How do words have the power to create? Through writing in both Hebrew and English, drawing, practicing calligraphy, making ink and writing implements, singing, choreographing, and dancing, the children explored in great depth the meaning of Hebrew letters, including their relationship to creation.
The Kabbalat Torah ceremony is a celebration of what we learn all year. In 2017-2018 / 5778, we told the story before the story, the story before creation, before our reality. The theme was the Hebrew alphabet. It is written in the Torah that God created the world with words. (בעשרה מאמרות נברא העולם) And God said, “Let there be light and there was light.” Words have the power to create. People can also create with words. When we want to say something, just by stretching our mouths and pushing out air, we can communicate amazing thoughts to each other. The Hebrew language puts an emphasis not only on the words but also on the Hebrew letters: the shapes, the sounds, the names, the locations of the letter in the words. The way a word is spelled is significant. One example is the letter Beit, the second letter in the alphabet, but the first in the Torah. Why do we start the Torah with the second letter? Why not with Aleph? We brought this question to the children who noted that the “B” sound is like an explosion. Perhaps we bring something from the abstract to the material world – something is Born, it is the Beginning.
So we began our study. We started at the beginning. How did people think to bring thoughts into graphic symbols? We studied other ancient written languages. We studied verses in the Torah, reading them letter by letter to help us deepen our understanding of the text. Through this study, the children deepened their realization that the power of language is a gift.
- We studied the beginning of writing. The children were introduced to other ancient written languages like hieroglyphs from Egypt, cuneiforms from Babylon, and finally ancient Hebrew.
- We built a “cave” to experience how and where ancient peoples drew pictures and symbols for thousands of years. The children drew on the “walls” with a combination of clay and charcoal. Cave Video
- The children lIterally learned how to write letters as they were written in the Torah. They made ink from gall nuts, cut the quills for writing, practiced calligraphy, and finally wrote on real parchment, like Torah scribes do.
- The Hebrew words they wrote on parchment were sewn into the cover of their Torah books which they received at the Kabbalat Torah.
- The students studied Hebrew words to understand what we can learn from the use of specific letters to spell certain words. Beit – house, Samech – secret, Aleph -God’s name etc.
- The students designed banners with these specific words as decorations for the set of the Kabbalat Torah Ceremony.
- The students learned a basic movement vocabulary of the elements of dance including space, time, and force.(Insert photos creative movement class here.)
- Using the elements of dance, the students collaborated to choreograph dances expressing the meaning of the Hebrew letters and the vowels.
- The students created movement phrases to accompany Victoria Hannah’s Aleph Bet song.
- The students performed their songs and dances for their parents and other guests as part of the Kabbalat Torah Ceremony.
- The children created a collage to express their feelings about the Kabbalat Torah with symbolic colors and shapes, and they then wrote about the meaning in English.
- The students illustrated the story, Adam and Nefertiti, A Story Carved in Stone. In their illustrations, they used only colors and shapes and words carved in stones to represent Hebrew slaves, Egyptians, and concepts of freedom.
Rose Nolen holds a BA in dance education from the University of Maryland and a multiple subject teaching credential from San Jose State University. Rose taught third grade general studies at Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School for 19 years where she integrated creative movement into the curriculum. In 2010, Rose received the Chamsa Award from Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School, and in 2013 Rose was selected to be a mentor teacher for the DeLeT program at Hebrew Union College. Rose retired from teaching in the classroom in 2014, but continues to teach Creative Movement and help develop the Kaballat Torah Ceremony.
Atara Moalem studied Jewish history and Archaeology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She also studied Tanach and Oral Torah as well as Education at Michalala collage in Jerusalem. Atara was working as a tour guide in Israel and also taught in variety of schools from young age to high school.
After moving to the US Atara worked in many synagogues in the SF Bay area, including Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School. Atara believes in Project Base Learning, and involves the student's senses in hands on activities. Atara won the Diller Educator Award in 2006.