Growing up, I always assumed that all my Jewish friends' families were similar to my own. It seemed obvious to me that their ancestors came from Russia, Poland or, if they were really exotic, Romania. We all ate gefilte fish, none of us ate grains or legumes on Pesach and it was assumed that Yiddish was every Jew's "mama-loshen."
Today a JETS twinning project partners Israeli and American classrooms in a collaboration of discovery and exploration as the students examine the diversity of the Jewish world.
The Shutafut partnership for 5th and 6th graders is based on the TALI schools' "Friends Across the Sea" curriculum. Seven[s1] Israeli schools have twinned with seven American Jewish Day Schools to have students work simultaneously and interactively on asynchronous activities that guide them as they learn more about themselves and each other.
The twinned classes spent their first few lessons getting to know each other. Students had the opportunity to consider their own families as they examined the varying origins of Jewish families, information about each student's individual family roots, similarities and differences among Jewish families from around the world and unique characteristics of different Jewish communities.
Chanukah proved to be a perfect opportunity for the students to consider how different Jewish communities observe the laws and traditions of the Jewish people, each in its own way.
The students began by watching an Animoto clip that gave them food for thought about the similarities and differences of Chanukah celebrations throughout the world.
The students were then asked to list some events that were featured in the movie which they might have seen in their own grandparents' homes, describe their own Chanukah celebrations and share a personal Chanukah memory. Students had the opportunity to read each other's stories and memories as they considered how the different families, all of whom celebrate Chanukah, observe the holiday differently.
In conclusion, the students were asked to comment on something that had surprised them about what they had seen and heard during the activity.
As the students broaden their horizons about their peers and their friends across the ocean, one thing is certain -- they will develop an awareness of Jewish diversity that eluded me until my own aliyah.