Using Jewish literature in the classroom

Until now, we’ve discussed using literature to teach Torah at home, whether as homeschoolers or as parents or grandparents. This post is about using Jewish literature in traditional classrooms. Rebbetzin Sarah Feldbrand is the former principal of Bnos Chava High School, where she introduced a ninth grade curriculum based on the following four novels: her own The Decree, Rabbi Meir Uri Gottesman’s The Morning Star and The Harp, and And Rachel Was His Wife, written anonymously. The curriculum covers the period from the Babylonian exile to the destruction of the Second Temple.

In addition to the reading, Rebbetzin Feldbrand asks her students questions and gives them assignements based on the books. Here are some examples:

For The Decree:

1. Create two letters. In one have the writer explain why he is choosing to stay in Babylon. In the other have the writer explain why he is opting to go back to the Land of Israel.
2. What do you think you would have chosen to do if you had lived in Shushan?
3. How was life the same in Shushan as it is now? How was it different?

For The Morning Star:

1. Cite several examples of the dangers that lurked in Jerusalem and explain what the dangers were?
2. Why was Yitzchak initially asked so many questions about his lifestyle?
3. Would you enjoy living during the time of this book? Explain why or why not.

For And Rachel Was His Wife:

1. What did you learn about the Romans from reading this book?
2. Describe the activities of day to day life in Rabbi Akiva’s time. What did women do? What did men do?
3. How did their lives resemble ours? How were they different?

Please e-mail me if you’re interested in the full list of questions and assignments.

New book: I Promise You by Yael Mermelstein

Another new book relevant to this time of the year — I Promise You by Yael Mermelstein, the author’s grandmother’s story of surviving the Holocaust while retaining her faith. I haven’t read the book yet, but all the other books I’ve read by this author have been well-written and powerful. According to the author, “This book is written from the perspective of a teenager, in present tense. It’s meant for older kids, teenagers and adults to read and it is unlike any other Holocaust book you’ve read.” Hope you find it inspiring!

New book: Chains by Leah Gebber

Just out! Chains, a novel by Leah Gebber, was serialized in Mishpacha Magazine. I only read a few chapters, since we don’t get Mishpacha on a regular basis, but I’ve been waiting impatiently for it to be published as a book, so this is very exciting news. The novel is set right after the destruction of the Second Temple. The main characters are captured by the Romans and taken into slavery. I can’t tell you more, as I haven’t read enough, but it looks like a great read. My guess is that it wouldn’t be appropriate for younger children, due to violence, but I can’t say more until I read the whole book.

New format! Book list for the Three Weeks

Great news — now you can browse the book list online, see my notes about the books, including recommended ages, and click on its Amazon description with book reviews.

You can find the book list, still under construction, in the Browse the book list by category section of the Torah through Literature menu.

The main book list includes the list for Seasons and Holidays, which includes the Three Weeks. Don’t miss the Beis Hamikdash and the Holocaust categories! (I did not label the Holocaust books by age, as it is very individual with books on such sensitive topics.)

G-d willing, I’ll be updating the list, and will keep you posted. My apologoies for those without internet access. If you’d like the Three Weeks book list as plain text please email me, and I’ll be happy to email it to you.

Meet the author: Genendel Krohn

Genendel Krohn is the author of numerous children’s books, in which she retells classical and contemporary Jewish stories in an engaging way. The most relevant of her books for this time of the year is When We Left Yerushalayim, which tells about the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in a way that even young children can understand and relate to, without feeling overwhelmed by the atrocities. Below, Genendel Krohn tells us about herserlf and her writing.

