When I teach Chumash or Navi in my eighth grade classes, I teach mefarshim to explain the pesukim. When I teach the classic machloket between Rashi and Ramban at the beginning of Parashat Kedoshim, I have the students do research on the life of Rashi and Ramban. I ask them to research where they came from, when they lived and what contributions they made. The same holds true each time I introduce another one of the commentaries. As a result of our conference, I make a concerted effort to stress that the different mefarshim that we analyze regularly, come from varied backgrounds. I emphasize that the commentators of Tanach lived in France, Germany Egypt, Italy, Spain, etc. and each one brings different nuances and styles to their commentaries.
In my second grade class, where I teach all subjects in Limudei kodesh, I have also become much more cognizant of the importance of illustrating the different minhagim between Ashkenazim and Sepharadim. Before my students receive their Chumashim, I teach them all about the Sefer Torah, ie. who writes it, how it is written, what it looks like and how it is adorned. This year, I was especially aware of the need to show the differences between a Sefer Torah that they routinely see in an Ashkenazi shul and a Sefer Torah that they will observe when they visit a beit knesset Sepharadi. I do want to mention that a large majority of our students come from Ashkenazi homes. As a matter of fact, in my second grade class this year, I do not have any students of Sepharadi origin.
In our school, at RPRY, we use the Tal Am curriculum for many of the subjects taught in the lower grades. When we teach parashat hashavua, there is a CD that we use to accompany each of the parshiot. The first pasuk is read on the CD followed by a reading of the pasuk that is sung using the ta'amei hamikra. At times the pasuk is chanted with the Ashkenazi trope and at others using the Sefaradi cantillation. I make a note to point out to my students that there are different minhagim and styles when it comes to Torah reading. This enables them to become accustomed to and appreciate the different styles.
As I am heavily involved in the Names Not Numbers program in our school, much of my teaching time in the Dinim and Historia classes these last few months have been devoted to Holocaust education and teaching our students researching, interviewing and editing skills of Holocaust survivors. That being the case, I have not been able to focus on Dinim. However, my plan is that as we approach Pesach, I will be able to devote significantly more time to expound on the significant differences in minhagim relating to Ashkenazim and Sepharadim.
Thank you again for affording me the opportunity to participate in the conference. I definitely gained a greater appreciation for the importance of transmitting a more meaningful recognition for the rich and impressive Sephardi culture.