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DIFFERENTIATION IN TANAKH CLASSES: INTEGRATING STUDENTS WHO TRANSFER FROM SECULAR SCHOOLS

October 26, 2017
By Rebecca Friedman-Charry and Judith May, Judaic Studies Teachers

Click her for online article

 

Like many schools, ours accepts some students who are beginning Jewish day school in middle or high school. How can we support these transfer students’ integration into the Tanakh classroom?

We spent years experimenting with different models. Developing a separate track for transfer students didn’t work. Isolated from their peers, the beginners lacked role models for engaging in traditional text study. On the other hand, early attempts at immediate mainstreaming led us to the opposite pitfall: Beginners were overwhelmed and felt they could never catch up. We found, then, that differentiating for these students affords them the best opportunities for success in Tanakh.

Some background: At SSLI, Tanakh classes are already heterogeneous. Students are accustomed to classmates with various levels of Hebrew knowledge, academic achievement and home observance. Tanakh teachers already create differentiated lesson plans and assessments. Mainstreaming with differentiation for transfer students makes sense in our school culture. We have found that transfer students can be mainstreamed successfully if teachers help them prepare and scaffold their learning.

HELP THEM PREPARE

When they enroll, students with no prior day school experience receive a list of the most essential Jewish studies information they should know before school begins in September. The list begins with the most basic skills, like being able to decode the Hebrew alphabet, and concludes with more “advanced” knowledge, like knowing the names of the Hebrew months. Students who are ready to develop a basic biblical Hebrew vocabulary are directed to the list of 52 most frequent words in Tanakh, as identified by Larry A. Mitchel (A Student’s Vocabulary for Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic). The intake team guides the family to identify which items on the list are a priority for the student to prepare. A family member may help the student prepare, or a family may hire a tutor.

Once the school year begins, teachers give these students extra attention. In addition to diagnostic assessments and conversations, teachers speak twice as frequently with transfer students and their parents during the first month of classes to determine a course of action. Teachers continue to check in with each transfer student throughout the year and adjust the plan as needed.

SCAFFOLD MATERIAL, AND GRADUALLY WEAN FROM SCAFFOLDING

Early in their studies, we try to pair transfer students with one another in havruta, so that when the rest of the class is working on translating a Bible passage from Hebrew, the beginners can use a translation. We tell them, though, that they will be responsible for recognizing some of the text in Hebrew. In the course of a unit, the class will focus on a number of key phrases. Before we quiz the class on those phrases, we meet with each transfer student to select which of the phrases they will have to recognize in Hebrew. At first, we may choose only two or three phrases. We gradually increase the number, continuing to involve the student in decisions of what will be formally assessed.

As transfer students become more comfortable in the school, we pair them with their more experienced peers. While this sometimes brings up concerns about Hebrew vocabulary, it exposes the new student to translation strategies. Most importantly, it teaches new students how to study in havruta.

What’s the outcome? By the beginning of twelfth grade, transfer students are integrated into the Tanakh classroom. They study Hebrew text as frequently as their peers, with the same level of comprehension. Students are proud of having become full-fledged participants in their school’s Jewish life.

Divorced and battling illness, rabbi’s daughter finds her lifeline in the Talmud

September 07, 2017
By SSLI Communications

Please click here for original Post in The Times of Israel

 

Divorced and battling illness, rabbi’s daughter finds her lifeline in the Talmud

Ilana Kurshan's Talmudic commentary/memoir is a striking account of a contemporary life lived alongside an ancient text.

 

Weeks after first reading “If All the Seas Were Ink,” Ilana Kurshan’s piercingly intelligent memoir about her life with the Talmud, I can’t take my mind off the Cheerios.

It’s fall, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, late at night, and they’re sitting on her keyboard. Kurshan is in her sophomore year at Harvard. She has a paper due the next morning and for each paragraph she writes, she has decided, she’ll reward herself with a single Cheerio. Ten paragraphs later, she has succumbed to sleep and vowed to skip breakfast the following morning as a penance for her indulgence.

