Sunday, December 20, 2009



This week's parsha project had to be fast and easy since we had to complete it before lots of people showed up at our house for a 4:30 pm Chanukah candle-lighting. The most visually exciting scene from the parsha was Pharoah's dream of seven skinny cows eating seven fat cows. First, we talked about how sometimes we have strange dreams (Maya's was a ladybug jumping off a rock) and how sometimes dreams have special meaning. Then, we got right into making our cows. I felt a little guilty that this project did not allow them much, if any, creativity. It was basically just cutting and pasting. I used old oatmeal containers for the fat cows and toilet paper rolls for the skinny cows. We just covered them with white paper and black paper spots. I printed out the adorable cow face from Danielle's Place.

I had high hopes of making cow cookies since I actually now OWN cow cookie cutters! But, alas, time was not on our side (though I was exceedingly proud of the persimmon sauce that I made for our latkes - delicious!) Then, right before shabbos, my friend asked me if we were going to have Skinny Cow ice cream this week. Brilliant....For next year.
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Thursday, December 10, 2009



Maya said something yesterday that totally made me smile. She sometimes reports to me what she is "into now," with an understanding that her interests and likes in food, tv characters, and clothing shifts. Yesterday, from the back seat of the car, she pronounced: "Ima, do you know what things I am into now? Now, I am into Dora, Michael Jackson, and Parsha!"

Maya has been looking forward to this Parsha since we began our projects. One of the things that Maya used to be very "into" was the musical "Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat." So much so that this was the theme of her fourth birthday party.

There were multi-colored snacks:

The kids made Joseph's coat from pre-cut pieces of felt:

Most importantly, Andy dressed up as Joseph!

But, Joseph's coat seems to provide endless crafting possibility. This week, we will make Joseph's coat our of colored tissue paper and Joseph sugar cookies.

The idea for the tissue-paper coat comes from yet again from a Christian website. The story of Joseph and his coat seemed like a particular favorite for Christian Sunday Schools. I had some vague idea that Joseph was a significant character in Christian faith more than others in Genesis but I wasn't sure why or how. After some googling, I now understand that Joseph is viewed (like many biblical heroes) to prefigure Jesus. In particular, Joseph's coat is understood to prefigure the robe that was stripped from Jesus. Apparently, the parallels between the two characters are many. Well - lucky for me - that makes for some good Joseph projects.

The sugar cookies were simple. I found a cookie cutter (yes, a Christmas angel, I think) that looked like it was wearing a coat and then we got decorating.

You might be able to tell which ones I did and which ones the girls did...

The tissue paper project was easy and fun. I prepared small squares of colored tissue paper and the girls just started pasting them onto their Joseph template which I printed from DLTK's Crafts for Kids.

One of the hardest parts about doing these projects is for me to "let go" and not dictate to them that they do it the "right way." I think that I am managing this by allowing myself to do every project in my own type A way so that I can see how it is "supposed to look" and let the girls do it in their own messy, disorganized, chaotic, out-of-the-lines way. I have to remind myself to breathe many times in the process.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009



It was clear to me that I was not going to even mention most of the events of this week's parsha, namely the rape of Dina and the violent revenge of Shimon and Levi. It actually seems pretty strange to me that these stories are even alluded to in childrens' coloring pages. I was particularly shocked that Aish chose to depict Dina hidden in a box behind Yaakov when he greets Esav. This is a reference to the Midrash that relates that Yaakov hid Dina in a box because he was fearful that Esav might want her hand in marriage. The Midrash goes on to say that this was a mistake. Had Esav married Dina, she would have transformed him into a righteous man. For the sin of withholding this opportunity from his brother, Yaakov was punished with the rape of Dina. Why or why would Aish choose to evoke this disturbing Midrash in a childrens' coloring page???

So, I thought to focus instead on the reunion of Yaakov and Esav. This seemed like a preschool-friendly idea - brothers making up. Of course, in order for me to tell the story in that way, I had to ignore the slew of Midrashim in my brain that interpreted Esav as manipulative and deceptive.

Finally, Andy had the idea of focusing on Yaakov's name change. In the beginning of the parsha, the man/angel/Esav that Jacob wrestles with informs him that "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." We talked about how many names, especially Hebrew names, have special meaning. Maya already knew that Yaakov came from the Hebrew word Ekev, or heel, because his hand grasped Esav's heel at their birth. It was more difficult to explain that his new name Yisrael meant to wrestle with God. Although the idea of wrestling with God may be very inspiring for adults, it is pretty meaninless for a 4 year old. But, she did appreciate the idea of names meaning different things. So, our project was to illuminate the meaning of the Hebrew names in our family. I prepared examples using my Hebrew name, Sarah, which can be translated as princess and Andy's Hebrew name, Aryeh, translated as lion.

Then, it was Maya's turn to make her Hebrew name sign. She already knew that he name meant water (in Aramaic). So, we found lots of old photos of her in playing with water, at the pool, or on the beach. She cut and pasted the photos into a collage.

The best thing about this project is that it gave us a great ice-breaker for our large shabbat dinner. Everyone spoke about their name or names and what it meant literally or personally.



