The tel program Teens: Experience & Learning Hiddur Mitzvah


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The TEL Program

Teens: Experience & Learning

Hiddur Mitzvah

Six Havayot Lesson Plans

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer, author

Made possible by the generosity of the Schocken Foundation, 2010.

Rabbi Erin Hirsh, JRF Director of Education & TEL Project Director
PLEASE NOTE: Because this curriculum is six years old and has not been updated, we encourage you to find newer, more relevant examples of stories, images, clips, and movies to add to the existing material. We invite you to update the curriculum in the most effective way for your community and hope that you will share your newfound examples with other educators. We welcome all feedback before, during, and after your use of the curriculum; please send your suggested additions to Jackie Land (, who will create an updated resource bank for Hiddur Mitzvah. If you have additional questions or comments, please contact Jackie. We’re excited to be able to partner with RENA in keeping this curriculum modern and relevant!

The Essential Reconstructionist-ness of a Teen Curriculum about Creativity and Jewish Identity

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder or Reconstructionism, taught that Judaism is a Civilization. Traditionally, Judaism was thought of primarily or exclusively as a religion, but Rabbi Kaplan pointed out all the cultural, social, and political dimensions to Jewishness. The food, clothing, music, politics, sexuality, ethics and mores of each civilization has had a tremendous effect on the evolution of the Jewish people.

Rabbi Kaplan then went on to teach a second and related concept, that Judaism is a civilization, but it is not a static civilization – it is not something that just exists and we can opt to be part of or not.

Rather, Judaism is an Evolving Religious Civilization. It changes and evolves - actually, Jewish people change and shape and re-imagine Judaism as they wrestle with it and bring new points of view and new experiences into dialogue with their –our- tradition.

This year, the TEL program invites you to own your place in our shared Jewish civilization. The creative and artistic dimensions of Judaism have always been a core aspect of the Jewish Civilization and a primary tool for exploring and expressing Jewish identity.

Hiddur Mitzvah Havayot Outline

Below please find a list of all Hiddur Mitzvah havayot:

Havayah One: Judaism & Film
Havayah Two: Judaism & Literature
Havayah Three: Judaism & Comedy
Havayah Four: Judaism & Music
Havayah Five: Judaism & Visual Arts
Havayah Six: Judaism & Television

Guide to Hiddur Mitzvah Curriculum

A TEL is a hill made of and built upon an archeological site – the remains of previous experiences. The TEL project is designed to enable teens to build upon past learning as congregational communities within a community of congregations and havurot.

The word havayah
comes from the Hebrew word for experience. Havayot are experiential learning sessions. These lesson plans have been written to enable groups of teens to have a meaningful set of experiences together.

This year’s TEL theme is Hiddur Mitzvah (beautification of a mitzvah), which we are interpreting to mean creativity in the broadest sense. Many of our teens have learned about Jewish traditions and holidays through arts and crafts, and we want to emphasize that this curriculum is not about that. Rather, each monthly havayah explores a different type of Jewish creativity, all in terms of the theme of Jewish expression and identity. The havayot explore examples of critically-acclaimed Jewish film, literature, comedy, visual arts, music and television as expressions of Jewish identity. Each havayah contains a highly flexible set of materials, so that as the group leader, you can pick and choose what to use and emphasize based on what will speak to your group.

Each havayah contains a series of distinct sections:
Jewish Identity Games…an opening ice-breaker that allows the teens to consider their own Jewish identity before they explore the artists’ identity (10-15 minutes)
Whaddya Know About…a fun, interactive introduction to the hiddur mitzvah topic (10-15 minutes)
A Brief History Of…some background about the topic in the form of a short article(s). Rather than reading the whole articles as a group, you way want to assign teens different parts of the articles to read and present back to the whole group. They could write out main points of the articles on poster board, butcher paper or a blackboard. This process will help them to develop their ability to categorize and summarize main points (15-30 minutes).
Experiences in…In each lesson, the teens will get to experience the art modality first hand through samples or excerpts of the art. You may need a computer, cd player, tv/dvd player, etc., depending on the lesson (45-60 minutes). This section contains discussion questions about each creative expression. You may want to use the art experiences to create expanded experiences; for example, if your teens really enjoy a film clip, you could schedule a movie night to watch the whole film together. If they are taken with a literature excerpt, you could assign outside reading of the entire book. These kinds of outside assignments of course depend on the parameters of your particular teen program, but could certainly enrich and deepen the teens’ experience of Hiddur Mitzvah.
Making Connections…are discussion questions that you can use to go deeper into conversations about the art and Jewish identity.

Reflections in…This section allows the teen to take some personal time to reflect at the end of each session about how he/she felt about the art being presented and how it connected to his/her own Jewish identity. Each teen will have a Hiddur
Mitzvah journal with the Reflection questions. You may want to set up time for teens who wish to share their reflections with the rest of the group.

