I realized that my words were possessing me in the very same way that my silence once did.

That was in seventh grade – the day I reclaimed my fear of words, and that fear has remained within me ever since. I know this now, as I knew it when I was in kindergarten: Words are powerful, far more so than the person who speaks them; perhaps silence is not my disease, but my remedy.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/reclaming-my-childhood-fear-of-speaking-i-realized-the-power-of-words/article28969603/

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If you were to ask which of our teachers would say they are in the forefront of technological innovation, it wouldn’t likely be Rabbi/Dr. Aronson. I don’t think he’d describe himself as a “techie.”  Yet, Rabbi Aronson, a beloved Jewish history teacher and head of the Jewish history department at TCW, is proactively pioneering an important experiment that will help address a potential enrollment challenge.

If course enrollment is too low to justify the expense of hiring a teacher, what options enable us to continue to offer the breadth of courses that TanenbaumCHAT is known for?  This was the challenge that we faced this winter. Four grade 12 students at TCK wanted to take JEH 4HJ, a Jewish history research course. Enrollment wasn’t sufficient to run the course at TCK.  However, at TCW, 14 students expressed interest in the same course.

The solution:  connect the two campuses electronically to create a robust class of 18.  Doing so not only enables us to offer a broad array of courses, but, in the future, e-learning also may attract students who are motivated to learn in a new and revolutionary way.  As one parent said, “this is the future of education.”  In fact, research is now showing that personalized, collaborative and connected learning experiences enhance student engagement, which in turn drives student success.

Rabbi Aronson agreed to be the one to pilot a new method of  teaching.  For the first few weeks of the course in February when students select and refine their research topics, most of the work is individualized; the teacher offers direction and advice.  However, from March onward, students on both campuses meet three times a week, as any “regular” class would, but instead they do so using the Webex interface.  Webex is a video conferencing platform that offers screen sharing, archiving, and the ability to meet from the device of your choice.  During the course of the semester, students present a one-hour cross-campus seminar to the class, write an essay on the subject, keep a journal, and submit a final summative assignment.

In one of the first sessions of this semester-long course, Rabbi Aronson led a discussion about the Syrian refugees.  The entire class (those sitting at TCK and those sitting at TCW) watched and discussed a video about the work of ISRAID–Israelis assisting refugees coming off the boats in Greece.

Two factors are necessary:  1) the teacher must be willing to re-design his/her lessons to teach simultaneously remotely and locally; and 2) we need excellent tech support and reliable connectivity.  This course has been a success because we have both.  The beauty of having Rabbi Aronson as the volunteer pioneer is that he also understands that relationship-building is vital.  Rabbi Aronson met with the Kimel students on TCW Winter Activity day and has encouraged students to meet with him one-on-one to infuse the course with a more personal touch.

Rabbi Aronson offers a word of caution.  JEH 4HJ is a unique course that attracts a certain type of student because it is so student-driven.  Our next step, scheduled also for this year, is to pilot the same technology in more typical lecture- or discussion-based classes with a less selective group of students.

Author and entrepreneur Seth Godin once said, “Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late.”  At TanenbaumCHAT, we choose to be early.

 

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Last week, I raised the question of whether or not it’s appropriate to teach morally problematic texts such as Psalm 137:9 (“happy is the one who takes hold of the enemies’ infants and dashes them against a rock”) which describes a vengeful wish of the psalmist.  I asked to guest teach a class of grade 11 students and see how they would react.

My feeling was that it’s better that students discuss problematic issues in an environment where they can avail themselves of a collective struggle for meaning than to confront these texts and historical episodes solo or, worse, be blind-sided in some hostile context.

When I introduced the text and the circumstances surrounding it (the murder this past summer and the wedding during winter break), the students first were shocked or incredulous that religious Jews could act this way and that our sacred tradition could ostensibly canonize a wish to do violence against children. The students grappled with the text and came to terms with the problematic verse by contextualizing it.  They understood the psalmist to be living at a time after the destruction of the first Temple and, in the words on one student, “writing with his emotions.”  “He was exaggerating,” noted another.  One student added, “people go through stages of mourning, one of which is anger.  The writer was angry and in pain.  He was lashing out.  He didn’t mean for his words to be taken literally.”

I added that the psalmist states ambiguously “happy is the one who grabs hold of infants…” without identifying the subject of the verb.  He does not say, for example, “happy is the person.” He, the psalmist, will not be the one to take vengeance; perhaps God will.  “What goes around comes around.”

Some students knew enough Tanach to evince other morally problematic texts.  They recognized, however, that Judaism today relies on an interpretive tradition, and in some inexplicable way, there are values that transcend the text that guide us and steer us away us from acting on verses like Psalm 137:9.

After I finished my guest lesson, I asked the students if they thought that it was appropriate for me to have taught them this psalm.  Initially, some said that it is appropriate only for students in older grades.  They felt it might not be so responsible to burst the naiveté of students in grades 9 and 10. Another challenged that view and said, “I hate being taught that Jews and Judaism are perfect. It’s not realistic.”  To this, one student said “some teachers are worried we’ll close the book (the Tanach) if we are exposed to problematic passages.  I think I’m more likely to open it.”

I don’t know if students are more likely to open the Tanach if they learn a more balanced perspective, but I do know that a balanced perspective will expose them to important enduring questions.  Grappling with these questions can be a source of joy and will help ensure they will be guardians of our tradition.