The parsha begins with Jacob's famous dream of angels ascending and descending on a ladder between the heavens and the earth. Of course, this image has great craft potential. I considered making a Jacob's ladder folk toy or other ladder projects. But, the truth is that I didn't want to have to talk about angels! Maya would inevitably ask me if angels are real or pretend and well...I dunno! So, I decided to focus on the expanding family of Jacob and Rachel since I knew that I wanted them to learn about the twelve sons/brothers/tribes. I thought about making a family tree but realized that that is a pretty advanced concept. So, we made paper chain dolls. I used white cardstock and cut out thirteen dolls (one for Dina).

I wanted the girls to be able to dress the dolls with shoes, hair, and clothes. I finally found paper doll clothes that looked biblical. Where? Nativity scene dolls. This was actually pretty funny since every time Maya sees a nativity scene (surprisingly often), she says "look, Imma, Israelis!" I guess it is the sandals and headpieces. All I know is that I think that it is hysterical. And this website had PERFECT clothing that I printed out and cut out for the girls to use to dress their dolls - canes, sandals, headdresses, etc.

Which brings me to an interesting point. Alot of the good bible craft ideas that I am finding out there are from Christian sources - Sunday schools, churches, religious moms. It reminds me of when I used to teach Tanach classes and often found great helpful material on-line from non-Jewish sources. I've never felt completely comfortable using non-Jewish Bible materials; it somehow feels wrong, like stealing. But, if they've got a good outline of the book of Joshua, a good map of the Mesopotamia, or a good craft of Joseph's coat...???

The girls enjoyed dressing the dolls in their biblical garb. We learned the names of all of the children and hung them up.

From December 09



This week's project really only dealt with the very first part of the Parsha where we meet the twin brothers Yaakov and Esav, born to Yitzchak and Rivka. My goal was just to introduce the girls to these characters and to the differences and strife between them. Two of my greatest pet peeves as a teacher of Tanach were always: 1) conflating the pshat (literal text) with midrash (rabbinic interetation) and 2) villainizing certain characters while glorifying others. But, I realized very quickly that it was almost impossible to teach the girls the story of Esav and Yaakov without doing just those things! I found myself, like the midrash and like most coloring books and school teachers, making Esav the "rasha" and Yaakov the "tzadik," even though that is a very far cry from the simple reading of the story. I am still uncomfortable with this approach but struggle with how else to teach these narratives with relevant meaning or morals.

I knew that I wanted to make Esav and Yaakov masks or puppets. I decided that paper plate puppets would be easy and fun. I bought a cheap roll of thick red yarn for Esav's beard and hair. We cut out mouths, noses, and eyebrows from felt and used googly eyes and pom poms.

From December 09

Maya's puppets looked more like clowns than Biblical heroes, but she was so excited to be able to really use them like puppets. She actually asked if she could make more puppets of Rivka and Yitzchak so I let her. I basically made Avital's puppet for her but let her draw all over it just for fun...

From December 09

From December 09

When we came home from shul, Maya and I did a fun puppet show for our guests about Esav and Yaakov. OF course, the food for this week's parsha was a no-brainer - red lentil stew!

From December 09

We served the soup as a starter at shabbat dinner. But, before we ate it, three of the grown-ups did an impromptu dramatic reading of the beginning of the Parsha:
19. And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son; Abraham fathered Isaac;
20. And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah for his wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Padan-Aram, the sister to Laban the Aramean.
21. And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.
22. And the children struggled together inside her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the Lord.
23. (K) And the Lord said to her, Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall be separated from your bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.
24. And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb.
25. And the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment; and they called his name Esau.
26. And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
27. And the boys grew; and Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents.
28. And Isaac loved Esau, because he ate of his venison; but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29. And Jacob cooked pottage; and Esau came from the field, and he was famished.
30. And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I beg you, with that same red pottage; for I am famished; therefore was his name called Edom.
31. And Jacob said, Sell me this day your birthright.
32. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point of death; and what profit shall this birthright do to me?
33. And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he swore to him; and he sold his birthright to Jacob.
34. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way; thus Esau despised his birthright.



The most kid-friendly episode in this parsha is meeting Rivka at the well. It is an easy positive message that they can understand. Rivka was chosen because of the kindness and generosity that she displayed in feeding the servant and the camels. So, our focus was on wells and camels. The internet is googling for well crafts, I discovered this beautiful blog "Inna's Creations" that had a tutorial on how to make a toy well out of a milk carton - perfect!

From well

I made the one above (with my husband's help designing the actual pulley system!)When I did the project with Maya, I added a fun element by having her glue on brown shapes to the carton so that it looked like bricks.

From well

I also had photos available so that she understood what different water wells actually looked like.
From well

We used the two wells that we made as centerpieces on our Shabbos table which sparked conversation between the kids and the guests about their significance.

Then, we needed camels. My inspiration for making camel cookies came straight from Juggling Frogs. This woman is amazing and makes cookies and cakes for every parsha. She didn't have camel cookie cutters so she made her own!

I could not be bothered with making tin foil cookie cutters so I just cut out a paper template and used it over and over again to cut out the shape of a camel from the cookie dough. To be honest, this was a total disaster. Again, my husband had to come to the rescue in order to prevent me from having a complete meltdown. He was patient and precise and made it work. Some of the cookies looked more like elephants or hippos but we also had some good results and they made for a fabulous dessert and the girls loved it. Below you will see the good, the bad, and the beheaded...

From camels

From camels

From camels

From camels

From camels

From camels

From camels

I have since found and purchased a Noah's ark cookie cutter set that has a camel! I am ready for next year!