The Jewish Week is always here for you.
We need your support now.
Your contribution will help us bring you vital news
and frequent updates about the impact of COVID-19.
Studying Diverse Cultures

Studying Diverse Cultures

The scent of cardamom and rosewater wafted through the hallways of Manhattan Day School last Thursday, as the Upper West Side yeshiva held a festival to culminate several weeks of study about Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews.Youngsters at MDS, where most students are Ashkenazi, dressed in embroidered caftans, sequined chadors and elaborate turbans. The costumes were reminiscent of those worn by Jews living in predominantly Muslim lands.During the past month and a half, students in first through eighth grades 1-8 explored different Middle Eastern countries as well as the history, food, art and culture of the Jews who lived there.

Last Thursday, students went from classroom to classroom learning about Jews who hail from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Spain, Syria, Turkey and Yemen.At the daylong event,9-year-old Esti Flanenbaum, whose third-grade class studied the Jews of Yemen, pointed out some apparent differences between Ashkenazi and Yemenite Jewry. “The Yemenite women wear a lot of jewelry around their head and neck,” said Esti, who donned a bejeweled headscarf and colorful beads. “Their coffee is really spicy, and they put a lot of vegetables in their soup.” The students reenacted a traditional Persian wedding, marked visitors’ hands with henna, showed off their dioramas depicting the lives of Middle Eastern Jews and displayed their essays about the senior citizens they interviewed at a Sephardic nursing home in Brooklyn.Associate Principal Rabbi Binyamin Yablok estimated that about 30 of the 460 students at MDS are Sephardic or Mizrachi. “The celebration validates those children, and their backgrounds and customs that a typical curriculum doesn’t deal with,” said Rabbi Yablok, who helped coordinate the festival. “It also shows our students the three percent of Jewish life that [differentiates] Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, and the 97 percent that is the same.”

Youngsters at Rodeph Sholom, a Reform day school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, will donate a portion of the $17,500 they raised as part of a new social justice initiative to The Abraham Fund. The Jerusalem- and New York-based nonprofit promotes dialogue and coexistence among Jews and Arabs in Israel and the territories.Forsan Hussein, an Arab-Israeli who works for The Abraham Fund, will accept the donation Friday on the organization’s behalf. Hussein visited Rodeph Sholom last month and related stories about his upbringing in Sha’ab, an Arab village in Northern Israel. “For the vast majority of students, meeting a Palestinian Israeli was an eye-opening experience,” Hussein said. “The level of curiosity and the level of understanding was very profound.”

Additional money raised by students in grades two through eight will be donated to The Hole in the Wall Gang, a camp for terminally ill children; and to the Groundswell Community Mural Project, which helps teens from low-income neighborhoods create community murals.nFourth-graders studying the Holocaust at Greenacres Elementary School in Scarsdale interviewed Holocaust survivors at The Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale on Friday, Feb. 11. The visit was part of a comprehensive “human rights” developed by their teacher, Susan J. Goldberg.

Earlier this month, the William Davidson Graduate School of Education at The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York announced the creation of a mentoring program for recent alumni. The program will pair up first-year Jewish teachers and administrators with veteran educators. nThe Educational Program on Yiddish Culture, a high school curriculum launched recently by the YIVO Institute of Jewish Studies in New York, has a free companion Web site: Visitors can learn about the places and culture that characterized Jewish life in Eastern Europe before World War II.nThe French Union of Jewish Students will hold its first-ever New York-based conference in New York from March 2-6.

About 100 French university students will meet with their American counterparts to discuss challenges facing Jews on college campuses in France and the United States. “We want to develop and strengthen the relationship between the two largest Diaspora communities,” said David Rak, the union’s North American delegate. nE-mail Class Notes items to

read more: