Rachel Levy, Ben Porat Yosef

Rachel Levy

It was a pleasure learning how to integrate Sephardic education into my daily teaching. After attending the seminar, I was enlightened and enthralled to share what I learned and of course to include the information in my interactions with students and colleagues. I was excited to imbue my teaching with the nuances of Sephardic halacha, hashkafa, and history. A few days after I was enlightened with the new and exciting information about Sephardic Judaism, a friend and former colleague, Jessica Feiwus, Elementary School teacher at Solomon Shechter of Manhattan, telephoned me. She needed help with a lesson plan, which would aim to teach her class about Sephardic Judaism. I spoke with her extensively about what I had learned from the seminar and shared materials with her. This is what she wrote about how she used the information:

“Thanks so much for lending your materials and speaking with me on the phone in depth about Sephardic Judaism. We listened to songs from the postcards you provided a few times. I think we mostly ended up using things you and I talked about in conversation to help plan how we were teaching Sephardic Judaism. We talked about the "two brothers separated at birth" and coming together to learn about each other. We plotted where our families are from. We watched some videos comparing Sephardic and Ashkenazic Judaism as well. We also visited a Yemenite minyan (a student's father is a part of it and set it up) so there was a lot of conversation about tefilla and Torah and how our culture is influenced from the country Jews lived in. We also had a panel of three teachers in the school who identify as Sephardic or part-Sephardic share about their own identities.”

I also had an opportunity to teach the students a bit about what I learned from the seminar. During a special presentation by a sofer stam to the second grade about Sifre Torah, I spoke with the children about the differences between a Sephardic and Ashkenazic sefer. The sofer brought examples of Sifre Torah, however, sadly a Sephardic replica was not displayed. I spoke with the children about the differences between the two and then asked them why they thought it was so. They gave some insightful answers, but eventually, I told a story that illustrated the differences between the Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewish Histories that impacted the shape, material, size, and weight of our Sifre Torah.

The children then had the opportunity to read their pasuk with teamei hamikra, both in the Ashkenazi and Sephardic styles. We again began to discuss why our readings sound different even though we read from the same Torah scroll. The children were enthralled by this discussion and many children were proud to share their own family’s heritage and hear about their friend’s.

Honestly, this is but a drop in the bucket of the ways in which I have used what I learned. I could fill pages with my continued advocacy to highlight our beautiful Sephardic Heritage through song, the study of halacha and world view. I appreciate having been part of this educational effort.