Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Exploring the Future by Examining the Past

Half a year into the JconnecT Learning program, the online Hebrew school participants are connecting to the wider Jewish community by exploring their own Jewish heritage.

JconnecT was established in 2010 as a vehicle which allows Jewish youngsters aged 11-14 to learn about Judaism in an elearning format that meets each student's specific needs and interests. The students gather, online, from many different areas of North America, to learn, discuss, present and discover the different aspects of their Judaism. Some of the students are homeschooled while others attend a traditional public school for their secular studies. JconnecT includes participants who live in remote areas in which they don't have access to a traditional afternoon Hebrew school, as well as students who are not comfortable with the existing Hebrew school framework that exists in their neighborhood. JconnecT provides the students with an open atmosphere to ask questions and to explore various aspects of their Jewish heritage and connections to Israel.

The second semester of the 2013-2014 JconnecT year began with a summary of the students' own families' histories. Students chatted in what they knew about their own families' origins and histories and then located their ancestral homes on the online map. The kids then viewed an online map which displayed numbers of Jews who immigrated to Israel in the years 1948-1950. Discussion questions included:
1.       Which country had the most number of people who immigrated to Israel?
2.        Why were so many Jews immigrating to Israel from those countries during those years?
3.       Are there surprises on the map?
The students were able to link the post-Holocaust persecutions in Eastern Europe and North Africa and the issue of Jewish refugees with the immigration numbers. Many of the students also expressed their surprise that large numbers of Jews once lived in "exotic" countries such as Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Iraq and even India.

During the next part of the lesson, the students -- mostly Ashkanazi -- moved on to learn more about the Sephardic community. The concepts "Ashkanazi" and "Sepharadi" were new to most of the students who viewed the map to identify countries that are associated with Ashkanazi and Sepharadi communities. A few students mentioned items of interest that they knew about North African Jews -- dress, food customs, holiday traditions -- and then the kids watched a video which takes a humorous look at the unique aspects of Ashkanazi and Sepharadi communities.

After watching the video the students reviewed some of the information that they'd learned from the video as they annotated an online chart with comparisons of Ashkanazi and Sepharadi music, language, food, names, holidays, beliefs and more.

The lesson ended with a closer look at food traditions, which fascinated the kids. Some unusual types of Jewish ethnic foods were presented and the students considered which foods they'd like to try and why. They then shared their own families' Jewish food specialties with a look at the history of some of these dishes.

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