As an Ashkenazi Jew who only attended Ashkenazic schools and institutions I was (a little embarrassed to say) ignorant regarding the Sephardic world. Tefillot, brachot, minhagim, songs etc… A new world opened in front of me and I am grateful for that.
I have already integrated some of what I have learned into class, Before Chanukkah, along with the more common traditional well- known Israeli songs that the students are familiar with I introduced in class two beautiful piyytim עם נאמני זרע אמוני and מעוז צור ישועתי in a Sephardic tune. Even thought it was new and unfamiliar for most students, it was important for me to open their minds (and ears too) and awareness to other Chanukah songs. Also, when teaching the different minhagim of Chanukkah, I asked the students to share with the class how Chanukkah is celebrated in their homes. Of course most of them had the same minhagim and traditions (especially getting a present every night!). But we did find out that some eat sufganiyot - סופגניות and some eat spinig - ספינג a Moroccan sufganiya. The levivot (latkes) also had different versions. The students from Ashkenazic homes ate latkes, made from potatoes while some of the kids from Sephardic homes ate levivot with vegetables including corn and cilantro. When learning about the famous מחלוקת- argument between Hillel and Shamai, as to the way to light the chanukiah, we agreed that in everyone’s home the chanukiah is lit as Hillel said, but discovered that not everyone in class lights their own chanukiah. I asked them why is that?! They understood that every home has different minhagim and different ways to do the same mitzvah. It was important for me to help them see that those differences are not dividing us into Ashkenazim and Sephardim but are making us to one nation with varied and unique ways and traditions.
Before Tu Bishvat we focused in class on brachot. Besides going over ברכות ראשונות and ברכות אחרונות we went over brachot that are not said daily such as אילנות בפריחתם, בשמים, ברכה על הקשת, ברכת הגומל. I mentioned in class that ברכת בשמים can be said on different types of leaves, herbs and plants. The students then shared in class on what this bracha is made on in their homes. Again, we saw the nice variety of traditions and I emphasized again how those differences are what makes Am Israel so special. The highlight of this subject was חידון ברכות.- (a trivia game) I asked the students when going home to pay attention to the brachot that are said in their homes. We are trying to figure out and see if on the same foods sometimes different brachot are said. To end this subject we had a beautiful Tu Bishvat seder (סדר) with the שבעת המינים.
IY”H, as purim and pesach are approaching, I am planning to keep on integrating and introducing in class the beautiful minhagim, songs and traditions of both the Sephardic and the Ashkenazic masorot strengthening each student in their own heritage, and enriching all of the students.