Hanukkah in 4D: Bringing the Israel Museum to the Middle School Rabbinics Classroom
What do you remember more:
• What you saw at your last museum visit or the book you were reading the day you went to that museum?
• The chapter on Ancient Egypt in your world History textbook or your trip to the Egyptian wing of a museum?
• The picture, painting, or collage you last created or the last email you typed?
Most likely, you recall information gathered from your interaction with art more than you recall information learned from reading alone. Certainly, for many adolescents in our text classes, this is the case. Yet many of our teachers, citing our shared value of tradition, are planning lessons based solely on exploring texts in hevruta study and in lectures. Even many students who appear engaged in the moment of reading a particular text will only recall the most basic information when the class activity focuses too heavily on this style.
We aim to share a model of blending aesthetics and Jewish studies which can be applied in any day school—we call it the 4D model. Bringing in art and aesthetics adds a third dimension to traditional text study. The fourth dimension comes with the addition of experiential education, which makes the learning intensely authentic, engaging and memorable. The 4D model of Jewish education aims to blend what is most effective in formal classroom learning with what is most impactful in experiential education. The name is partly inspired by the 4D theater experience offered at many zoos and theme parks. 4D education is also inspired by time travel, as it’s represented in science fiction.
The 4D model’s application to Jewish education is exemplified by the Hanukkah unit studied in Schechter School of Long Island’s 8th grade rabbinics classes. Students had a compelling experience of travel in (virtual) space and through history to examine hanukkiyot from throughout the Jewish Diaspora and contemporary Israel. This experience complemented the class’s traditional study of eight sugyot from Masekhet Shabbat, covering such topics as where to place the hanukkiyah, which oil to use, and what to do in times of danger. It also fit in nicely to the school’s Global Jewish Story Initiative, in which teachers are encouraged to weave non-Ashkenazic texts and traditions into the classroom experience.
Twice during their three-week unit of study, the students travelled virtually to the Israel Museum through an interactive Skype visit. The museum educator described how artists throughout the world and Jewish history have incorporated aspects of local aesthetics, architecture and symbolism into the design of their hanukkiyot, now found in the museum’s collection.
For example, where Jews were living under Islamic rule, hanukkiyot featured domes and crescents. Hanukkiyot featured symbols such as seashells, eagles and hearts when that sign held significance in the local culture or political leadership. Hanukkiyot had stands if they had to be placed on tables indoors during times it was unsafe to display Jewish observance, but had hooks for hanging if it was safe to place it in the window or even outdoors, publicly labelling a Jewish residence.
Each student chose a particular hanukkiyah from the collection in order to more closely analyze the artist’s decisions. Often the student’s selection reflected his or her family’s ethnic background, providing another portal for engagement with the Global Jewish Story. All the students matched the hanukkiyah of their choice with a passage from the Gemara that it exemplified. Here are some passages they chose:
Our Rabbis taught: It is a mitzvah to place the Hanukkah lamp by the opening to the house outside. If one lives in an upstairs residence, one places it in a window facing the public domain. In a time of danger (in which there were decrees against Jewish observance), one places it on his table, and that’s enough. (Shabbat 21b)
Rabbah said: It is a mitzvah to place the hanukkah lamp in the handbreadth (3-4 inches) next to the opening of the house. How does one place it? Rav Aha son of Rava said: from the right side; Rav Shmuel from Difti said: from the left side. The law is from the left so that the hanukkah lamp will be on the left and the mezuzah on the right. (Shabbat 22a)
Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: all oils are fit for lighting the hanukkiah, but olive oil is the most choice.
The final project for the unit had the students pretending the Israel Museum had hired them to write the museum catalog entry for a hanukkiyah, which included a description of the architecture (in the style of churches, mosques or other iconic structures), symbolism and other artistic decisions of the artist in addition to their select Talmudic quote.
While many printed the hanukkiyot on an average 2D color printer, some students chose to use the school’s 3D printer to recreate the museum exhibit themselves, bringing our study of global Jewish historical artifacts to life in the 21st century rabbinics classroom. The students’ work is on display for parents at their end-of-year siyyum Project Showcase.
Talya Weiss Ben Ami of the Israel Museum’s Education Department worked very closely with us, a classroom teacher and project leader, as we designed the unit of study. Upon hearing our desire to have the diversity of artifacts match the diversity of our student body, Talya immediately recommended that the students see pictures of French and Spanish hanukkiyot that are modeled after the architecture of cathedrals alongside Moroccan and Algerian hanukkiyot that are modeled after mosques. She prepared a slideshow with close-ups of many of the hanukkiyot the class would study alongside the buildings that inspired the artists. With two screens set up—one for the PowerPoint and one for the Skype feed—the students sensed they were about to do something very exciting.
The recipe for successful 4D education is replicable and leaves the students with enduring meaning and understanding. Combine traditional text study, an exploration of artistic works that engages the senses, and a compelling scenario that prompts reflection and stimulates the imagination of a budding text scholar intrigued by the visual world. Using technology and a dash of projected images, craftily infuse the text lessons with visual images of the objects explored on the tour to solidify formation of new text-based concepts and make deeper connections. Always give time for personal self-guided exploration of select artifacts by giving students digital access to such tools as PowerPoint, Google museum tours and web galleries. Create a 4D experience in your classroom and send your students time-traveling, learning and building lasting memories.
Are you interested in taking your students on a virtual tour of the Israel Museum? Email Nava, firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about tour themes and museum “admission” fees.