Embracing Humanity


With everything going on in the world, I have found myself seeking comfort. Looking for the good that there is to see in our community, in our country, in humanity. I took a moment to re-read a chapter from Harold Kushner’s book, To Life! He summarizes the Jewish belief about humanity as thus:

“Human beings are different from all other living creatures. That is not a scientific statement; it is a religious one. The biological differences (prehensile thumbs, greater capactiy for language) are relatively trivial. It is only when we approach the areas where biology is silent and the voice of religion is heard, when we speak of the human being’s capacity for goodness, for self-restraint, for abstract thought, that the uniqueness of the human being emerges.”

Kushner goes on to talk about different things that are unique about humans:

  1. Human beings are responsible for their behavior. This includes doing good things and failing to act. You don’t get credit for intending to do something if you never actually do it. Our 3rd – 5th graders are learning about the Jewish concept of Achrayut – Responsibility. It is up to us as adults to teach our children what it means to be responsible. Being responsible as a Jew includes reaching out beyond the sphere that directly effects you and being the change that is needed in the world. This also includes understanding the impact that your words and actions have on the people around you. Words matter, they can effect people in deep and unchangeable ways.
  2. Judaism minimizes the distinction between body and soul. While many other religions view a distinction between body and soul – pure souls trapped in corrupt bodies – Judaism rejects that. As Jews, we are examples of the presence of G-d on the earth. When we are gone, so goes our ability to positively effect the world. We must care for ourselves as individuals made in the image of G-d – B’tzelem Elohim. Are we reflecting what G-d intends for us?
  3. Human beings are not always good, but they are capable of goodness. I know there are exceptions to this. There are people out there who are evil. But those who are good, far outweigh those who are not. We must look for the humanity in everyone we encounter. We must not assume that those who do not share our beliefs or who behave in ways we dislike are bad people. I’ve probably already shared the statement, “You cannot hate someone whose story you know.” When we truly take the time to understand one another, we can find the good in others.
  4. Only human beings can make mistakes, and only human beings can realize their mistakes. Kushner describes ‘sin’ as missed opportunities to act humanly. The mistakes we make are sometimes not as important as our behavior after we make the mistake. This is another important lesson for our children. We mustn’t try to hide our mis-steps. We must acknowledge them, repent of them, learn and change. This is a process that requires modeling in order for our kids to learn how to make mistakes themselves. Of course, forgiveness goes hand in hand with this too.

As we work hard to educate your children, the teachers at TOR have been thinking a lot about our current political climate and how it might effect our children. You’ll notice that the themes that we are teaching deal a lot with love and respect, responsibility and caring for others. Together, we will reach our goal of creating Awesome Jews!

++++++++++ Announcements +++++++++

Wednesday, February 8 @ 6:30pm – Hebrew School

Friday, February 10th @ 10am – Gan K’tan

Saturday, February 11th @ 5pm – Parent’s Night Out – We have fun activities planned for your kiddos. Cost is $25 per child, $60 for families of 3 or more. If finances are an issue, please call me! We want you to have the opportunity to go out for a night without the kids! 🙂 Click here to RSVP.

Sunday, February 12th

  • @9am – Tefillah
  • @9:30am – Camp Showcase – come hear presentations from six different summer camp options for your kids! Students have the option of staying with their parents during the presentations or going to class.
  • @10:45am – 4th and 5th grade leaves for field trip to Placer SPCA.
  • @12pm – Purim Spiel Practice


++++++++++ Religious School Update ++++++++++


Laurie’s class read a lovely story about peace and showing love to people around us. They then created a beautiful painted canvas with the word love in Hebrew – Ahava. Remember that our class is collecting tzedakkah to purchase food for our TOR food closet. We are really working with our kids on what it means to give to others and help people who have less than you.

1st and 2nd Grade

In Efrat’s class, the students spent time in music with Carol, singing songs about love and healing our broken world. They also learned the letters Samech and Ayin and reviewed the letters they have already learned. Ask your student if they can remember the body parts in Hebrew!

