Teaching Chanukah to an Entire Elementary School

This was definitely one of the most exciting opportunities I have ever had in my life. The past two weeks have been the most exciting (and the busiest!) this semester. I have been able to teach about Chanukah for a full two weeks; I have taught every class in the school about Chanukah. The teachers and administrators at Chong Qing have been curious to learn and helpful to me as I planned all of our Chanukah programming. For each class, I presented a powerpoint that included an introduction to concepts such as ‘Jewish people’ and ‘Hebrew language,’ and explained the basic story of Chanukah. I also presented key vocabulary, taught a Chanukah song, and showed pictures of Jewish students from my mom’s kindergarten class in the United States. After presenting the powerpoint, I taught the students how to play dreidel and then gave them a chance to spin and play this exciting Chanukah game. Following this, I reheated pre-made latkes, a traditional Chanukah food, and each student was able to eat a piece.

Before all the pictures... Here is an article about Chanukah at Chong Qing that was published in an education newspaper. It's all in Chinese, but it's worth a quick look! Everyone here has been so excited to learn about a new holiday and it's wonderful to see that the school made sure this article was published. Several teachers said to me "I'm so glad our kids can learn about something other than Halloween and Christmas," and both teachers and students alike have eagerly been asking questions about this new culture/religion.

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Every day during Chanukah, during the 10-minute break between 1st and 2nd period, the teachers made a school-wide announcement inviting all students to come to the front gate. There we had set up two posters of a Chanukiah (the traditional candelabra we light on each night of the 8-day holiday), and each day I called up a different student to ‘light’ the newest candle. I had other students come up to write the date and count “Today is Chanukah day number ____.” On some days, I also had students come up to hold a toy Chanukiah and several dreidels while we lit each big Chanukiah. Then we gave all students a little cookie after they had said “Happy Chanukah.” Needless to say, it was a very energetic 10 minutes where the students were very excited to participate and learn new Chanukah phrases. On some days, there was Hebrew music playing in the background, and every day the sounds of students’ laughter and Chanukah greetings could be heard around the school.

We had other whole-school activities as well. At the end of the week we took the longer 20-minute break between 2nd and 3rd period to organize many simultaneous games of dreidel. The teachers made another announcement and students came flocking to the front gate, sitting in front of the Chanukiah posters in circles on the floor. I briefly re-explained how to play dreidel, we gave each group a dreidel and some playing pieces, and students were free to play. Many teachers came to watch, and all of the English teachers were there to help facilitate and answer questions. Many students remembered and/or were able to figure out exactly how to play … and though there was definitely some confusion, students enjoyed themselves nonetheless and came up with their own creative ways to play. It was wonderful to see these Taiwanese students excited about playing a Jewish game I grew up with!

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Then on Friday of the first week, I was able to take about 15 minutes of our weekly all-school assembly to present a Chanukah program. First I showed an abbreviated version of my powerpoint. I was addressing an audience with a wide range of Chanukah knowledge; many students had already had had their Chanukkah lessons, many were not scheduled to have those lessons until the following week, and none of the teachers had seen anything yet. Then I welcomed one of our Grade 4 classes to present some Chanukah introductory sentences in both English and Chinese and then to sing I Have a Little Dreidel. I taught this song to students in Grades 1-4, and this particular class was very enthusiastic about performing it, complete with hand motions, for the whole school. Then lastly, I showed a video I made that included clips of Chanukah activities from our students here, from my mom's kindergarten students, and from 8th grade students at the Jewish elementary school I attended from 4th - 8th grade.  My 5th grade teacher and I have been compiling and sharing videos of our students engaged in Chanukah activities as part of a cultural exchange project, which was a wonderful addition to our Chanukah programming here. 

On Monday of the second week I was able to put together what was definitely one of the highlights of the whole experience. During the 20-minute break in the morning, I set up skype with my mom! She was projected up at the front of our audio-visual room, and students and teachers came to see Teacher Sara’s mom! Some students sang the Chanukah song I had taught them (“I have a little dreidel”) and a few more students asked her some questions. Then, when everyone was there, we watched as my mom lit the Chanukiah (with real candles!), showed us different dreidels, sang the Chanukah blessings … and showed everyone our pet rabbit and cat. The students loved it, oohing and ahhing at the Chanukiah and dreidels, calling out the different colors of the candles, and waving hello and goodbye to our pets. The teachers, too, were interested, and some even stayed afterwards to personally say hello to my mom. It was quite an exciting morning and it was wonderful to see how much everyone got out of the skype call – including students, teachers, and my mom.

On the whole, this experience has been incredibly exciting for me for many reasons. My school has been nothing but supportive and interested in helping me bring something new to this community. Many people at my school have a surface-level knowledge of Judaism (if any at all), and most have never met a Jewish person before. To be able to give 400+ people a positive experience with a Jewish person, Judaism, Hebrew, and Chanukah specifically, has truly been a remarkable opportunity for me. 

Author: Sara Goldstein, 2015-2016