Full 2010 - 2011 syllabuses

posted Apr 15, 2011, 8:49 AM by Max Socol   [ updated Apr 15, 2011, 9:06 AM ]

Syllabuses or syllabi? I'm not sure. Either way, I'm posting this year's entire schedule for the benefit of our incoming Noar classes. Whether your child is a rising 7th grader or an esteemed upperclassman, you should find something of interest below.

I can guarantee that our 2011 - 2012 schedule won't look quite like this. (For one thing, all of the dates will be slightly different, of course.) We're always seizing on opportunities to improve the program, and that includes scrapping programs that were ineffective, responding to student and parent suggestions, and working around the expertise of our teaching staff.

That said, these documents are an excellent general overview of the kind of programming students can expect at each grade level.

Each date is listed with its topic/subject for the night, as well as our "enduring understandings" -- the fundamental values or information that we want students to leave with at the end of the night. For details about any particular program, feel free to email me. I have our full program write-ups on file and I'm happy to share them.

A brief summary of Noar's global curriculum:

Noar is an informal educational program designed to instill and reinforce Jewish identity for Temple Sinai's youth community. In three years, Noar students are exposed to the forces, questions, and challenges that have shaped, and will continue to shape, the kind of people they are growing up to be.

In 7th grade, Noar students encounter the real, often-unmentioned history of liberal Judaism. They trace the evolution of Jewish thought from the Haskalah (enlightenment) movement of Europe to modern American Reform Judaism. With this history in mind, they then encounter the two most significant events in modern Jewish history: the Holocaust, and the founding of the state of Israel.

8th graders at Noar return to the roots of Jewish law, exploring the most important post-biblical and rabbinic texts. Over the course of an entire year, 8th graders learn the reasons for and sources of Jewish law and custom as expressed in the Reform movement, and are challenged to engage in a more equal, more adult approach to their religious lives.

Noar's 9th grade program is focused on the strong personal connections that students foster as individuals: ben adam l'olam (between myself and the world), ben adam l'chavero (between myself and my friends/family), ben adam l'atzmo (between me and myself), and ben adam l'adonai (between myself and God.)

8th grade belief platforms

posted Jan 28, 2011, 11:00 AM by Max Socol

This week, our 8th graders encountered the original "Pittsburgh Platform," considered to be the founding document of Reform Judaism. After a series of exercises that allowed them to interact with that document, we asked our students to assemble their own updated platforms that reflect their beliefs. Groups of students collected around common opinions and generated five separate platforms. If nothing else, they certainly reflect the wide diversity of belief between our students.

Below you will find a summary of the original Pittsburgh Platform, as well as our student platforms.

Pittsburgh Platform summary (1885)
1. God is central to Judaism.  Judaism is the highest definition of the “God-idea” throughout history.  
2. The Bible (Torah) is the record of the Jewish people, but reflected ideas of its own time.
3. We only follow moral laws and those ceremonies that make sense in the modern world.  
4. We do not follow dietary laws or those that govern dress.  
5. We do not want to return to Palestine (Israel) or have sacrifices again.
6. We do not believe in heaven or hell or bodily resurrection.
7. We feel it is important to work for justice.

The Washington Platform
"The Torah should be left to your interpretation."
1. God is the creator of our religion and the highest power, but does not decide fate.
2. Prayer is a way to communicate with God.
3. The Torah is an interpretation of God's signs.
4. We should follow our own interpretation of Torah laws, but still take them seriously.
5. We should do so because it is the right thing to do, not just because we are Jews.
6. Israel is our homeland and our history be we don't need it to practice our customs.
7. Knowing Hebrew is necessary only to study Torah, it is not an obligation.

The Moralist Party
"Do what's right - go moral!"
1. The concept of a higher presence is defined individually.
2. Moral rules are the ones that are most important.
3. Israel should be a connection between all Jews; we should be encouraged but don't have to do.
4. Social justice is important and makes the world a better place.

Team Tikkun Olam
"Tikkuna matata"
1. Every Jew should do tikkun olam.
2. Every Jew can have his own opinion about what he believes in.
3. You can decide which laws are important to you.
4. Every Jew should try to have a bar/bat mitzvah.
5. You should be familiar with reading Hebrew and be able to follow along in a prayer book.

Men of Science
2. Everything that does exist can be explained by science.
3. Judaism is a religion based on culture, traditions, and community bonding.
4. Prayer is important for expression and bonding, even if God cannot hear requests and prayers.
5. Tikkun olam and social justice are still very important.
6. The Torah was written by a group of inspired rabbis long ago.
7. The 10 Commandments are laws that should be abided by, possibly excepting laws referring to God.
8. Following laws of Torah should be recommended, but never required.
9. Hebrew should be learned enough to follow prayers and Torah. Fluent Hebrew is recommended, not required.
10. Israel holds the roots of the Jewish religion and should be visited, but also not required for anybody.