I was born in Baltimore, grew up in Miami Beach, and lived in Eretz Yisroel for nine years after my marriage, where I taught in various seminaries. Since then, I’ve been living in Waterbury, CT. I teach third grade Hebrew studies during the school year and run the learning program in Camp Malka during the summer months. In addition, I spend a lot of time writing, as a Binah Magazine Parasha columnist and as an author of soon-to-be 13 books.
People often ask me how I became a writer if my father-in-law – and not my father – is the famous author and lecturer, Rabbi Paysach Krohn. As it happens, both of my parents are excellent writers and they helped me develop into a writer.
Another question I often get is: When are you writing a novel? The answer is that I never will.
As a child, I never thought I enjoyed reading because most of the books we were forced to read in school were fiction and I never had any interest in getting emotionally involved in a story that was merely the product of someone’s imagination. Until today, I have no interest in fiction. I enjoy reading inspirational stories about real people and those are the types of stories that I write – whether they’re about people who lived long ago or people who are alive today. I put tremendous effort into researching the stories that I write, something I have learned from my father-in-law.
My most recent release, Honorable Mentschen: A Torah-Based Guide to Derech Eretz and Social Skills, took me the longest to write from all my books. Over the course of teaching third grade for many years, I’ve observed the behaviors of my students. By now, I have a pretty good handle on the way elementary school children interact socially, and have seen my share of both negative and positive behaviors. For years, I took notes on actual scenarios that I witnessed in order to teach my students how to behave properly. After accumulating all that material, and seeing how I was in fact able to train my students to behave with more derech eretz, using specific, every-day examples, I decided that I wanted to share the wealth with others. I think that one of the reasons the book has been so well-received is because children see themselves in the scenarios and recognize their own behaviors.
I believe that children are eager to do the right thing, but they simply need to be trained. In this comic-style book, children learn how to behave at a Kiddush, how to be a good guest and host, how to sympathize with a friend, how to speak to an adult with derech eretz, and so much more. Parents, teachers, and therapists are using this book to help cultivate within their charges proper behavior and social skills. And believe it or not, many adults have told me that it has helped them too by making them into more sensitive people!
I hope to have the zechus to continue teaching and writing for many years to come!
More books by Genendel Krohn:

The Miracles of Chanuka Then and Now

Once Upon a Pesach

The Story of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai

Book recommendation: The Morning Star and The Harp by Rabbi Meir Uri Gottesman

It’s the Hebrew month of Tammuz, and soon we will enter the Three Weeks, when we mourn the destruction of our Temple, the Beis Hamikdash. G-d willing, I will post a recommended reading list, but meanwhile, I wanted to tell you about two amazing books that bring the Second Temple, and its destruction, to life. Both are by Rabbi Meir Uri Gottesman.

The Morning Star consists of two parts, one happening in the present and the other taking place in the Second Temple period. Well written and engaging, it not only accurately portrays the goings on in the Temple, but also touches on deeper issues of reincarnation, our purpose in this world, and final redemption. It is thought-provoking for adults, but also enjoyed by kids ages 10 and up.

The Harp is the story of the destruction of the Second Temple. Beautifully told and mystical, it portrays the struggles of Jews living in that time period and the siege and battle over Jerusalem and the Temple. Some scenes are graphic and gruesome and are not for the faint of heart or for younger children, though they are, unfortunately, too accurate. Very appropriate reading for this time of the year.

Book recommendation: Journey to the End of the Earth by Devora Rand

I recently read a book that came out less than a year ago, called Journey to the End of the Earth, by Devora Rand, distributed by Feldheim. Two of my children read it too, and enjoyed it very much. It is an enagaging and suspensful historical novel, set in the 1600s, which depicts the trials and tribulations of the wandering Jew, unwanted and persecuted by other nations. The readers meet Jews who are forced to flee from various parts of the world: Poland, Spain, Portugal, and even South America. The plot follows Rabbi Menashe ben Israel and his son Shmuel, who try to convince the British government to allow the Jews back in, after they were exiled and banned from England in the 1200s. The book is very well researched and informative, and would be of great help to those studying Jewish history in the 1600s. The reading level is middle grades and higher.

Recent release: Dovid and Esty at Masada

A recent release, At Masada by Sara-Ester Varnai, looks interesting. I haven’t read it yet, but here is some information from the press release:

A woman with a mission: Sara-Ester Varnai is on a mission to bring Israel to life for children around the world.

“Israel is at the center of the world’s attention,” says Varnai. “But much of that attention is distorted and slanted against Israel. I designed the Kids Discover Israel Series to combat that, to educate children about Israel, and to inspire them with a love for the Holy Land and the Jewish people.”

Dovid and Esty: At Masada is the first volume in this new children’s series. Masada’s majestic story will come alive in the hearts and minds of children everywhere when they read this exciting adventure of young Dovid and his sister Esty who travel back in time to the original Masada. Their search for the clue to an ancient mystery leads them to witness firsthand the desperate fight for Jewish survival against the mighty Roman Empire.

“Each volume in the Kids Discover Israel Series will explore a different ancient, archaeological site,” says Varnai. “They are historical novels, so there is a lot of research necessary in order to present historical truths. The research I’m doing is extensive – and fun. It’s truly amazing. I’m learning so much!”

Dovid and Esty: At Masada is a work of fiction based on true events that took place on Masada, a mountaintop fortress in the Judean Desert in Israel, almost 2,000 years ago. The book is replete with original photography of the site and has an appendix with additional archaeological information. The delightful artwork brings the characters to life and will captivate young readers aged 7-12.