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School has Ruined Passover

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Pharaoh looking somewhat amused by the splitting of the Red Sea (drawing from my Barkai Parasha Series, 2014)

“How is this night different from all the other nights?”

Jewish children have learned to recount the “Ma Nishtana?” song by heart, and everybody knows exactly what to expect during the long and bizarre Passover Seder night. In case you were asleep through the three-four weeks of classes preceding Passover, there is even a model Seder.

We have effectively demystified the entire ordeal, making it impossible to be surprised.

My friend Tzvi says: Imagine a non-jew walk into a synagogue, a couple days before Passover, and hears the announcement “the burning will begin tomorrow at 11:14 AM”.

The Seder night is intended to be so strange and bizarre that children will ask “what is Dad doing?” “what is going on?” “Dad never eats vegetables…and now he’s dipping them in salt water?”

These weird activities are geared toward one purpose: To get the kids to ask “Ma Nishtana” or, in essence “what the heck is going on tonight?” This ploy is an opening to allow the parents to recount the story of the Exodus to their children. It seems that our well planned (and funded) Jewish school education is making this surprise impossible.

And yet with the absence of children to ask that question, one must ask their spouse, or ask themselves (b.Pesachim 116a). As strange as this must sound (not as strange as half the things we do this night), Maimonides attributes this to the need to differentiate and distinguish, the core Mitzvah or commandment of this evening (H. Hametz u’Matza 7:1). The need to ask “what’s going on tonight?” stems from the need to identify change, in the same way the Sabbath requires a distinction of its sanctity through Kiddush (sanctification) and Havdalah (separation), recounted over wine in the beginning and ending of the Sabbath.

On this Passover evening, I would like to share with you what has changed for me.

Over the past few years, I have felt accelerated growth, in so many areas: Personal, emotional, professional, and in terms of my relationships in my life. This year, I feel so grateful for being in the unique place I am, with the confluence of professional success, academic endeavours, and positive relationships in my life (and having been saved from some very tragic futures).

This Passover, I can look in the mirror, ask myself “what has changed” and truly respond “everything”.

I wish you all a meaningful night of change, of growth, and of liberation.

הלילה הזה – בני חורין!

Happy Passover 5779!

The Book that Turned my Career Around

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I love Capoeira – a Brazilian Martial art that combines self-defense with music, acrobatics and dance.

I started training in martial arts at 13, at age 17 I joined Capoeira, and by September 2006 I was teaching it. I taught for seven years, have hosted radio shows, national championships organized international trips and have taught thousands of students.

And I hated my job.

I loved my students, I loved doing capoeira, but I hated working in capoeira. Why?

Skipping over my ups and downs of my 8 years (and counting) in formal education – which I still do and still love but thankfully am not invested in full-time. Perhaps in another post for time.

Today I have the job of my dreams. I never knew I would be entertaining hundreds of people in the museum, connecting jewish history and archaeology, pop culture and talmud. And yet, everything I did until now has prepared me for it.

I would like to share with you the treasure that helped me start turning things around: From being a creative, enthusiastic, engaging – and frustrated school teacher, to someone who is passionate about what he does.

I follow a podcast called Art of Manliness by Brett McKay. I listened to an episode called The Myth of Following Your Passion, which is an interview with Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You. The title, by the way, is a piece of advice by Steve Martin.

What happened after that?

I was still teaching full-time, but I was in a different head space. I became a Jedi. I was going to knock the ball out of the park. I wasn’t just doing my job (with care, love and commitment, as a teacher should), but I was stretching myself, building my skill and becoming more versatile. I became noticed in the whole school, not just locking myself up in the teachers’ lounge with piles of work to get through, the daily grind, trying to get through the material and prepare the students for this and that.

While hitherto I was working in the middle school, I volunteered to give special workshops to 1-6th graders. I engaged with other department, and became an asset to the school.

I told myself every day: ‘Be so good, that they can’t ignore you’.

And so it happened that I lost my job, and found my dream.

Below: Living my dream job!

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Hezekiah’s Wall – an Insider’s View (part 1 of 2)

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Come join a private insider’s view of the 2,700 year old wall, underneath my house in the Old City of Jerusalem. I’ll show you how we climbed the wall as children, tell you about the scary neighbor, and read the verses about this well – while sitting on it.

This is part 1. Part 2 will be an interview with the scary neighbor who lives on the wall.

To get more content like this, subscribe to my YouTube Channel, my website/blog and to LinkedIn (I’m also on FB and IG).

 

Seal the Deal

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Middle School students learning about ancient alphabets

This article is intended to share the sort of work I did with my 5-7th grade students in New Jersey. It combines art, archaeology, grammar, Bible Studies and Jewish History.

Where to begin?

I think it’s best to begin with the City of David, since their motto is “Where it all began”. The Old City of Jerusalem is also my hometown, so I am always excited to share experiences about the special place I was privileged to grow up in.

During several archaeological digs on the site, several dozen bullae have been unearthed in what must have been an administrative structure. Bullae are clay impressions of seals, which would typically enclose a document. The significance of these seals is tremendous: They are all from the period of the First Temple in Jerusalem, and several of them have names which correspond to biblical figures who were instrumental to the saga of the pending destruction of Jerusalem. One of these can be seen in this video (subtitles included):

The video is set to start at the point relevant to this article, and you are free to watch the whole thing if you like. For the Hebrew speakers, here is a video by Tamar Shiloh about the dramatic story of their discovery.

More and more bullae are being discovered, and they are shedding light on important details relevant to understanding the Biblical stories. A famous example of these is King Ezekiah’s seal, which has been found just recently. It is discussed in my article about Hezekiah, Taharqa and Sennacherib. This past year (2016), a seal with the name of a woman was found, and more and more are being discovered.

My students have been learning about a range of topics, from the Biblical studies and Hebrew grammar to the development of the alphabet in Mesopotamia. As we learned about Ancient Hebrew (from Proto Canaanite to Paleo Hebrew and even Phoenician alphabets), we summarized what we learned in an art project: Make your personal seal.

Students saw several examples of ancient seals and ornaments with inscriptions on them, and then made their own. They had to be written in Ancient Hebrew, and in reverse, so that each student may make their own bulla.

Below is an example of seals that were made by the students. The material is Fimo – a colorful clay, easy to bake at home. The first one is my own, reading “[belonging] to Nachliel Selavan” with a faint impression of a sheep (Se-lavan in Hebrew means “white sheep”). Since I have a fascination with Egyptian Scarab Seals, I fashioned mine as a scarab (second image below).

These seals and ornaments are of several students, and their corresponding bullae. The bullae are from fresh clay, which has not been baked yet.

And finally – what a beautiful idea: My 5th grade student wrote her mother a letter, and sealed it with her own personal seal. Isn’t that sweet!

 

To summarize.

This is a middle school art project (which can be executed on other levels as well), which summarizes grammar (this bears explanation, which I hope to share in another article), History (Ancient Hebrew) and Bible Studies. When you put it all together like this, the students will surely come out with a long lasting impression!

Bonus: Watch the making of impression seals!