The Jesting Jewish Jamboree
"Just be Jewish!"
1. Judaism is a loose theology left to interpretation by those who practice it.
2. Only relevant laws that make us feel closer to our religion should be practiced by each individual.
3. Hebrew and Israel should be important or not to teach Jew depending on how they feel, but Israel should still by respected as our Jewish homeland.
4. Prayer is another way to connect to Judaism.
5. Tikkun Olam is in the Torah because it is morally correct and the greater good; Torah is the gold standard for mitzvot. Tikkun olam is good for many reasons.

Spring syllabus online

posted Jan 23, 2011, 7:46 AM by Max Socol

Earlier this week, parents received an email from me containing the spring syllabus.  I'm pleased to offer the syllabus online as well for parent and student reference.

7th grade visits Friendship Terrace

posted Jan 21, 2011, 8:51 AM by Max Socol

7th grade kicked off the new semester with a special tikkun olam off-site project at Friendship Terrace, a local eldercare facility.  Students got to know the residents, conducted interviews, educated about Tu B'Shvat, and even put on a couple of impromptu musical performances.  Video, courtesy of multi-tasking 7th grade teachers, is embedded below.

7th grade visits Friendship Terrace

Frying Potatoes, Sustainably

posted Dec 10, 2010, 11:27 AM by Max Socol

This is a guest post from Sam, one of our 9th grade teachers.  Sam keeps a blog about food at - Ed.

Latkes. Delicious, greasy, fried potatoes smothered in sour cream and/or (definitely and) apple sauce. Runs contrary to the Hungry Sam healthy mentality, no? Well, yes, insofar as that mentality is absolute. It's not; treats are an important part of living a healthy lifestyle -- as long as they're infrequent indulgences and not an everyday thing.

But this post isn't about treats, it's about diving, spoons and graters first, into latke making with my ninth grade religious school class last night. 

But wait, you ask. What sort of awesome curriculum has room for latke cooking?

The sustainability sort! See, my fellow teachers and I have been teaching our students all about sustainability this semester, how choices can be made to promote a future and a world that can sustain our children and children's children.  

The idea in doing a sustainable cooking program was this: Making the sustainable choice for all of our meals all of the time is hard. But making it SOMETIMES is easy, and doesn't necessarily impact flavor or price of the dish you're making.

Furthermore, cooking is a basic skill that facilitates making sustainable choices. When you're doing the cooking (as opposed to eating out or buying pre-made), you can control the ingredients, you know where they come from, how they've been prepared, what sort of carbon footprint they have, or at least you're more able to determine that information. (There are other good reasons to cook, outlined in Hungry Sam's new "Why Cook? A Guide" page.)

So, in order to inject some competition into all of this (of course), I picked up three sets of ingredients: a regular, non-organic set, an organic set, and a farm stand set. My challenge was to buy approximately the same quantities of each set of ingredients for about the same price. I did so -- at least in this case, buying ingredients from a variety of sources didn't need to impact the budget. For their part, three teams of students were to cook the best latkes possible, and our judges (the rabbis and high school program director) were to both select the best-tasting latke and try to guess the ingredients' source.

I have to hand it to them, my guys threw themselves into this, grating, peeling, and frying their way to crispy goodness. Some of our students had solid cooking experience, others had little or none, but the energy was absolutely there -- which of course, as a food enthusiast, I appreciated. These young adults wanted those latkes, and the victory. 

In the judging process, our three judges each tried the latkes with their toppings of choice. Only one judge correctly determined the source of the winning batch, the organic latkes, but the judge's decision underscored our very unscientific conclusion: if organic is at all a more sustainable choice, it doesn't need to mean a more expensive or less tasty latke.

The "recipe" we used:
-Some amount of potatoes, like 2 lbs.-ish
-Half an onion
-An eggs worth of egg whites
-Two pinches of flour

Mix, make little latke patties, squish 'em flat and dry, then fry.



posted Oct 15, 2010, 11:14 AM by Max Socol

Photos from our Gangster program have been uploaded.  Check out the album on our photos page.

Shabbat shalom!

American Gangsters

posted Oct 8, 2010, 7:39 AM by Max Socol

A big thank you to staff and students for making this week's Special Topics event - Jewish gangsters in America - such a success.  Programs of that size and scope live or die depending on the enthusiasm of their participants, and last Tuesday's tidal wave of positive energy was more than enough to take us where we wanted to go.

  Yesterday I had a debrief session with Jill and Rabbi Oleon.  We were talking over mundane logistical items when Rabbi Oleon made a good, and tough, point.  I won't try to quote her exactly, but in essence she pointed out that I could have been clearer about the guiding purpose of last Tuesday.  Sure, it was fun to learn about Jewish gangsters.  But why do it?

