I had never been to a conference or class on Sephardic heritage before, and how to implement such material into the classroom environment and curriculum. I was intrigued because I previously worked in a school that had a large contingency of families with various Sephardic backgrounds, and didn’t know much to teach them. I had a challenging time in the beginning, as some students in that particular school associated Limudei Kodesh teachers with “being Sephardi,” and found it funny when I said I was Ashkenaz. Since then, I have tried learning pieces of Sephardi customs, especially for the Chagim. Last year, in my sixth grade girls class, I had three girls from Sephardic homes. When it came time for learning the Tefillot in the Machzorim for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippor, I had no idea how to look through it. I felt badly because some of the Tefillot that I found to be so prominent in my shul, were nowhere to be found in their Machzorim. I didn’t know if I just couldn’t find the place, or if Sephardim actually didn’t say Tefillot I thought everyone said! I also didn’t recognize certain Tefillot in their Machzorim.
I am currently teaching in a school that is primarily Ashkenazi, and has a very small population of Sefardi families. This year, I only have one girl between both of my classes with a father who is Sefardi. It was interesting when I heard that her parents started going to the Ashkenazi minyan for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippor. My one Sephardi student therefore didn’t even read from a Sephardi Machzor, but an Ashkenazi one!
Any chance I have had and knew of to note the differences in minhagim between Sefardim and Ashkenazim I have tried to emphasize to my students, as I always generally had at least one or two Sephardim in my class. It never occured to me though until the conference, that I should really keep in mind to say the differences in minhagim and customs independent of what types of students I am teaching.
This year I started teaching an eighth grade girls Torah Shebeal Peh class, and we have been learning the halachot of Kriat Shema. While I always start off with learning the Mishna and Gemara, I end off with the practical halacha according to the Shulchan Aruch. I then thought to also implement learning some of the Beit Yosef, as well as teshuvot of the Rambam. This is despite having no Sephardim in my class this year, but due to the conference I found it to be necessary to engage the students to see the differences and similarities in practical halachot between Sephardim and Ashkenazim. Already implemented into the curriculum was learning about the personalities, such as the Rambam, Rashi and Rama, and I now take into account the necessity of learning about both Ashkenazim and Sefardim. The one big challenge I find is the lack of time I already feel, without implementing the sources from Sephardim. I would love ideas on how to include such material, without feeling I am “racing the clock.” I already felt the time crunch before starting to teach the Sephardi sources.
For the future, I would try to learn more about Sefardi Tefillot and Minhagim, especially for the Yamim Noraim. I would like to know which Tefillot should be bookmarked, and where, in a Sefardi Machzor, just as I know which Tefillot should be bookmarked in an Ashkenazi Machzor. I would also like to teach Sefardi Minhagim for the Seder, a night that is rich with minhagim and customs in every household. As mentioned at the conference, everyone “knows” that Sefardim are allowed to eat kitniyot on Pesach. However, I did not realize that not all Sefardim hold this way until the conference. I also plan to teach more Sefardi customs beyond that in regards to Pesach. I want all of the students to realize that both Ashkenazim and Sefardim have their own rich customs and minhagim that they should learn about and hold onto, with no one being “better” than another.
This week I had an instance in my sixth grade girls class where girls found it funny that one new girl pronounces with a “saf” (the Ashkenazi way) while in school we always use “taf.” I explained to the girls the difference in the Sephardi and Ashkenazi pronunciation, and how there isn’t a wrong way, it’s all based on family minhag. They didn’t know this, and were interested in learning the background behind such minhagim. This was one situation where I realized that because our students haven’t learned other minhagim and customs, they look down upon it. However, just a simple short lesson on such minhagim opened their eyes so much more to the entire Jewish world around them.