R. Chanina said: I have learned much from my teachers, and from my colleagues more than from my teachers, but from my students more than from them all. (Talmud Taanit 7b)
This year I have had the privilege of being the Education Fellow at Temple Sholom in Cincinnati, Ohio. Under the leadership of Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp, this congregation is forging new paths in Jewish expression. Temple Sholom goes out of its way to be inclusive to everyone. There are congregants from different socioeconomic backgrounds, different racial backgrounds, and multiple generations. There are congregants of varying sexual orientations, there are singles, couples, and families both completely Jewish and interfaith. Temple Sholom truly welcomes everyone. It is also a place where, as someone new to the community, I never felt like an outsider. As soon as I walked in the door, I was a part of the family. This community spirit and congregational warmth is at the core of what Temple Shalom is.
One of the things that surprised me about religious school worship services at Temple Sholom was that the youngest children were encouraged to color in their siddur while those assembled were in the midst of the silent reflection section of the Amidah. Blank pages were intentionally placed in the siddur for that purpose. This is an incredible innovation. It allowed creative students to have an outlet, it enabled those who needed to be doing something to have something to do, and it gave students vindication that their art was a legitimate form of prayer.
Temple Sholom is trying a new curriculum style this year, spearheaded by Lindsey Danziger. Every month, there is a field trip out into the community to apply the Jewish values the students are learning in class. These trips have proven invaluable. We recently visited a mosque to further interfaith dialogue and understanding. While there, we also addressed the subject of fear and how to confront those fears productively. Earlier this year, we visited the Rothenberg Rooftop Garden were students were able to see how study can be integrated with ecological sustainability.
As part of my fellowship, I teach six through eighth graders on Sunday mornings. My students asked me at the beginning of the year if they could teach the younger students, something they were eventually able to do. They felt so strongly connected to their Jewish community that they wanted to be involved in sharing this spirit with the younger students.
As part of the curriculum, I am trying to teach the students ways of thinking and seeing the world as a Jewish adult in preparation for their b’nei mitzvah. We recently did a unit on wisdom literature. The class seemed engaged by Proverbs 6:16–19: “Six things the Lord hates, Seven that are an abomination to Him: A haughty bearing, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A mind that hatches evil plots, Feet quick to run to evil, A false witness testifying lies, And one who incites brothers to quarrel” (JPS — in class I used a more age-appropriate translation). I had intended this to be a discussion about the idea of God hating something, as well an exploration of why these particular actions were listed instead of others. But my class transformed my plan into a discussion about bullying. It was wonderful to see that they felt comfortable enough to discuss their issues with each other, and even better to see them offer solutions to one another. They also actively supported one another when describing situations for which there was no real solution. This is a sincere community of young Jewish students showing genuine concern for one another and the problems facing adolescents. And, for the first time this year, I felt confident that many of these students would turn into actively Jewish adults. It is truly a testament to the Temple Sholom community that Rabbi Terlinchamp has helped to form and cement. It is a small congregation, but it has a big heart and a bright future.
Caroline Sim is a rising third-year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR. During the 2016–2017 school year, she served as the Education Fellow at Temple Sholom.