Igniting Your Inner Light This Hanukkah

By Natasha Cooper-Benisty, Lower School Judaic Studies Teacher
By Natasha Cooper-Benisty
Lower School Judaic Studies Teacher
During Hanukkah, we have eight days filled with beautiful light. To prepare for this holiday, the third grade classes explored the power of external light as well as the power of internal light - the light within themselves. This idea came from a session I attended this past summer during the NewCAJE Conference for Jewish Educators at the University of Hartford, thanks to the Peter J. Herzberg Memorial Grant Fund.

Jennifer Tolman Schwartzman of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford led a program entitled The WOW! Project. The project is described as “a new way to highlight Hanukkah concepts through the lens of personal identity. By engaging students in their own flashlight-making project, the theme of light comes to life, encouraging discussion, debate and a WOW! Moment.”

Over the past week, the entire third grade class along with JS 3rd/4th explored the concepts of lightness and darkness in different ways:
1)  Light vs. Dark – Students wrote about how they feel in the light and dark, and they recorded their answers on black and white sheets of paper or on the Smartboard.
2) We choose a couple of biblical texts from the creation story and the plague of darkness that mention lightness and darkness. The students were given the verses in both Hebrew and English and had to highlight the words in both languages that referred to light and dark. We also discussed the debate between the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai regarding how the Hanukiah should be lit (start with one candle and build up to eight or the opposite).  
3) The highlight of the project was a STEM component in which the students created their own pocket flashlight using a coin battery, LED bulb, foam sheets and washi tape. The students really enjoyed this project calling it “cool” and “fun!”

4) Following the STEM project which focused on external light, we had a discussion about internal light, highlighting that “our talents, interests, unique qualities, and kind characteristics are our own inner lights.” The students wrote down on an illustrated handout what makes them unique and what interests and talents they have. Students thought about their “inner light” and wrote several sentences in Hebrew on the colorful handout. Later on they became part of a large hanukkiah that is currently on display outside the third grade Judaics classes..   
5) Finally, with the lights off, the students read each others’ papers using their pocket flashlights.
The project encouraged the students to shine their lights both facing the other student’s papers and then from behind the other students’ papers. As noted in the lesson plan: “Often, the way we can best recognize each other’s inner lights is by sharing our own. We sometimes find that the most poignant way to experience another’s inner light is by standing behind him/her in support.”

I’m extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to attend the NewCAJE Conference and bring such a dynamic program back to our school and share it with my colleagues as well.

Chag Urim Sameach!

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