What the flip?
Today, the 23rd of Sivan, is the date on which Haman’s decree against the Jews was flipped – “ונהפוך הוא” – and Mordechai’s decree in favor of the Jews was sent out (Esther 8:9).
In a beautiful depiction of that story, the 3rd century synagogue of Dura Europos on the Euphrates illustrates Haman’s plans of self-aggrandizement being flipped into his humiliation:
Haman took the garb and the horse and arrayed Mordecai and paraded him through the city square; and he proclaimed before him: “This is what is done for the man whom the king desires to honor!”Esther 6:8
Some hold that this is a good day (Segulah) to pray for evils and tragic situations to “flip out” into a better outcome. By gollie, we need some serious flipping out now, so please pray!
Image is from Wikimedia Commons, text from Sefaria.org
Babylon: Myth and Reality (Nov 13, 2008-Mar 15, 2009) is an exhibition that changed my life – even though I had never seen it.
It was my father who visited this British Museum exhibition and brought home the catalogue (“the Babylon book”). Shortly after this, in 2010, I volunteered to teach the Book of Daniel to a class of thirty-seven 8th graders in Jerusalem, and where I was teaching as an undergraduate student-teacher. Using the resources I learned about through this book, I inspired these adolescents who were previously intimidated by the mostly-Aramaic book. This experience had made the book approachable to them, and the importance of archaeology for me – tangible.
At the end of the year, we celebrated with Nebuchadnezzar’s Ishtar Gates of Babylon – on a cake designed by yours truly.
End-of-year celebration, after learning the Book of Daniel. Jerusalem, 2010
The next part of this story was completely unexpected. Since those student-teacher days, I’ve been teaching professionally in the US for six years, and often guiding tours near the two real Ishtar Gate lions on display at the Met. Academically I’ve gone back to school, completing an M.Ed in Jewish Education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and currently studying for an MA in Ancient Jewish History at Bernard Revel Graduate School (Yeshiva University). It is in this context that I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Dr. Michael Seymour, co-author of the Babylon book.
Dr. Seymour moderated a symposium for The World Between Empires Met exhibition (Mar 18-Jun 23, 2019). This spectacular exhibition shows the complexities of life, religion, commerce and identity in the region between Roman and Parthian Empires; the two superpowers of the late Second Temple period to the 3rd century CE.
This was only possible thanks to my professor at Revel, Steven Fine, inviting students to the symposium.
During that symposium, I was reminded of how my journey began 9 years ago. But it was only later, as I was guiding a private tour in the World Between Empires, that I recognized Dr. Seymour as he spoke to a group, and introduced myself. We kept in touch, met again when I was guiding students, and finally sat down for an early Friday morning coffee at the museum.
We sat and told lots of stories about shared interests. It was a fascinating conversation, and hopefully just the first of many.
Dr. Seymour is an assistant curator in the Met since 2011, when he began work on the exhibition Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age (Sep 22, 2014-Jan 4, 2015). This was the very first exhibition I saw, on my very first Met visit.
I had brought along my copies of the Babylon and World Between Empires books, which are now autographed in a place of honor on my bookshelf.
We never know who we will touch and how we will make an impact. Whether it’s something we say, an act of kindness that we do, or a book that we write.
The impact that Dr. Seymour had on my life in turn had an impact on my students’ learning, on my career path, and down the line – on countless other lives which were inspired and invigorated because of some old rocks someone dug out of the dirt in Ancient Babylon!
Be the change that you wish to see in the worldMahatma Gandhi
Starting from the Bottom Up
It is 2019, and the grassroots, bottom-up approach has been proving itself to be the way change happens. This is happening in so many fields, including education – and there is no reason why it should not apply to Jewish Education.
How do we adapt?
The internet, technology and social media have changed the way we interact. They are vying for our attention, and that of our children. It has a losing battle, once you allow that small device into the home – and I am not here to say that you should or should not do that. What I am saying is that, the impact on the Jewish Educational system is inescapable.
