This year, the Hebrew School tried something new and different on Tuesday afternoons: teachers Beatrice and Leah asked students to bring in teddy bear ‘stuffies’ to serve as symbolic (and cuddly) surrogates for learning about Jewish life-cycle events.
The students chose Hebrew names for their ‘stuffies’, which they gave the bears at a “naming ceremony” in December, for which each student also made her or his bear a kippah and a wimple (usually used to tie Torah scrolls) to use as a sash.
Later, the bears were prepared for a ‘Bear-Mitzvah’. To do this, each student was given a mitzvah to do on behalf of his or her bear, such as visiting the sick or helping someone in need.
It was very moving for educators and parents to see these children talking about what Jewish life-cycle events mean to them. The students also explained how they understand the meaning of the phrase, in the Ve’ahavta prayer, that calls upon Jews to “impress them” (i.e., the words of the shamma prayer) “on their children.”
The ‘Bear Mitzvah’ finale event was held during a Friday night family Kabbalat Shabbat on March 1. Students chanted prayers, sang songs, and, together with their bears, stood under a “Bear Mitzvah” tallit shawl for a blessing from the congregation.
The Jewish bear project has been a wonderful means of imparting Jewish education in ways that are meaningful to children. It also attests to the educational value of Tuesday afternoon Hebrew School classes, where there is more time and space to focus in depth on a learning project.
So, is the Jewish bear project now over? Maybe not. We hear that somebody’s preparing for a wedding! Stay tuned for a bear ḥuppah…