Your Turn to Teach

This post on If Not Now, When?, the interactive blog of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, is  shared by Susan Ringel who teaches our 4th grade Parent-Child Hebrew program.  Pictured next to her is student Rachel Klein holding the graph that she and her dad presented with their question, see below.

In all of the classrooms in our school, the students are both learners and teachers. Recently, the 4th Grade Parent Child Hebrew took part in “Your Turn to Teach.” Each student and parent pair were challenged to think of any question they have about Judaism. They researched it, wrote a response, and then taught it to the class. Here is what we learned (in alphabetical order)!

4th Grader Naomi Bolen and mom Shari
Question: Why do we drink wine on Shabbat?

One of the Ten Commandments is “Remember (zachor) the Sabbath day to sanctify it.”

We understand this commandment to mean that we must declare Shabbat to be holy. The sages pointed out that the word “zachor” is often associated with wine, and thus the mitzvah of sanctifying Shabbat is done with wine, in a blessing called Kiddush.

Another reason for using wine (or grape juice) is to lend a celebratory feeling to the Shabbat meal that follows, distinguishing it as a special, festive occasion, different than other meals during the week.

The brachah (blessing) we say over wine ends with the Hebrew words “…borei p’ri hagafen,” which refers to the “fruit of the vine.” Traditionally, the wine should be made from grapes.


4th Grader Logan Hirsh and mom Julie
Question: Why do we cover our eyes and wave our hands when we light Shabbat candles?

Every Friday, we celebrate Shabbat. Me and my mom light the Sabbath candles which is why we had an interest in this question. The things you do when you celebrate Shabbat are light candles, say the blessing over the wine and say the hamotzi over challah. To answer our question: By bringing in the Shabbat energy on Shabbat, we are supposed to rest after a long week of work. By drawing our hands in, we are beckoning (calling) our soul energy to come back to our source. Another reason would be, we are repairing for Eve, who diminished the light through her sin in the Garden of Eden. Women can return the light of the world by lighting candles. Lighting two candles is favorable to represent the commandment “keep the Sabbath” and also to keep peace in the home. Some women light more than two candles, one for every family member. Although it is customary to light two candles, you can fulfill the mitzvah by lighting one.


4th grader Rachel Klein and dad Andy
Question: Why does God call Israel “The Land of Milk and Honey?”

Some of our greatest sages asked the same question; let’s see what they say. When God spoke to Moses at the burning bush [Exodus 3:8], God told Moses that God would redeem the Israelites and bring them to a “good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Honey here (and in the Torah) is understood to be fruit nectar, date honey, not bee’s honey.

Nachmanides writes that the key word is “flowing.” Fruit trees grow in many different terrains, but their produce overflow with nectar only when the land is especially fertile, when the trees are especially well-nourished.

Also, livestock live in many habitats, but only overflow with milk when they are in particularly fertile pastures.

Thus, a “land flowing with milk and honey” points to a great good – the fertility of the Promised Land.

The Midrash explains that milk symbolizes superior quality, richness of taste and nourishment. Honey represents sweetness. The goodness of Israel is both nourishing and pleasant.

Some point out that honey and milk share a paradoxical quality. Honey is kosher, though produced by a non-kosher insect. Milk is kosher, though it comes from a cow whose meat cannot be eaten with milk.

The goodness of Israel with often times come from places where it is least expected.

The average cow in Israel produces 12,000 litres of milk a year, double what cows in Australia produce, 5,500 litres a year.

As of this year, there are 529 beekeepers on some 120,000 hives around Israel. The bees produce annually about 35 kilograms of honey per hive.

Sources: Torah Exodus 3:8,, and Israel Honey Production, Rabbi Menachem Posner.

4th Grader Jaryn Marcus and mom Lindsay
Question: Why do we drink wine or grape juice on Shabbat?

Some people say that drinking grape juice or wine is a celebratory drink and some people think that drinking juice or wine is a symbol for a sweet new week. Wine or grape juice gives joy by making God feel holy and happy.

4th Grader Malcolm McFarland and mom Lisa Feinberg
Question: Have there ever been any Jews in space, and if so, did they do anything Jewish in space?

  • Boris Volynov – first Jewish cosmonaut. Being Jewish made it harder for him to go.
  • Judith Resnik – from Akron (!)
  • Jeffrey Hoffman – first American Jewish man in space. Put a mezuzah up in space. Took a dreidel to space which spun for hours. Lit a menorah (with electric lights).
  • Ellen Baker
  • Marsha Ivins
  • Jerome Apt III – partially exposed to vacuum of space and survived.
  • David Wolf – voted from space
  • Martin J. Fettman – vet
  • Jonh Grunsfeld – lots of space walks. Called Car Talk from space.
  • Scott Horowitz – shared the bunk and and mezuzah with Hoffman.
  • Mark Polanski
  • Ilan Ramon – Israeli. Brought kosher food. Brought microfiche Torah, a barb wire mezuzah (memory of Holocaust), sketch by Petr Ginz. Figured out how often Shabbat should be (a “day” is 90 minutes on the International Space Station (ISS), so they decided to count days at place of launch). Lit candles (electric).
  • Garrett Reisman – first Jewish crew member on ISS. Sent a message on Israel’s 60th Independence Day.
  • Gregory Charmitoff – brought bagels to space. Put up a rocket shaped mezuzah on ISS.
  • Yuri Shargin – Russian cosmonaut
  • Jessica Meir – dual citizenship Sweden and U.S. On the first all female space walk. In space right now!

