It’s a Sunday morning in early spring and the fifth graders enter the classroom, one at a time.
The substitute is waiting to greet each one with a smile and name exchange.
The first walks through the door, acknowledges the teacher, and sits down quietly.
The second bursts in doing cartwheels.
The third, half asleep, walks in … slowly.
One sits down, and taps tzedakah coins on the table.
Another heads right to the teacher, handing her an assignment from the week before. Another heads to a chair and asks if he can stand instead of sit.
They all come into the room on the second floor of Beth Emet The Free Synagogue, in various states of consciousness. But they come.
Conversion is the conversation for the day. On the board is the line from Leviticus’ about how to treat the stranger. The substitute points out that the word “ger” in Hebrew means convert. A student is asked to read it. He reads it very slowly, on purpose. There is much giggling. He is giggling. It makes the substitute giggle a little. But then a question. And then another. Soon it is a discussion. A student asks to get a drink of water. Yes, but come right back. Another asks to go to the bathroom. After he returns.
Students are asked to pair up and read together. There is more giggling.
Some clarifying questions. There is a writing assignment. They write, except for one student who is still playing with tzedakah. The teacher asks for tzedakah. Then he writes.
The cartwheel-doing student asks if there will be any playacting today. The substitute asks her to read one of the conversion stories as if she were the person who wrote it.
The gymnast does a great job. So does the quiet one. And the one who read Leviticus, really slowly.
Then someone asks, “What does it really mean to be Jewish, anyway?” The substitute asks students to offer their thoughts on that. There is some discussion about how Jews treat others and interpret Torah and their direct relationship to God. The substitute notes that this is a fairly high level of discussion for pre-Bar and Bat Mitvahed 10-and-11 –year-olds. She is very pleased indeed.
It’s time for services. The substitute escorts her students to the sanctuary and then takes a bathroom break. In 30 minutes, another group of fifth graders will enter her classroom. She will be ready.
(With thanks to Benjamin Goldberg for his lesson plan and students on Sunday, March 27.)