Our Jewish Thought Class Shines a Light

by Baila Brackman, Judaics teacher

When I first started teaching Judaics at Akiba, I felt the students in the older grades needed a class in which it would be safe to discuss and explore their feelings, questions, opinions, and fears related to their Jewish identity. I was craving an outlet, a way for students to feel comfortable, open, respectful, and understanding of one another. This was particularly the case because our students come from very diverse Jewish backgrounds. And so Akiba-Schechter’s Jewish Thought class came to be. My longtime colleague Alise Gold picked up my dream when she joined the school, and together we built our Jewish Thought curriculum.

In Jewish Thought, students develop skills that allow them to continue learning and, most importantly, to apply what they learn to their own lives. 

They are encouraged to think “outside the box” and to find different ways to understand important concepts, Jewish history, Jewish roots, and any other Jewish question they want to discuss or address.

Every few weeks we focus on a different theme to inspire critical thinking, questions, and Jewish thought, such as friendship, happiness, Chesed (kindness), or persistence. We study Judaic sources and contemporary articles that support and expand on each topic.

Throughout the year, as holidays come up, we learn about the special Mitzvot (commandments) and customs associated with the holiday and the reasons behind them. This week, at the school’s Chanukah Assembly, we shared lessons on the Chanukah lights, one candle at a time. With each lesson, we asked a question, hopefully to inspire the audience to think about how the Chanukah lights can make us stronger.

"If the Candles Could Speak - Lessons from the Menorah Lights."

The first candle shines confidently, knowing that even in the darkest room, one small light can illuminate the darkness. We learn that even in the darkest of circumstances, a drop of positivity and light can make all the difference.

What is a positive action that you can commit to in your life that will help illuminate the world?

The second candle flickers and dances, yearning to connect to its source - the sun. The fire inside, the divine spark that is imbued within us flickers and dances in a constant desire to connect and come close to its source, G-d above.

How will you help your soul achieve this connection?

The third candle teaches us the power of potential. Fire can cause both immense harm and immense good. It can bring destruction and light. It all depends on how it is utilized. Let’s make sure to use our fire or spark for something positive, to brighten someone’s day, to shine up someone’s life.

What potential do you have waiting inside you that you will actualize this year?

The fourth candle knows that a life lived with light is that much more enjoyable. For example, a meal in the dark is not as enjoyable as in a well-lit room. A musical symphony so much more impressive when the stage with all of the performers is well illuminated. By infusing the light of the Torah into our lives we are elevating every single physical experience to a divine level.

Which physical experience will you choose to elevate and illuminate? 

The fifth candle knows that just one small action can tip the scale for the positive. It brings the menorah from a state of half/half to an illuminated majority. Balance and stability are good qualities but sometimes we need to make a change and go out of our comfort zone, our regular satisfaction level.

Which place in your life has reached a comfortable equilibrium that you are ready to disturb by making a positive change?

The sixth candle teaches us that in addition to light, fire provides heat. Fiery passion, when used in a positive way, can be the driving force of much good. A life lived with passion is a life in which you are truly alive.

Which area of your life will you approach with a renewed passion?

The seventh candle teaches that even though there are actions that may seem less significant, without them we cannot be complete. The seventh candle is not the first flame to illuminate the darkness and not the last. However, the seventh candle is comfortable with the fact that it plays a role that may not seem to be important, yet without it, the menorah is not complete. The power of the individual produces the power of the collective.

How will you shine as an individual that will bring light into your community?

The eighth candle symbolizes above and beyond. Seven is nature, symbolized by the seven days of creation. Eight is the leap into the supernatural, reaching outside of our physical limitations and comfort zone to achieve the unimaginable.

Which 'I can't' will you transform into an 'I can, and I will?'

The Shamash knows that by sharing its light and helping to bring out the light of others, it does not diminish from its worth. Rather, there are now many shining lights where there was once only one.

Let us come together to light up the lives of those around us - one person at a time.


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