By November, she is hospitalized. She has been diagnosed with anorexia — “marked by its ravages and shaped by its torturous toll.” The sickness and its aftermath occupy less than seven full pages of this memoir. They are emphatically not what she wants to draw the reader’s attention to. Yet they are, in some ways, the key to understanding the text, as they illustrate how reluctant Kurshan is as a memoirist — a riveting tension throughout — and they show how she, in this instance discussing Tractate Nedarim, the laws relating to vows, is able to consistently make her life a commentary on the Talmud.

Kurshan, a literary translator and former publishing employee and literary agent, says that she likes to think of her book as being a bit like “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. Both are memoirs. Both are told by women. Both focus on a challenge that is meant to heal the author, righting a life that has begun to keel.

But Kurshan’s voyage — with all due respect to Strayed’s monstrous pack and the savage heat of the California desert — seems far more arduous. She, newly divorced at the outset of the book, marches day by day, page by page, for seven and a half years, through the Babylonian Talmud.

Religiously observant readers will recognize the path she has taken: daf yomi, a page of Talmud per day. It is an undertaking shared by tens of thousands of studiers worldwide — a synchronized trek through 2,711 double-sided pages of discourse and disputation, written mostly in Aramaic, the lingua franca of Judea at the time of Jesus. It is the fundamental text of Jewish law. It has been zealously studied and commented on for 1,500 years, producing mountains of scholarly text.

And yet what Kurshan has produced is entirely novel. It is a memoir that is reluctant to reveal. It is a commentary that is compelling rather than academic. And it is a deep dive into a body of literature that is frequently misunderstood, seen for its trees of opinion rather than its forest of pluralistic ideals.

The following is an edited and condensed version of The Times of Israel’s conversation with Kurshan, whom this reporter knows socially, and who skips nimbly and with great velocity, on the page and in person, from Rabbi Eliezer to Keats and back again.

What’s your background and when did you first encounter the Talmud?

I grew up on Long Island as a rabbi’s daughter and went to a Solomon Schechter school through the eighth grade. So I did have some exposure to rabbinic texts but they were all cut and pasted onto source sheets and I never experienced Jewish texts, certainly not rabbinic texts, in context. For me that was what was so eye opening and revolutionary about daf yomi — the flow of the rabbis’ logic, how they transition, how the arguments unfold.

Basically the Talmud is like a recording, as if the tape recorder had been left on in the study hall, and we get to hear the rabbis’ conversations. And that’s lost when you just look at famous lines or stories. You don’t get the richness of the dialogue, the way it invites you into the conversation. And I’m an editor, I’m really interested in structure of text, how text unfolds, where you place what, how an argument is advanced — and the way that’s done in the Talmud, the way arguments are laid out, is such an art form. We don’t live in an oral culture anymore and so in a way it’s a lost art form and having exposure to that is what really drew me to those texts. So, yes, anyway, I didn’t have that. I went to public high school.

Was there a moment that you remember being first drawn to the Talmud?

I remember that when I was in Solomon Schechter we used to learn mishnayot, not gemara. The Mishna consists of lots of case studies [the spine on which the discourse of the Talmud rests], and we were learning Nezikin, the laws of damages, and so we’d learn what was to be done if one man is carrying a long pole and he bumps into another man carrying a barrel and I would organize my friends and we would act out skits, because this is a text that is so dramatic and alive. You can’t appreciate it if it’s just inert on the page. It’s a text that emerged out of real-life scenarios. And that always seemed clear to me.

Weeks after first reading “If All the Seas Were Ink,” Ilana Kurshan’s piercingly intelligent memoir about her life with the Talmud, I can’t take my mind off the Cheerios.

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It’s fall, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, late at night, and they’re sitting on her keyboard. Kurshan is in her sophomore year at Harvard. She has a paper due the next morning and for each paragraph she writes, she has decided, she’ll reward herself with a single Cheerio. Ten paragraphs later, she has succumbed to sleep and vowed to skip breakfast the following morning as a penance for her indulgence.

