You might have seen these adorable pictures on our Facebook page of smiling children with a Hamsa in the background. We thought we’d lend a Hamsa—er, hand—and share how we put our class Hamsa together!
First, we discussed the root of the word Hamsa, which shares the three Hebrew letters that can be found in the word Hameish, meaning “five” in Hebrew. A hand has five fingers. We also talked about how we use our hands. In addition to holding or taking something, we give with our hands. In addition to giving things to people, we may consider helping others fulfill their needs.
To better understand what these needs might be, we took some time to consider our own needs. We found that in addition to food, clothing and shelter we all share some universal needs. We pointed out that even the rabbi of a community and the religious school teachers have these needs.
To start, we considered the universal need of belonging, meaning to feel connected to and accepted by others. Each student received a sticky note and was asked to do one of two things. The students could either draw a picture of a situation where they feel a sense of belonging OR they could write a word or sentence that describes how it feels to have the need of belonging fulfilled. The students drew pictures of themselves with people who gave them a strong sense of belonging and wrote what the experience of belonging felt to them. Each student then came up and stuck their sticky to one of five fingers that was labeled belonging. We repeated this part of the activity four times, each time for a different cluster of needs including power, the needs to feel important and respected; security, feeling safe from put-downs and other harm; fun, enjoyment of life; and freedom, the ability to make choices.
The students had the chance to talk about when they each felt most content and assured that their needs were met. We talked about what it must feel like not to have some of the needs. If we weren’t having such a great discussion we might have had some time to work on a Hamsa of how we can give to others as they seek to fulfill their universal needs. Instead we brainstormed ways in which we could do something if we notice that someone doesn’t seem to feel like they belong. We could invite them to play with our friends or spend some time talking with them individually.
Please feel free to try this activity in your community and let us know how it goes!
I am a lover of stories and often find myself drifting into worlds outside my reality. My young mind fought to protect Gotham City, sailed aboard the Pequod with Captain Ahab, traveled time with Billy Pilgrim, mourned the loss of Professor Snape, and fought beside Odysseus so he could return to his beloved Penelope.
Outside of the realm of literature, I am also a wanderer, collecting stories of those I have the pleasure to meet. Upon graduating college in New York in May 2012, I engaged in a major adventure – moving from Westborough, Massachusetts to Jackson, Mississippi – as part of the ISJL Education Fellowship.
The only thing I had to rely on were the stories I had read of the Mississippi – Aibileen bravely advocating for her fellow maids, the stream of consciousness surrounding the passing of Addie Bundren, and the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn (on the Mississippi River and not in the state, a subtle geographical distinction I initially failed to grasp). I knew Mississippi in books.
Upon arrival, I expected to be an outsider. I dreamed of absorbing the idyllic South as if I was reading it in a book, surveying the lives of the Magnolia State residents, seeing their narrative as separate from my own. What I found could not have been further from my hypothesis.
The last two years, my story has become our story, the Fellowship chapter. This is the story of five people from different walks charting undiscovered and rediscovered worlds together. The story of sharing, spreading, and discovering Jewish wisdom and knowledge throughout the South, sometimes in the most unexpected places. That of leading song sessions and musical experiences, or Geocaching to explore Passover. We deduced that there are over a hundred different ways to eat grits and that flight times are negotiable. We found love and support in our communities – and strength and family in our relationship with each other.
And now, our stories diverge, as my fellow Fellows and I all prepare to begin our next chapters.
Sam will travel to Baltimore, MD to begin her studies at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.
Adam’s next chapter takes him Memphis, to begin his training to work in Development for the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity.
Dan’s story will have him teaching high school history in a public school in the DC area, bringing along the skills and ideas he learned in the fellowship.
Elaine, too, will continue teaching, and she’s going to be doing it in an exciting new Jewish setting up in Boulder, Colorado, working as the Adventure Educator with the Adventure Rabbi program.
And my story takes me back up North, to the Big Apple, where I will begin my graduate work in Education and Jewish Studies at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.
Who knows where our stories will take us? Wherever they do, I’m glad to have spent this chapter in the Southern Jewish world.
When I see the word “Palestine,” a number of images come to mind: questions regarding borders, refugees, the city of Jerusalem, and more Middle Eastern musings. But from now on, when I read or hear the word “Palestine,” I’ll think of something else as well. I’ll think of a small town – Palestine, Texas – and a man named Sam who owns a diner there.
This Friday, I was on my way to Waco, Texas to visit Congregation Agudath Jacob. Around 1:00 or so, my fellow Education Fellow Allison Poirier and I saw the official “Welcome to Palestine” sign on the side of the road! Needless to say, we were quite pleased with the name of this town. We made a few other nerdy Jewish Educator jokes related to the town’s name, but we soon realized that we were quite hungry. We decided to stop at the Dogwood Diner for lunch.
After ordering, a man walked over to our table. As occasionally happens for me, since I wear a kippah every day, he exclaimed: “That’s a Yarmulke, right?”
I replied that indeed it was! I always enjoy interactions like this, where I get to briefly explain why it is meaningful for me to wear this funny-looking Jewish hat, but I was in for a surprise this time around…
This man was Sam, owner of the diner. He explained that his ex-wife was Jewish. Years ago, Sam sent his children to a Jewish school in Dallas. Sam knew all about the Jewish community of Palestine, TX. He told us about a Jewish cemetery located right down the road, explained that there had been a congregation nearby until about a decade ago, and had a number of other interesting stories to share with us.
But Sam left us with more than just stories. He provided us an important insight as well. After a few minutes of conversation, Sam said to us, “Ya know, I grew up Muslim, reading the Qur’an. Then I married a Jew and learned about the Torah. And recently I’ve learned more about Christianity, and I’ve read the Bible. They’re really not so different.”
I did not realize that, upon walking into the Dogwood Diner, I would hear such important words of wisdom. We get bogged down in the differences between some of our religious traditions sometimes. And let’s be clear – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and every other world religion really are unique, and to say simply “they’re all basically the same” would be misguided. But we do share quite a bit in common. Monotheism is a common tenet, and Moshe (or Moses, or Musa) is viewed as a prophet by all three.
It is easy to lose track of our similarities sometimes, as we focus on what separates Jews from other religions – and even what separates one particular group of Jews from another. But we really do possess a number of common characteristics with other world religions. Sometimes we just need someone to remind us of that. Thankfully, I had Sam.
We find wisdom in unexpected places. Of course, somebody had inspired me with their thoughts about religion while I was in Palestine, Texas. With a town-name like that, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.