The Teachable Moment

In my capacity as director of The Spark School for Experiential Jewish Education at Northern Hills Synagogue, I’m used to being stopped by my teachers before class. “The kids were asking about this, so I decided to bring in more about it, is that ok?” My answer is almost always a resounding “Yes!” I am blessed with creative and innovative teachers who love finding their students’ passions and interests and giving them more depth.

So I was not surprised when one of my teachers stopped me two weeks before my wedding with a great idea. “We are having a wedding right here in our community, so can we take an afternoon and teach the kids about this part of the Jewish lifecycle?” Once again, my answer was a resounding “Yes!” More than anything, this is what makes us a truly experiential school.

Marriage is one of the most significant things that happens to a person throughout their lifecycle, so Judaism has a lot to say about how to do the wedding and the marriage right. This sacred relationship is something to take very seriously, as consecration is for sure a part of the Jewish wedding. But it is not just about the wedding! Jewish tradition encourages us to celebrate the relationship itself long past the moment of the wedding, and we wanted to communicate this to our students.

My fiancé and I got to work, organizing our thoughts on what the kids may already know about weddings and what popular culture has taught them. We have the privilege of having kids on Wednesday night from grades three through seven, so we decided that a game show would be the best way to teach. We split the school in half, with two teachers on each team to help out, and played Wedding Jeopardy.

Here were our categories:

  • Jewish or Not? Students were quizzed about popular wedding traditions and had to tell us whether the tradition named was a traditional Jewish wedding practice or not.
  • Hebrew Students were given a Hebrew word that had to do with the wedding ceremony and they had to give us the English.
  • Lucky Numbers Students were given an item (like “glasses of wine”) and had to come up with the number of those in the wedding.
  • Wedding Songs Students had to sing a phrase or identify the next words in a wedding song.
  • Ceremonies Students were given descriptions of other pre-wedding gatherings and were asked for the name of the ceremony.

Teachers and students alike shouted, sang, and competed for points, and our resident matchmaker[1] took notes on the terms associated with her trade. After Wedding Jeopardy, we discussed the seven blessings and then learned about the evolution of the ketubah, or the Jewish wedding contract. At the end of the evening, we served cake and brought out some of our items for show-and-tell: our chuppah, our rings, our ketubah, and (hidden on my phone) a picture of my dress.

The kids wished us many hearty “mazel tovs” as they ran out to their parents’ cars, singing and peppering me with questions about how we chose the date and officiant. I was overwhelmed but pleased. The competition had been lively, the excitement real, and everyone, from the students to the teachers, had a chance to learn and notice something new. This is what it means to seize all the many opportunities for learning that we are given, if we only have our eyes open to them.

John Dewey said: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” We live our Judaism; too frequently we forget that when teaching our students. Thanks to the creativity and ingenuity of one of my teachers, our school lived it that evening. As hard as it might have been for a group of eight- to twelve-year-olds to really immerse themselves in a wedding, they danced, sang, and celebrated as though they were at a real wedding, and this was a true educational blessing.

Sara Zober is a fifth-year fellow serving as director of the Spark School for Jewish Experiential Learning at Northern Hills Synagogue—Congregation B’nai Avraham in Mason, Ohio.

[1] We are learning about Jewish life in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, so one of our students has decided to be the matchmaker of the community!

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