They have been learning about Jerusalem and the Kotel and this week they created their own artistic representation of the Western Wall. They also learned about Tu B’shevat and the bounty that we get from trees.

Throughout this year, the class has been collecting tzedakkah to donate to Loaves and Fishes. So far, they have collected $56.34! That is so amazing! The class is expanding their tzedakkah to collect canned food and gently used clothing as well. Until Purim, the class will be collecting these items as part of the mitzvah of caring for the poor. On Purim, an adult representative of the class will take the items and money raised to Loaves and Fishes. We appreciate everyone’s support in this incredible project.

Third Grade

This week we focused on the responsibilities that we have toward others. We explored the Jewish value of Sh’mirat HaGuf, literally translated as “guarding the body” or “taking care of the body.” We relates this to the value of B’tzelem Elohim and treating the body as
something very special. We talk about exercise and the importance of eating healthy foods.

This topic led to the laws of Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws). In addition, the students learned about having strong emotional health and how spirituality can enhance it, with meditation and prayer being cornerstones to this process. Finally, we went back to Rabbi Hillel’s quote about the importance of taking care of oneself, this time looking at it from the perspective of mental and physical health.

As you continue the learning throughout this week, discuss some ways that you can be healthy as a family, and do something to promote our good health this week! A few suggested examples are going for a walk, relaxing, meditating, or cooking a healthy meal!

Fourth Grade

Our fourth graders studied about the upcoming holiday of Tu B’shevat this week. They discussed all of the wonderful things that trees provide us. The class has also been working hard to learn their Hebrew letters and vowels and put them together.

It is important that the students practice their alef bet outside of Sunday and Hebrew school. If you do not have a set of flashcards at home, please use the Useful links on this website to access different online options.

Fifth Grade

This week we focused on the idea that humans have an innate sense of possession. The Jewish people do not attempt to deny this natural tendency but uses ritual to help moderate the default setting that, unbridled, leads to greed and jealousy. The Jewish idea is that while we have the right to own and derive benefit from our possessions, we are responsible to share what we have to help others. This is a fundamental idea to grasp prior to being able to fully understand the importance of giving tzedakah.

  • Students recognized how wealthy they are in comparison to the rest of the world.
  • Students should now view tzedakah as an obligation, not as charity.
  • Students should now consider their responsibility to give to others.
  • Students learned from their peers about why they give.

Homework assignment: Students need to interview an adult with the following question: Why do you give tzedakkah. They will be reporting their findings to the class this week.

For Hebrew, the students reviewed their alef bet and vowels with special emphasis on the sh’va. As an important note for parents, the students can access the online lessons from home to review what they have already learned. The URL is http://www.letslearnhebrew.org. Each student has their own log in and the common password is tor5.

Sixth Grade

Barry’s class has been presenting their famous Jewish figures posters over the past couple of weeks. In addition, they explored the meaning of Tu B’shevat and read more from 10,000 children.

  • Questions for reflection: What number day does the word Tu represent in the Tu B’Shevat holiday? (the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat) Why do we celebrate the holiday? (Birthday of the trees, used to know the age of the trees for purposes of offering and consumption)
  • In the story of Eva: Little Grown Up in the book Ten Thousand Children, what did 11 year old Eva tell the cab driver to do? (“Drive through the park and please go past the synagogue.”)

For Hebrew, the class is moving forward through the online curriculum and practicing their decoding skills with our lab madrichim. They are being asked not only to read words, but also identify the individual letters and vowels in the words themselves.

Seventh Grade

The seventh grade learned with Michele again this week. They went through a large portion of the service together, practicing the prayers and helping each other out.

With Art, they discussed challenges they are facing in their lives and how they can turn to Judaism and help each other when things are difficult.

We had a large number of student out this week in seventh grade. Please remember that it is really important that they are present for class. They only receive instruction twice a week and need to maximize that time as we can.