4th Grader Jordan Page and dad Steve
Question: What makes a rabbi a rabbi?

A rabbi is not a priest, neither in the Jewish sense of the term nor in the Christian sense. A Christian priest is a person with special authority to perform certain sacred rituals. A rabbi, on the other hand, has no more authority to perform rituals than any other adult [male] member of the Jewish community. In the Jewish sense, a priest (kohein) is a descendant of Aaron, charged with performing various rites in the Temple in connection with religious rituals and sacrifices. Although a kohein can be a rabbi, a rabbi is not required to be a kohein.

A rabbi is simply a teacher, a person sufficiently educated in halakhah (Jewish law) and tradition to instruct the community and to answer questions and resolve disputes regarding halakhah. When a person has completed the necessary course of study, he/she is given a written document, which confirms authority to make such decisions.

However, it is important to note that the rabbi’s status as rabbi does not give any special authority to conduct religious services. Any Jew sufficiently educated to know what he is doing can lead a religious service, and a service led by such a Jew is every bit as valid as a service led by a rabbi. It is not unusual for a community to be without a rabbi, or for Jewish services to be conducted without a rabbi, or for members of the community to lead all or part of religious services, even when a rabbi is available.


4th Grader Asher Starrfield and mom Erica
Question:  Is “Jewish” a religion or a race?

Judaism has been described as a religion, a race, a culture, and a nation. The Jewish people are best described as an extended family.

Is Judaism a Religion?

There is a religion called Judaism, a set of ideas about the world and the way we should live our lives that is called “Judaism.”

Many people who call themselves Jews do not believe in that religion at all! More than half of all Jews in Israel today call themselves “secular,” and don’t believe in God or any of the religious beliefs of Judaism. Half of all Jews in the United States don’t belong to any synagogue. They may practice some of the rituals of Judaism and celebrate some of the holidays, but they don’t think of these actions as religious activities.

Are Jews a Race?

In the 1980s, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Jews are a race, at least for purposes of certain anti-discrimination laws.

But many Jews were deeply offended by that decision, offended by any hint that Jews could be considered a race. The idea of Jews as a race brings to mind nightmarish visions of Nazi Germany.

Race is a genetic distinction, and refers to people with shared ancestry and shared genetic traits. You can’t change your race.

Is It a Culture or Ethnic Group?

Most secular American Jews think of their Jewishness as a matter of culture or ethnicity. When they think of Jewish culture, they think of the food, of the Yiddish language, of some limited holiday observances, and of cultural values like the emphasis on education.

Are the Jews a Nation?

The explanation given in the Torah is that the Jews are a nation, a group of people with a common history, a common destiny, and a sense that we are all connected to each other.

The Jewish People are a Family

The Jewish people are referred to as “the Children of Israel,” Jacob. We are part of his extended family.

Like a family, we don’t always agree with each other. We often argue and criticize each other. We hold each other to the very highest standards. But when someone outside of the family unfairly criticizes us, we are quick to join together in opposition to that unfair criticism.

When members of our “family” suffer or are persecuted, we all feel their pain. When a member of our “family” does something illegal, immoral or shameful, we all feel the shame. And when a member of our “family” accomplishes something significant, we all feel proud.


4th Grader Devin Zitelli and dad Matt
Question: Why is the Star of David the symbol of Judaism?

  • The symbol represents the merging of male and female.
  • Also represents elements of fire and water
  • Symbolizes the union of heaven and earth
  • Also symbolizes God
  • Star of David first came about in a text in the 12th century
  • Jewish people see the Star of David as a protector and shield as derived from the term of Magen David
  • Star of David expresses faith as well as the collective identity of an individual or group
  • Irrespective of their age, gender and social status, men, women and teenagers wear the Star of David to express themselves in different ways
  • Several Jews across the world considered the Star of David as a symbol of their personal association with Israel as well as one of their most important emblems.

The term Magen David, the protector/shield of David, gained currency among medieval Jewish mystics, who attached magical powers to the shield.

The Jewish community of Prague in Poland was the first to use it as an official symbol in 1354. Before that, the menorah was the symbol. The use of the star became widespread in the 17th century.

In 1897, the Zionist movement adopted the star. In 1948, it was incorporated into the design of the State of Israel flag. It is used today for Air Force planes, and the emergency paramedic service. The hexagram has been used in other religions, including Hinduism and Mormonism.

Susan Ringel is in her 16th year as an educator in the Fairmount Temple Religious School. She has been teaching Parent Child Hebrew for six years.