I think that's a more than fair criticism, and in the run-up to the event it's something I had thought of myself, but hadn't the time to correct in the rush to prepare everything we needed.  Practically speaking, the shortcomings that occurred to me were: a lack of kid-friendly (by that I just mean understandable) resources on the era of Jewish gangsterism; and my own failure to think more creatively about how to wrap up the program.  We ended the night with good, but rushed, conversations about how Jews struggle to balance dedication to community with dedication to law and order.  The night's neat trick was that these discussions were facilitated by the very gangster that each group of students had just captured, now back in teacher mode.  But that set-up led to some missed opportunities.

Why, for example, did I decide to suspend the play-acting element of the evening during the discussion period?  Wouldn't these discussions have been more interesting if the gangsters had remained in-character, pleading and debating with their arresting officers for their release?  Could I have given the students clearly-defined roles as interrogators?  These are the questions that you ask yourself too late when designing a program, and they do make you wonder.

I've tried to answer questions about purpose here before, and it's both remarkable and frustrating how quickly a "why?" about one program becomes a "why?" about the whole program.  But this is the reality of supplementary long as we are only a supplement, we'll have to keep finding ways to justify our existence.  So here's my brief take on last night's "why?"

Among the swarm of Noar's goals for the year, a major one is to find new ways to connect students to Judaism's rich cultural heritage.  We do this in part out of necessity; we recognize that a retread of the same tired ground year after year is one of the major reasons students tend to dread the supplementary school experience.  But we also do it because this stuff is legitimately interesting.  I don't know that I could think of another people that has had more thrilling ups, and more terrifying downs, in the last 100 years - to say nothing of the 5000 years before that.

I saw interest on Tuesday.  The history of Jewish gangsterism is well documented but not well known; we took students to a place they really had never been before.  I don't think we should underestimate the value of that feeling of novelty for adolescents.  Our students are growing into a "been there, done that" outlook that's natural for their ages.  Reminding them that Judaism is bigger than that outlook is a worthwhile task, in my opinion.

Our fundamental goals remain the building of a community and the practice of reform Judaism.  But these occasional detours into the cul-de-sacs of Jewish history are useful, as well, and perhaps worthwhile for their own sakes.

A final, interesting tie-in.  Some of you may already have read Fidel Castro's recent, widely-publicized remarks regarding Israel and Jews, in which he called on the Iranian president to tone down his rhetoric and recognize the "unique suffering" of the Jewish people.  The quotes were obtained by Jeffrey Goldberg, a correspondent with the Atlantic Monthly, who was unexpectedly invited to Cuba by Castro for a series of interviews.

Well, today, Goldberg notes an unintended consequence of his visit.  Specifically, that anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists are using his trip, and Castro's friendly remarks toward Jews, as evidence that Goldberg is secretly working on behalf of Jewish organized crime, which had a gambling presence in Cuba in the 1950s.

Goldberg reports he was "summoned" to Havana to discuss Castro's fears of a global nuclear war. After conceding in the interview that the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis "wasn't worth it," Castro turned to a theme of topical importance to Tel Aviv, insisting that the Iranian government must understand that Jews "were expelled from their land, persecuted and mistreated all over the world."

Knowing Cuba's pre-revolution alliance with Meyer Lansky and other kingpins in Jewish organized crime, one must wonder if this "journalist" was dispatched to commence negotiations for gambling concessions as a means to fill the Castro government's depleted coffers.

I'm sure all of our students are smart enough to recognize that this stuff is vile and hate-filled.  But happily, after last Tuesday, they can also recognize that it's stupid stuff - especially the group that captured Meyer Lansky, since they would know that his interests in Cuba ended decades ago.  An unintended early victory for our program.

Don't Stop Believin'

posted Sep 30, 2010, 2:38 PM by Max Socol

8th grade last week held a little contest to see who could best convey the process by which a Jewish "bill" (idea, custom, practice, or what-have-you) becomes a law - a mitzvah.  In the spirit of "Schoolhouse Rock," that beloved classroom staple, we challenged the kids to explain the evolution of mitzvot through song.

Here's the original Schoolhouse video:

And here's the winning video from the 8th grade, an inspired choice and performance:

See you Tuesday

posted Sep 24, 2010, 9:45 PM by Max Socol   [ updated Sep 24, 2010, 9:52 PM ]

Shabbat shalom.

Photos from our first night

posted Sep 22, 2010, 9:42 AM by Max Socol

Thanks to Sarah and Noa, we've got some great photos from Noar's opening night last week.  You can check them out in the Photo albums section of the site, and they're also in the slideshow at the top of the page.

The program had a ton of energy, and we were only able to capture a little of it on camera.  We had a great turnout - more than 120 students showed up for opening day.

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