In this three week "Integrated Creative Judaics" unit,11th grade students delved into the roots of Midrash Rabbah Bemidbar 2.7 in an exploration of the tribal flags of the Israelites and identity. They then drew upon their wisdom to create "fruits of the soul" by designing and animating flags based upon their learning.
Flags of the Tribes of Israel: A Media Arts and Chumash “Integrated Creative Judaics” Textual Analysis and Motion Graphics Production.
All high school students in the state of California are required to complete one year of Visual or Performing Arts to satisfy their graduation requirement. At de Toledo High School all arts courses are also considered Jewish Civilization courses. Through a series of creative projects and exercises, Media Arts students delve into the roots of Jewish texts and draw up their inspiration into creative “fruits of the soul”.
One of the most successful projects we have undertaken was an interdisciplinary project with Rabbi Devin Maimon Villarreal based on Midrash Rabbah Bemidbar 2.7 (page 1, page 2) in which the the visual design and source Biblical texts upon which the tribal flags of the Israelites were based.
Rather than just assigning a motion graphics project which would have predictably resulted in projects inspired by the latest meme or viral youtube video devoid of any critical thought, analysis, evaluation or meaning, Rabbi Villarreal led the Media Arts students on a journey into the roots where they explored the names, colors and symbols of tribes. They were challenged to not only look at the flags on a surface level, but to more deeply explore associations in the Biblical text, analyze the source text and articulate why the flags were created and the purpose they served.
Prior to exploring the text with Rabbi Villarreal, they were learning the foundations of digital illustration in Adobe Illustrator and motion design in After Effects with Blonder.
Following their explorations of the text and discussions about what it means to be a member of a tribe involving personal identity and identity within groups including family, friends, and peers at school, the students were tasked to design and animate a flag using motion based communication design.
Roger Blonder’s lesson plan can be viewed here.
The project was a resounding success. Not only did the students discover meaningful connections in the text, but their motion design pieces capture their learning in symbols which will remind them of the learning process if they should ever look back on the collective reel we created in the class.
The final animated flags can be viewed here.
One of the great challenges in text study is a separation from the reality that made the original text compelling in its context. This unit on motion communication design provided a key to unlocking vital dimensions about what on the surface is a dry text about flags belonging to tribes of Israel as they wandered in the desert. Taking the dynamic and symbolic nature of these texts and lifting them from our mind’s eye to the media arts platform allowed students to experience what was so powerful about these flags as it pertains to identity, history of each tribe and their character. It was an ideal nexus of essential aspects of engagement including student intrigue, personal meaning/relevance and appropriately leveled skill challenges. In the end, the students were able to experience this text as speaking to elements of their own lives in a truly unique way.
The handouts created in the Chumash class were returned to the students to be used as they designed their flags, so we are not able to share them here. Interested educators and students might enjoy reading the Midrash and connecting the description of the flag with the animated flag.
We believe that the ultimate meaning and value are represented by the flags (the fruits of the project) and the worksheets could be regarded as the seeds and roots that served their function at the project inception.
We believe this project could be adapted to all age levels. Exploration and analysis and of tribe names, colors and symbols can be relevant at all age levels of Judaic study – and the creation of flags can be done with construction paper, colored pencil, paint, basic digital imaging or can be taken as far as we did by incorporating the highest end of imaging and animation software preparing students for future study or even careers involving media production.
Roger Blonder, MFA, is the Director of Media Arts at de Toledo High School. An entrepreneurial educator, writer and media artist, Blonder’s creative productions have been exhibited in over 50 international film and media festivals and been honored with many awards. Blonder received his MFA from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Digital Media. Prior to joining the faculty of dTHS, he taught animation at Art Center College of Design, and Loyola Marymount University.
Rabbi Devin Maimon Villarreal is currently serving as the Jewish Studies department chair at deToledo High School, a pluralistic Jewish Community Day School near Los Angeles. In addition to semikha from YCT for which he was also a Wexner Graduate Fellow, he holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Study of Religion from UCLA and a Master’s Degree in Teaching from the American Jewish University. Together with his fellow faculty members, “Rabbi V” seeks to create a school environment that fosters Jewish commitment, meaning and growth through the implementation of rigorous and soulful curricula. Most recently, he has been working on a middot/character driven Talmud curriculum and a series of Jewish Studies courses integrated with disciplines such as Speech and Debate, and Media Arts. He and his wife, Pamela, are blessed with four children.