By November, she is hospitalized. She has been diagnosed with anorexia — “marked by its ravages and shaped by its torturous toll.” The sickness and its aftermath occupy less than seven full pages of this memoir. They are emphatically not what she wants to draw the reader’s attention to. Yet they are, in some ways, the key to understanding the text, as they illustrate how reluctant Kurshan is as a memoirist — a riveting tension throughout — and they show how she, in this instance discussing Tractate Nedarim, the laws relating to vows, is able to consistently make her life a commentary on the Talmud.

Kurshan, a literary translator and former publishing employee and literary agent, says that she likes to think of her book as being a bit like “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. Both are memoirs. Both are told by women. Both focus on a challenge that is meant to heal the author, righting a life that has begun to keel.

But Kurshan’s voyage — with all due respect to Strayed’s monstrous pack and the savage heat of the California desert — seems far more arduous. She, newly divorced at the outset of the book, marches day by day, page by page, for seven and a half years, through the Babylonian Talmud.

‘If All the Seas Were Ink’ by Ilana Kurshan. (Courtesy)

Religiously observant readers will recognize the path she has taken: daf yomi, a page of Talmud per day. It is an undertaking shared by tens of thousands of studiers worldwide — a synchronized trek through 2,711 double-sided pages of discourse and disputation, written mostly in Aramaic, the lingua franca of Judea at the time of Jesus. It is the fundamental text of Jewish law. It has been zealously studied and commented on for 1,500 years, producing mountains of scholarly text.

And yet what Kurshan has produced is entirely novel. It is a memoir that is reluctant to reveal. It is a commentary that is compelling rather than academic. And it is a deep dive into a body of literature that is frequently misunderstood, seen for its trees of opinion rather than its forest of pluralistic ideals.

The following is an edited and condensed version of The Times of Israel’s conversation with Kurshan, whom this reporter knows socially, and who skips nimbly and with great velocity, on the page and in person, from Rabbi Eliezer to Keats and back again.

What’s your background and when did you first encounter the Talmud?

I grew up on Long Island as a rabbi’s daughter and went to a Solomon Schechter school through the eighth grade. So I did have some exposure to rabbinic texts but they were all cut and pasted onto source sheets and I never experienced Jewish texts, certainly not rabbinic texts, in context. For me that was what was so eye opening and revolutionary about daf yomi — the flow of the rabbis’ logic, how they transition, how the arguments unfold.

Basically the Talmud is like a recording, as if the tape recorder had been left on in the study hall

Basically the Talmud is like a recording, as if the tape recorder had been left on in the study hall, and we get to hear the rabbis’ conversations. And that’s lost when you just look at famous lines or stories. You don’t get the richness of the dialogue, the way it invites you into the conversation. And I’m an editor, I’m really interested in structure of text, how text unfolds, where you place what, how an argument is advanced — and the way that’s done in the Talmud, the way arguments are laid out, is such an art form. We don’t live in an oral culture anymore and so in a way it’s a lost art form and having exposure to that is what really drew me to those texts. So, yes, anyway, I didn’t have that. I went to public high school.

Was there a moment that you remember being first drawn to the Talmud?

I remember that when I was in Solomon Schechter we used to learn mishnayot, not gemara. The Mishna consists of lots of case studies [the spine on which the discourse of the Talmud rests], and we were learning Nezikin, the laws of damages, and so we’d learn what was to be done if one man is carrying a long pole and he bumps into another man carrying a barrel and I would organize my friends and we would act out skits, because this is a text that is so dramatic and alive. You can’t appreciate it if it’s just inert on the page. It’s a text that emerged out of real-life scenarios. And that always seemed clear to me.

Click here to read complete article.

The Best Night Ever!

June 15, 2017
By SSLI Communications

The Best Night Ever!

Last night was an incredible night at Eisenhower Park. 

Thank you to everyone who attended.

he performances by Schechter School of Long Island AriNotes, the Long Island Cantors Ensemble and of course, David Broza, were just spectacular!

Click here to continue reading.

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