See You on the Flip Side

Posted on June 30th, 2016 by

As a young adult, I find myself on the flipside of many events from my childhood and teenage years. When I began attending my family’s congregation in fifth grade, I fidgeted through the children’s services and, admittedly, antagonized the teen leaders with my friends. We grumbled when instructed to stand, acted too cool to play the games, and introduced ourselves with incorrect names. Of course, only a few years later, I began working as a teen leader myself …and dealt with all the younger kids intent on troublemaking for the next five years.

Now, as an education and programs intern, I’m on yet another flipside: assisting with school and camp group tours and activities. On my first day as an intern, Trillion told us to arrive early the next day to help with a school group. Since that day, we’ve worked with seventh grade, eighth grade, ninth grade, and K-second grade groups. While I first felt most comfortable walking with others and monitoring behavior, I just experienced the best tour yet leading the students myself. While I’ve learned to feel more comfortable with this responsibility, I’ve also learned a few other facts along the way. By combining memories of my own school trips along with my time as one I’ve the leaders, I’ve realized three things.

Exercise activity before seeing the “Beyond Chicken Soup” exhibit!

Exercise activity before seeing the “Beyond Chicken Soup” exhibit!

First, that quiet, seemingly disengaged kid in the corner? He or she may just need someone to personally engage with them. I know this both from my own experience as the quiet kid and from my favorite moment with a school group. We all sat in the exhibit beneath Lloyd Street Synagogue, while the instructor gave a mini-Hebrew lesson. After learning a few words, the leader told the students to turn to each other, shake hands, and say “Shabbat Shalom.” After a few seconds of awkwardness, most kids got into it, shaking hands wildly up and down while giggling “Shabbat Shalom!”  One kid, however, sat further away from the others, a slight frown on his face. I went up to him and stuck out my hand for a handshake. Right away, his face split into the biggest smile and his eyes lit up, taking my hand and giving me a very professional handshake. “Shabbat Shalom,” I grinned, and he giggled it right back.

The box of goodies that turns into an archeology game.

The box of goodies that turns into an archeology game.

Second, both the students and the adult leaders compromise for each other. I know from being a student that sometimes, even if you enjoy the trip’s topic or location, you’re just not in the mood on that particular day. Yet, you still sit (relatively) still, try to listen, and participate when possible. At the same time, the leaders listen to the needs of the students more than I realized. Twice now, we’ve changed the original plan based on the needs of the students, whether cutting out an activity or changing the timing of lunch when students complained of hunger. It makes me wonder what compromises my own teachers and student leaders enacted when I took these fieldtrips.

Finally, a large group of kindergarten, first, and second graders listens and plays along far better than a medium sized group of ninth graders. Whether it’s the different degrees of fear, respect, and excitement, or simply the difference in height (even many seventh graders towered over me), I would take the group of younger children any day.

All in all, these school and camp tours remain my favorite part of this internship. I love improvising to cater the exhibits to each group, seeing the students interact with each other, and hearing their guesses to my questions. Museums are for the public, so I consider it special that the education and program interns have the chance to see it engage with our museum first hand.

06.06.2016 Interns (13)Blog post by Education & Programs Intern Anna Balfanz. To read  more posts by and about interns click HERE.

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The 613th Commandment

Posted on April 11th, 2011 by

One of the most popular features of our Introduction to Judaism educational program is when our docents take off the cover of our small model Torah in the Lloyd Street Synagogue and unroll it so students can examine it. There’s usually a collective sound of “Ooohh” and “Ahhhh”, as students jostle for position so that they can see the Torah and touch it (because it is not an authentic Torah scroll, kids can handle it). As they look at it closely, they wonder out loud, “How do you read that? It looks like Chinese to me?” and before the docent starts a response, other kids have chimed in with questions, “How is it made?” “How long is it if you completely unroll it?” “Can you read to us from it?”

Deborah shows a school group a Torah.

Students examining a Torah.

Explaining the significance of the Torah is one of the highlights of the program, as we give non-Jewish students an overview of Jewish history, traditions, and culture. We talk about how the Torah is written by hand by a scribe and the importance of writing each and every letter exactly as they have been written for thousand of years as a means of preserving the integrity of this sacred text. (Check out http:/// to learn more about the writing of a Torah)

Having facilitated many Introduction to Judaism programs over the years, and talked about the importance of the Torah to hundreds of students, I have never actually had the opportunity to see an authentic Torah scroll up close, much less had the chance to touch its parchment. I was, therefore, thrilled to receive an invitation to fulfill the last commandment of the Torah, participating in the actual writing of a Torah. The synagogue where I belong, Chizuk Amuno Congregation, has recently commissioned the writing of a new Torah scroll and has invited congregants to participate in this act.


When we arrived at the synagogue, we were ushered into the chapel, where we met Rabbi Schulman and Rabbi Wechsler and washed our hands while reciting a special blessing. We wondered aloud about which Hebrew letter we would receive as ours to inscribe. Would it be a Mem (for Michal – my older daughter’s Hebrew name)


or a Yud (for Yael, my younger daughter’s Hebrew name)


or perhaps an Aleph (the first letter of the alphabet) ?


(To learn more about the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, check out http:///

We waited anxiously for our turn to meet Rabbi Moshe Druin, the sopher (scribe) who brought us over to the prepared parchment (made from deer skin, a kosher animal) upon which he was working. We got to touch the parchment which was incredible soft and smooth and looked at the many different letters that had already been completed. While technically we were invited to help write the Torah, all of the letters were outlined by Rabbi Druin and congregants were invited to hold onto the feather plume of the ink pen while he filled it in. I breathed a sigh of relief not having to worry about messing up the entire scroll by inking outside the outlines.

Image courtesy of Chizuk Amuno website


Image courtesy of Chizuk Amuno website.

We learned that we were about to inscribe a letter Vav.


Not just any Vav, but a Vav that appeared at the top of a column of text. We learned from Rabbi Druin that each column in the Torah begins with a Vav (which means “and” when placed in front of a word) as a way of connecting the beginning of the column to all that comes before and all that comes after. Furthermore, we learned that this function of the Vav has the simultaneous function of emphasizing the importance of the word it’s modifying while also reminding the word that its significance is only in relation to the words that come before and after. In essence the word is part of a larger text that only makes sense when you read the whole story. Certainly a lesson we can all take to heart about our relationship to family members and community! To make our letter even more special, we learned that our Vav started the last line of the book of Genesis – not too shabby!

(To learn more about the significance of individual Hebrew letters, go to http:///

I look forward to sharing my newfound knowledge with my next group of students!


A blog post by Education Director Deborah Cardin.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland