How to Reach the Soul of Your Students:
Renewing the Transmission of Spirituality
An ALEPH Institute for religious educators, including after-school and day school directors and teachers, rabbis, cantors and students in seminaries. Offered at Ruach Ha'Aretz Retreat, July, 2015
Lead Teachers Rabbis Lori Shaller and Rain Zohav
Guest Teacher Rabbi Reuben Modek
Day One: The Institute Begins
On Tuesday, July 7, we met for our first class with twelve wonderful educators and Rabbis! We shared our hopes for the Institute as we introduced ourselves to one another, and we discovered our common goal to engage our students—in all settings and of all ages—in discovering and uncovering their souls. We shared our own definitions of spirituality, including: a sense of awe, gratitude, connection to something bigger than ourselves, which some of us call "G_d", being in relationship to something sublime or transformative; a sense of wonder, a sense of being loved and belonging, a relationship to deep silence, connection to "upper realms," a desire to be of service to the thing that is bigger than us, a desire to explore and improve ourselves, and "radical acceptance."
Rabbi Rain then invited us to read a series of quotations about spirituality from many faith traditions. We stood near one that spoke to us and shared with those around us why the quotation spoke to us.
After the break, we discussed four models of spiritual development, and we journaled a bit about which ones seemed to speak to our own spiritual developmental journeys.
Rabbi Reuben opened the session with a niggun and a meditation into the spot in each of ourselves where we felt spirit reside. He closed the session with a physical gathering of the day's gems, leading us in an exercise to offer up those gems.
It was a terrific day of forming as a group and beginning the journey of thinking about spirituality in ourselves and our students in some new ways.
Day Two: Sharing and Supporting
Participants chose from three offerings for the afternoon: Sacred Language in the Four Worlds, How to Teach Prayer and B'nai Mitzvah as a Spiritual Journey. Rabbi Reuben led the B'nai Mitzvah session based on his innovative model, and Rabbi Rain and I each taught sessions on Sacred Language and Prayer. Our goal: to have us think about how we can begin from a place of spirit and ground our teaching in that. That means we're also working on our own spirituality, identifying areas where we need to stretch and grow so we can facilitate that stretch and growth in our students. Participants are sharing deeply and supporting each other's growth, so we're really working in community here.
Day Three: Deepening into the learning.
Participants chose from three offerings on this day of "Accessing and Expressing Spirituality through the Arts": Environmental Art with Rabbi Lori, Otiot Hayyot/Living Letters with Rabbi Reuben, and Writing the Cinquain with Rabbi Rain.
In the Environmental Art lesson, we took our offerings from the natural world—wood chips, shells, feathers, seed pods, rocks, seaweed, sea glass, leaves and twigs—outside and created a picture of our learning about spirituality. Participants spoke about the activity "building an altar together and placing offerings on it"; "it was meditative"; "expansive beyond our definitions of spirituality" and "it was good for community building." We discussed extensions and adaptations to the activity, for example, using it to consolidate learning around a topic such as the Exodus.
In Rabbi Reuben's session, participants learned how to make the letter "Aleph" and the vowels with their bodies through a technique called Otiot Hayyot, which is a meditative and deeply spiritual way to learn and express the Aleph-Bet. Participants found it "grounding," "expressive," and "beautiful."
Rabbi Rain invited participants to use the cinquain poetic form to write about holidays and other aspects of Jewish learning. She suggested, as did both Rabbis Reuben and Lori, the flexibility of the model for use with students of all ages and ways to adapt it accordingly.