Amy Deutsch, one of the full-time teachers at Central Synagogue in NYC, writes:
"I have a picture that sits on my desk at work. It is of me and two of my coworkers wearing togas and talking animatedly about the Hasmonean revolt. You may wonder what I do for a living. I am a teacher.
"I work in an innovative educational program in New York City that employs religious school teachers on a full-time basis. Before I began my graduate studies, I was one of these teachers. When you are teaching full-time, you have the time to plan and use experiential educational techniques. In fact, we had the time to create a reenactment of the Hasmonean revolt—more often known as the story of Chanukah.
"The day began in the lobby, where we turned each fourth grader’s bedsheet into a toga. Then the “Greeks” attempted to convince the students of the superiority of Greek culture with an intricate slideshow pressuring them to assimilate. After the Greeks left the room, Judah Maccabee and his warriors arrived and helped the students fight assimilation. At the end of the day, Judah Maccabee and the Greek ruler got in a swordfight (somehow reminiscent of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader) and it seemed desperate, but ultimately Judah won, as he was strengthened by the students who started chanting the words of the Sh’ma.
"Though I was supposed to stay in character, I found myself incredulous at this moment. 120 fourth grade students were chanting the Sh’ma. Some of them had even added the hand motions we had taught them the year before. They were on their feet, filled with pride and passion for their Judaism. I realized then how blessed I was to help foster the development of Jewish identity in my students. It is a gift to be a teacher—and especially to be a teacher who gets to wear a toga."
Amy Deutsch is a current Wexner Fellow/Davidson Scholar. She is studying for a Master’s Degree in Jewish Education at the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary.