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!
As Mensch Madness continues, our next match-up is between the one… the only… the Father of Monotheism… Abraham! And his opponent? The ever patient… ever kind… ever knowledgeable-sage… Hillel the Elder. Who will win?!
BZZZZ! With a bit of divine intervention, Abraham gets the jump ball. He heads down the court, dribbling the shining ball of monotheism. Watch out, everyone – this guy is on a divine mission! He almost sacrificed his only son, for heaven’s sake! He’s so divinely inspired he might sacrifice literally anything to get that ball in the basket.
But wait, here comes wise Hillel the Elder, and he’s ready to play, too. Whoa! He just pulled out the Golden Rule, and blocked Abraham’s shot like he would have someone else block his own – to him that’s all of basketball, everything else is simply commentary! 
Hillel’s got the ball now, getting into position for a three point jumper, but wait! What’s this?! He just gave the ball to Abraham! I guess that’s just part of his game-play – he’s so humble that he gives his opponents a chance to shoot first even before his own shot, just like how Beit Hillel would recite the halachic opinions of Shammai before they would recite their own. What a mensch!
After a little bit of arguing with G-d, just like he argued with G-d over Sodom and Gemorrah, Abraham makes a seemingly impossible shot. It appears he won the argument this time, as a heavenly hand just came down and dropped the ball into the basket! This guy has got friends in high places! (Please ignore the brawl that just happened between some of those rowdy Esau fans and Isaac fans. They both support Abraham… just in different ways).
Hillel’s got the ball now, and he’s rolling. He goes in for an individual slam-dunk, because of course he’s all about the idea, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” But he then kindly hands the ball to Abraham, because Hillel is also into the idea of “If I am only for myself, what am I?” But old Abraham takes a bit too long getting down the court, because Hillel steals it and goes in for the lay-up, shouting “If not now, WHEN??!!!”
The crowd is going wild. Abraham’s side is quite empty, as some have been hesitant to support the team out of fear of a certain Jewish ritual he started for 8-day old boys. But, there are some divine angels there that Abraham welcomed into his tent a while back. The desert just isn’t the best place to establish a huge fan base.
Hillel’s fans, meanwhile are bursting with energy, because Hillel is all about welcoming everyone into Judaism, even the most difficult folks. Even in difficult games, he’s very concerned for what game plan is best for the individual fans.
Winner: Hillel the Elder! With a combination of kindness, patience, and a love of peace, Hillel the Elder manages a wild three-point shot at the buzzer, for the win, all while standing on one foot! Despite Abraham’s direct connection to the Almighty, and his many, many descendants, and his being the first monotheist, he’s no match for Hillel. Hillel triumphs with the modern touch of kindness and compassion in Jewish life which we always need, especially in our world today.
What a game! See you as we head toward the SEMI-FINALS!
 Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 31a
 Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Eruvin 13b
 Pirkei Avot 1:14
It’s a big sports week in the Jewish South! First, there’s a new Jewish college basketball coach at a big school down here, which folks are clearly pretty excited about. And second…
It’s time for Mensch Madness, Game Two!
We have a very close game today. Our number two seed, Miriam is up against our number three seed, Devorah.
This is going to be a tough match-up. Both of these powerhouses had a big impact, and both had songs written about them by Debbie Friedman, which elevates both in my eyes…
Let’s start with Miriam: She is very well known, seeing as she is an important character in the story of Passover (coming up soon!) and the Exodus. As Moses’ sister, Miriam was the one responsible for putting baby Moses in a basket and down the river, where the Pharaoh’s daughter found him. Already brave, Miriam approached Pharaoh’s daughter and told her that she knew a woman who could nurse the baby (hint: it’s their mother, Yocheved).
Once the Jews were finally across the Red Sea, Miriam led everyone in song, dancing with her timbrel. During the Jews’ time in the desert, a well of water followed Miriam because of her merit and righteousness. HOWEVER, we must not forget that Miriam suffers from the affliction of leprosy after she and her brother Aaron speak ill of Moses’ wife, a Cushite woman. Lashon hara, gossip, is certainly not an admirable characteristic, but it shouldn’t over shadow her positive attributes.
And then there’s Devorah: She is not as public a figure as her competitor, but she was a great leader for the Jewish people after Moses, Miriam, and Aaron died. Devorah was a judge in Israel; she was a strong woman, without whom Barak (a general) would not enter battle: “If thou wilt go with me, then I will go; but if thou wilt not go with me, I will not go.” Devorah is happy to join in the journey, but in being realistic about gender roles of the time reminds Barak that he will not receive any glory because a woman is accompanying him as an advisor in battle.
But Devorah does not flee from leadership, even despite the gender norms of the day. Devorah is therefore seen as a mother in Israel, during a time when leadership was much needed. Israel was finally at peace, with Devorah at the helm.
Miriam and Devorah were both amazing women, who are great role models among women from the Tanakh. In this very close game, every move counts… and Miriam fouled with her negative attitude towards Moses’ wife, while Devorah accepted her leadership position and held court with poise. Her bravery and strength are ever-present, despite the male-dominated community.
As the only female judge of the time, I consider her a trailblazer, a pioneer, a winner in this round of Mensch Madness! See y’all at the next game!