Sunday, May 18, 2014

Project Based Learning and Marrano Art

Jake's Marrano Art -- hiding Jewish documents

Who would put a mezuzza in a Madonna's foot? Why would a Jewish family send their son to become a Catholic priest? Why does the holiday of Purim resonate with so many "Catholics?" Where did the tradition come from, among some "Christian" families in Spain, Portugal and South America, to keep locked rooms and secret cellars in their homes where they would light candles on certain days? Why do some "Catholics" clean their homes on Friday, turn their mirrors around when someone in the family dies and refuse to eat certain types of meat?

It's difficult for 21st century Jews to imagine the turmoil and terror that the Jews of the Iberian peninsula experienced when the rulers of Spain and Portugal instituted the Inquisition. We can read about it and try to envision it, but most of us fall short of fully understanding what Jews of those times were forced to do to try to preserve their faith. How can we, as Jewish educators, impart the depth of Jewish history to our students?  
Over the course of the 2013-2014 school year, JETS director Smadar Goldstein has been teaching an online high school history class to 9th – 12th grade students at Yeshivat Kadima in St. Louis. In order to enable the students to view themselves as part of the continuum of Jewish history and tradition, Smadar employs online tools to foster project based learning, including the following elements:
  • a compelling driving question
  •  student choice regarding topics and modes of expression
  • in-depth inquiry the requires student research and analytical thinking
to make the past "real" for the students.

This month the class is studying the impact that the Expulsion of 1492 and the subsequent Inquisition had on the Jewish world of the era. To drive home the lesson of what life was like for Spanish and Portuguese Jews of the 15th century, Smadar assigned the students to create projects which summarize Jewish life of the era. Some students chose to create a timeline of Jewish history, but many of the students decided to tackle creating a Marrano Art Project. This assignment aims to demonstrate some of the ways that Jews used to ingenuously hide ritual objects along with a page detailing a "Day in the Life of the Marrano." This project helped the students internalize the complexity of the quandary faced by the Marranos, and the blessings of religious freedom. 

Aaron's project

Elianna's Project

Elianna's Project

Jake's Project

Sammy's Project

Yoni's Project


  1. In your narrative you provide excellent examples of Project-Based Jewish Learning. Well done!!!

  2. Thank you, Richard! Nice to hear from you again.