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 Moriah College is to develop an intense sense of belonging in students which is inextricably linked with a clear, deep sense of their personal Jewish identity. During their schooling, students have experienced 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. All these strands of study were combined in their third term of Year 6 as they participated in a deep learning investigation to respond to a central question 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 our Jewish heritage based on events in history, my family heritage and the experiences of my parents and their lineage of grandparents 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 through my actions and my disposition?
The lives of our students are extremely 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 practise as a Jewish child in free 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 to ensure that the Jewish spirit tied in with religion, culture and tradition was 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 for Project Heritage Week as their unique Jewish self. They attended with a heightened level of student agency, innate motivation, personal responsibility, and tremendous knowledge that had been acquired through intense research and collaborative investigation. They were now required to apply their knowledge through a matrix of selected activities and crystallise their thinking.
Through their studies of the Holocaust and the journeys of their own families, 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. Their Sydney Jewish Museum interaction with two Holocaust survivors Mimi Wise and George Sternfeld and associated Holocaust investigations deepened student understanding of their Jewish soul. They connected with stories which retold a narrative about fleeing homelands, about separation and loss of family members, ghettos and camps and about survival by being hidden by the righteous amongst the nation. This augmented the awareness of our students around what it means to be Jewish in Australian society. They also appreciated the generation of ‘Living Historians’ and the lessons and learning they offered the Jewish community.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to those historians who share 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. The students understood the difference between ‘what is’ and ‘who is’ a Jew. One student captured the essence of “living Jewishly” in their simple stick figure drawing. Inside this figure’s body, a huge red heart was drawn. The student explained that being a Jew is about what is inside one’s heart, and that everything a Jew does, comes from deep within oneself, from the very depths of their being, their DNA. Their life journey and collective attitude made them who they are and who they strive to be.
During “Product Week”, students created a representation of their learning. In addition to constructing a physical representation of their family tree, students were offered a matrix of activities ranging in complexity which required an application of the knowledge they had acquired through this extended Project Heritage Jewish Life and Learning experience. It was important for the students to choose what activities best suited the areas that resonated with them and their learning and communication style. Their authentic personal voice was prioritised. The two main aspects that the students researched were their heritage and the Holocaust. Heritage is our legacy from the past, a legacy we live with today, and a legacy we pass on to future generations. Studying the Holocaust, enlightened students on the importance of being informed, active citizens. It revealed how fragile the institutions that are supposed to protect the rights and security of everyone can be, and how they should not be taken for granted. Learning about the dangers of hatred and discrimination in the Holocaust developed an awareness of the importance of fighting intolerance and prejudice in today’s globalised, tech-connected world.
Studying our heritage and the Holocaust provided students with opportunities to inspire other students as they explored courage in adversity, upstander behaviour and resilience.
Upon leaving Yad Vashem, people frequently honour those who experienced the holocaust by ensuring they will not sit in pain and heartbreak, but embrace the hope and promise of a great future to effect growth via their actions. Positivity and resilience was evident in each of the students’ presentations, alongside the acknowledgment of tragedy and challenge. Conversations with our students revealed their increased awareness of the horrors of the past and the need to prevent them being repeated, as well as a commitment to make the best of themselves and their opportunities so that they can make their world a better place as well as a place in which future generations of Jewish people can flourish. Noam Weissman, who is the Head of OpenDor Media, endorses this perspective. He creates content for students and teachers to ensure that they investigate the complexity of being Jewish. The purpose of this is so that they can move beyond survival and flourish by aiming high and impacting themselves and the world positively through their actions. He stresses the importance building our knowledge of all aspects of ourselves as Jews. We need to deepen our knowledge related to understanding aspects such as the enacting of Judaism, Zionism and our relationship with Israel, the dynamics of a globalised world in which antisemitism and an all-pervasive social media impacts our Jewish identity. Our Year 6 students have taken an all-important step in the right direction through Project Heritage. Their eyes are wide open and their brains are engaged and they are well positioned as leaders with retrospective and future vision to flourish in the next chapter of our Jewish Journey. Am Yisrael Chai.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lynda Fisher is the Head of Primary School at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.