Where do we make the change?
How do we make a difference?
How can we get our school on board?
I am a firm believer in the vitality and relevance of Torah to our life. I believe that the goal of a Jewish Education system cannot be just to convey information or preparing for a BJE test. There has to be a deep commitment to, and belief in, the reality of Torah. Only with that in mind, can we proceed with confidence into the unknown future of Jewish education, learning, leadership and change.
As a jewish-educational-entrepreneur (for lack of a better title), I work tirelessly to convey this message to laypeople, parents, schools, administrations, synagogues and publications. Having spoken to many schools and rabbis and community leaders in the past three years, I realized that the change cannot come from the top down.
Schools, institutions – they are all systems that have to run a certain way. They have a tremendous amount of responsibility to their parent bodies, congregants, and general clientele. This is both a vital part of the system, and what can make it very hard to move, when necessary.
That is where I come in. I believe that with social media, today, we can engage people in new ways. Not only students. I am not talking about creating multimillion dollar online curriculum – that has its place. I am talking about inspiring educators and just simply – Jews – to respond to the call of Torah. To realize that it is real, that it can be vitalized in the classroom or the synagogue without expensive materials, without learning new curriculum but rather, with a change in approach.
This week I took action.
I spoke to several colleagues who are on board with me, and said “guys, let’s do an Instagram Live session on this De’Ara Tanach Map”. We have been trying for two years to figure out the logistics of doing this with our own school, while I am traveling the country doing this with other schools. Instead of talking about it – let’s be the change we want to see.
To find out more about the map, and see a video about it: http://foundationstone.org/Store/store.html
The results we incredible. The three teachers were super-energized and excited about the possibilities of integrating this simple and powerful tool. Social media is playing its part, and we are reaching people in new ways, bringing the change from the bottom up. Here is a short video from the excitement:
A spontaneous get-together between Brooklinian friends, celebrating a birthday on a Saturday night. And what better place to celebrate than – the Brooklyn Museum!
On the first Saturday of the month, the Brooklyn Museum is open – and free – until 11PM. It’s all a buzz, with DJs, dancing, music and lots of noise – and vibrance. We chose this need to do a casual walk-through tour, highlighting anything from #InfiniteBlue – and Lapis Lazuli, to Ancient Near East: Assyria and Egypt.
More pictures coming later. And meanwhile:
Returning customers, especially for the same tour, is very encouraging. Both pictures are of today’s group at the Metropolitan Museum.
The right-hand picture is of returning customers from last year. Mrs. Gitta Neufeld, head of educational development at Allegra Franco School of Educational Leadership (second from right) attended my tour in June 2017, and hired me as a teacher at Allegra Franco. I am looking forward to beginning my second year teaching there.
Take it from her:
(amidst the hustle and bustle of the Met’s closing hours – this is being cleaned up slightly, but bear with us for 22 seconds!)
This week, Parashat Tzav and the Shabbat before Pesach, is called שבת הגדול – the “Great” or “Grand” Sabbath.
Why is it called Shabbat Hagadol?
School children learn the story of how the Hebrews tied the pascal lamb to the bedpost on the sabbath before the very first Passover in Egypt. But this was a risky thing to do, as the Egyptians deified the lamb. However, G-d protected us and it was a grand display of His benevolence that not a single Egyptian tried to hurt us for holding their gods at bay.
But come now, seriously?
On a Museum tour with ninth graders from Magen David Yeshivah High School, which I lead in early March, a student discovered a Ptolemaic period deity in the form of a ram – representing the Egyptian god Amun-Re, often represented in that form.
This student will never forget that!
Meet Abir Nassee, a master storyteller and over 45-year owner of the Oil Press Gallery in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Come in with me as we see his gallery, hear stories and see wonderful thing.
Part 1: Intro video
Part 2: The tour