Bearing Fruit: How RAVSAK Uses the Global Day of Jewish Learning to Bring Art and Teaching to Students

Image Danielle S; courtesy RAVSAK (see text below)

by Lisa Inberg

“One day he (Honi the Circle Drawer) was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree, he asked him, How long does it take (for this tree) to bear fruit? The man replied: Seventy years. He then further asked him: Are you certain that you will live another seventy years? The man replied: I found (ready grown) carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted these for me so I too plant these for my children.” Babylonian Talmud Ta’anit 23a

This year’s Global Day of Jewish Learning is Sunday, November 17th and will unite hundreds of Jewish communities around the world through study of our shared texts, this year around the theme of Creating Together. Inspired by Rabbi Steinsaltz’s vision that Jewish texts be available to all Jews, the Global Day is a project of the Aleph Society. For several years, RAVSAK has partnered with the Global Day to bring the curriculum’s texts and accompanying discussion questions to the students at the 130 Jewish day schools in our network and has launched an art contest to inspire the students to creatively interpret these texts in personally meaningful ways.

Learning the aforementioned Talmudic text through the Global Day curriculum one is challenged by questions including: Why is the man planting fruit? What does the concept of legacy mean to you? What are the deeper levels of meaning that inspire you and those you are learning with? The carob is a very resilient tree that survives with little or no water when everything else begins to wither, the carob lives. The carob tree can survive many generations, providing for our children and grandchildren. No wonder that the man chose to plant a carob tree. Jewish texts themselves are like the carob tree: timeless and durable, they provide us with sustenance, knowledge and life. At RAVSAK Jewish text study plays a central role in framing all that we do in our programming for students and school administrators.

As a non-native American (I grew up in Australia), I am charmed by the fact that the new school year is aligned with Rosh Hashana. It is a shared time to reflect on the importance of our work as Jewish educators and reinvigorate ourselves for the educational opportunities that portend the beginning of school. My declaration in 5774 is that, like the man, I will continue to plant seeds for our students, passing on the blessing of learning as it was given to me.

Rabbi Steinsaltz notes that God created the world in order for man “to do.” Although God created the world thoughtfully, God nonetheless created the world incomplete. Instead, God created mankind to be partners in perfecting this world for ourselves and our future. RAVSAK takes that message literally, working as dedicated partners with our network schools in making it a more perfect world for all. This creative act of God is one we hope to inspire in our network of Jewish students. The Jewish Art Contest nourishes the creative spirit, empowering our students to learn and interpret Jewish texts in meaningful ways.

The program represents a creative collaboration between RAVSAK and the Global Day of Jewish Learning. The program engages students in a multidisciplinary study of Jewish studies and art combining intensive text interpretation leading into the production of visual art. Students create an artist statement explaining how their study led them to produce their work. The contest is open to elementary through high school students with separate categories of competition in fine arts and photography/digital imagery.

Reading and seeing the student’s interpretations of the Global Day curriculum sources attest to the positive impact of studying Jewish texts on student’s lives.

Danielle S. from Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield, Michigan, a finalist in the 2012 art contest, studied texts on the theme of “Blessing the Bad” (see image above):

The Mishnah tells us “one is obligated to recite a blessing for the bad that befalls him just as he recites a blessing for the good that befalls him.” At first, it was very difficult for me to find the good from the death of my grandfather because I just wish he could’ve been alive a bit longer, however what I learned from my Papa was to accept the things that happen in life despite how tough they may be. This lesson didn’t hit me until after he had passed and I read these texts.

Liana G. from Donna Klein Jewish Academy in Boca Raton, Florida, and another finalist in this year’s art contest, reflects upon Job 40:9 from the Global Day curriculum:

God tells Job the majesty of his ways, His power, His omniscient knowledge. He learns that God alone knows the workings of the universe and the ways of the world. The random occurrences of luck and hardship are not in the realm of our understanding as humans and because of this, we must bless all that happens. Who are we to say what is bad?

Image Liana G.; courtesy RAVSAK

By observing the students’ works and reading their artistic statements, one can see how students creatively represented the meaning and understanding they took from the texts they studied.

Our students are not only studying, interpreting and creating pieces of artwork from the text, but are also finding ways to make Jewish learning a relevant and meaningful part of their lives. The RAVSAK Art Contest engages students both by studying Jewish texts and inviting students to think critically and act creatively, with the freedom to explore what these texts might mean for them personally and in the wider world.

Just as the man plants the carob tree for his children, our work at RAVSAK is driven by the idea of the fruit being reaped by those who come after us. We will continue to develop meaningful programs and build strong relationships with our partner organizations that plant seeds in the minds of our recipients that produce a love of Jewish learning, a proud and strong Jewish identity and a desire to pass this message onto the next generation. Only by continuing this tradition can we ensure that our efforts will always bear fruit.

Lisa Inberg is RAVSAK’s Student Programs Coordinator.

The Global Day of Jewish Learning will take place on Sunday November 17th, 2013. You can register your community here.

To learn more about RAVSAK’s Art Contest, click here.