The past week of academic activity in Year 6 could be considered the culmination of seven years of schooling at Moriah College Primary School. A prioritised goal of attending Moriah College is to develop a keen sense of love and belonging in students which is inextricably linked with a clear, deep sense of their personal Jewish identity.
During their schooling, students experience different formal and informal contexts to learn about Israel, Ivrit, the chaggim, and the rituals and traditions that anchor them in their world as Jewish people. They also acquire various skills and understandings from digital and personal contexts in all key learning areas. All these strands of study are combined in their third term of Year 6 as they participate in a deep learning investigation to respond to central questions related to their heritage as Jewish children in the diaspora and more specifically, Australian society:
- Who am I as a Jewish person, in terms of my family heritage and the big picture view of the Jewish community in Australia, Israel and around the world?
- What contribution do I want to make to the Jewish and broader community?
The lives of our students are incredibly busy and they seldom have the time to consider the complex privileged families they are a part of, the wonderful homes they live in, the blue chip Jewish Day School they attend and the education and routines they are free to practice as a Jewish child in society. This is a moment they take to recognise their own beloved Moriah College as an exemplar of a Jewish Day School that emerged in response to the Holocaust. An action that commenced so that the Jewish spirit that is tied in with religion, culture and tradition is preserved to ensure ‘Am Yisrael Chai – the Jewish People live’.
The Year 6 students stepped out of their school uniform and into their personal “mufti” when they attended school last week as their unique Jewish self. They attended with a high level of student agency, innate motivation, personal responsibility, and tremendous knowledge that had been acquired through intense research and collaborative investigation. They were then required to take all the above-mentioned learning and explain their insights in a personal product.
The Stolen Generation of Australian history is explored in History in Year 6 as the segue into a study of the Holocaust. The students learnt about displacement, stereotyping and anti-Semitism as well as resilience and hope. They discovered how Jewish continuity as a people, and specifically through each student’s family lineage, is important to Jews. They also discovered through interviews with Holocaust survivors and Holocaust investigations that this seminal event remains important for our understanding of what it is to be Jewish. This baseline provoked the connection of ideas as students embarked upon the journey of tracing their own family roots and explored their story.
As part of their research, all students had the opportunity to listen to the testimonies of 14 living historians in total across the five classes. Some of these stories included the fleeing of homelands, separation and loss of family members, narrations about ghettos and camps and experiences of being hidden by the righteous amongst the nation. This deepened the awareness of our students around what it means to be Jewish in Australian society while gaining a greater appreciation of the tremendous contribution made by these ‘Living Historians’ to the Jewish community.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to these historians who shared their hearts and the words imprinted on their souls with our children – it is evident that their pain will never go but the growth they offered our students as the Jewish leaders of tomorrow was invaluable.
This rich learning experience placed the individual stories of our students into the collective story of our people. They understood that their story had similarities to the Jewish collective experience. Similarities such as ritual, observance, persecution, survival, hope, rebuilding and resilience. They had the opportunity to pause in their learning space and step outside of themselves and try to articulate what it means to be Jewish. They investigated their own identity and personal history, reflected on their Jewish heritage via their family and their education and discovered how migration in general, and specifically as Jews, has contributed to Australian Society. They had the time to ask, “What is a Jew?” not “Who is a Jew?” and then finally had an opportunity to map their roles in Jewish life and broader society as they approach the Bnei mitzva years. This journey of self-discovery and communal responsibility will continue to be deepened through the new “Mi Ani” (Who Am I?) program run by the Jewish Life team in Week 1 of Term 4. This program replaces the Bat Mitzvah program and initiates a journey of introspection and social action in both our Year 6 girls and boys which will continue throughout Term 4 and into Year 7 2021.
During “Product Week”, students created a representation (a product) of their learning. This was done though an artwork, model, poetry, picture book, play script, dance, virtual reality experience, short film or music and was based on their personal research into their family and generalised heritage in response to the provocation question. They were required to document the process of their learning on an individual website for sharing during their Open Day livestream presentations at the end of Term 3 with parents, guest educators and family members. This process based in inquiry learning and a hybrid of face-to-face and digital learning and investigation, crystallises their ideas, thinking, research and reflections. In a thorough learning process such as this, there is little chance that a student will emerge without insight and deep understandings.
Upon leaving Yad Vashem, people frequently honour those who experienced the holocaust by ensuring they will not sit in pain and heartbreak, but rather embrace the hope and promise of a great future to effect growth via their actions. Without fail, in each of the student presentations we observe, this positivity and resilience is embedded within their products. This positive affirmation is significant as we know that it is important to share these stories from generation to generation to ensure that the horrors of the past are never repeated. This also ensures that the wisdom that emerges from the experience of previous generations, acts as fertile ground to grow the minds and souls of future generations.
In the play G-d of Isaac the protagonist has lost his connection with his roots and attempts to re-establish this connection. “What does it mean to be a Jew?” he kept asking his father. In a particularly difficult moment, he had asked his father what to do about his challenge in his relationships and his religion. His father was loath to simply instruct him on what to do as he really wanted him to build his own understandings and his own connections. He responded to him by saying, “Son, I can’t tell you what to do but I can tell you that you can’t chew with somebody else’s teeth.”
An event such as Project Heritage reveals students at Moriah College as truly blessed. They participate in a high-performing Jewish Day School and consume the rhythm of Jewish life on a daily basis so that it fills their bloodstream and anchors them in this world with a deep sense of belonging. Over the years in their homes and their school they have learnt about different aspects of Jewish history, Jewish life and Jewish ritual and they have sharpened their teeth and satisfied their appetites, so they know who they are. Project Heritage is testimony to the fact that they are indeed able to chew with their own teeth, and the words and images they have shared in their products show their strong identity, their meaningful connection with their Jewish past and their vision for the future.
As you engage with the short video grab below and walk down the corridor which makes visible the thinking inside the minds of our Year 6 students, you will recognise that they understand and make explicit the challenge and triumph of the past, they understand their family and history that has shaped them into who they are, and they have mapped the opportunities and pathways into the future so that Am Yisrael Chai.
I wish our Moriah families a Shana Tova U’metukah – may we all continue to flourish as we overcome challenge, grow from adversity and mistakes, and build on positivity and our strong foundation to create the brightest future ever.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lynda Fisher is the Head of Primary School at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.