Resources…for you as a group leader to learn more about each topic.

Resources on the Creative Arts from JRF

The Tapestry of Creation - Creative Drama and Music by Rabbi Shawn Israel Zevit


Growing Self and Community through Creativity and the Arts - document - audio

Havayah One: Judaism & Film

Jewish Identity Games
This first exercise is less a game and more of an opportunity to introduce the topic of “identity.” It is also an opportunity to establish trust and listening ground rules in your group.
Before the teens enter the room, write IDENTITY in capital letters on a piece of butcher paper. As teens enter the room, put them in pairs and give them a marker. Invite them to write what they think “identity” means on the paper. When they finish, hand them an index card. Tell them: On one side, write about a time when you felt really proud of your Jewish identity. On the other side, write about a time when you felt that your Jewish identity was challenged.
After every teens has written on the IDENTITY paper and completed their cards, call out a color and the teens with that color marker can share what they wrote on the paper and on their cards. They call on another color group until everyone has shared.

Wrapping up: As a group, brainstorm a working definition for “Jewish Identity.” Explain that in TEL group this year, we will be exploring different kinds of arts in which Jewish artists express their individual sense of Jewish identity. Each artist is very unique; there is no one correct way to express your Jewish identity. As we learn about their work, we will continue to explore our thoughts and feelings about our own Jewish identities.

Breaking the Ice: Jews and Film—Whaddya Know?

Divide your teens into pairs and hand out the “Jews & Film” quiz. The first team to complete all of the answers wins a prize.

Name two movies that contain Jewish stories/themes:
Name two movies made by Jewish directors:
Name two movies that feature Jewish actors:
When you have a winner, bring everyone together to share their answers.
Make a list on a blackboard or piece of butcher paper with three columns featuring
1) films with Jewish themes;

2) Jewish filmmakers/directors;

3) Jewish actors/actresses.
Keep the list posted to refer to during the havayah.
Share the following text with your teens and take turns reading:

A Brief History of…Jews and Film
What makes a film a “Jewish film”? Sharon Rivo, a film historian from Brandeis University says that, “Jewish film has to do with the subject matter that is depicted on the screen. It’s the images that are projected . . . [or] if it’s in Yiddish, Ladino, or Hebrew.” For nearly as long as films have been made, movies have been influenced by Jewish characters, themes, and plots, as well as by Jewish directors, actors, and also movie executives and producers. Jews and Judaism have appeared in films in different ways and degrees throughout the history of film.
In Poland in the 1920s, filmmakers made Yiddish films featuring dramas and comedies spoken in Yiddish. These popular films were made during the twenty years preceding the Holocaust and have been preserved by several different film archives.

In the United States, Jews have always played important roles in Hollywood’s major studios, such as Metro Goldwyn Mayer. The first "talkie"--The Jazz Singer--told the story of a cantor's son finding success on Broadway despite his parents' objections. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s and 80s when successful Jewish filmmakers including Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Steven Spielberg gained critical acclaim and regularly brought Jewish-themed movies to mainstream audiences.

The Holocaust has been an important theme in American and international film, made by both Jewish and non-Jewish filmmakers. The 1985 documentary Shoah is an example of a film that is unique in its style and format: it is nine hours in length and consists of interviews with people who were involved in various ways in the Holocaust, and visits to different places they discuss.
In the 1980s and 90s, many cities and smaller Jewish communities began running Jewish film festivals, featuring movies with Jewish themes made by lesser known directors. They also began to feature Israeli films and movies by Jewish directors from around the world.
In recent years, Jewish characters appear in films in which being Jewish is just part of their character and the film’s main themes/story does not revolve around their Jewishness (think “Nora” in Nick and Nora’s Ultimate Playlist). What do you imagine it means in terms of Jews being integrated into American society that being Jewish can simply be part of a character’s complex identity?

Experiences in Jewish Film

Depending on your time, you may choose two-four of these film excerpts to watch and discuss:

Crossing Delancey (Joan Micklin Silver)
Crossing Delancey is a 1988 romantic comedy starring Amy Irving as Izzy Grossman, a 33-year-old single New Yorker who works in a bookstore and organizes literary events. Izzy’s bubbe, played by veteran Yiddish actress Raizyl Boyzik is bothered that Izzie is 33 and single and shadchen (matchmaker) in her Lower East side neighborhood to find a match for Izzie.
Questions to discuss from this film excerpt:

  • What does Izzy value in life? What does her Bubbe value?
  • Describe Izzy’s identity. What part of being Jewish is important to her?

  • What parts of the film clip shows you that this is a Jewish film?

A Serious Man (The Coen Brothers)

Oscar-winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Cohen explore their own childhood memories in A Serious Man, a part comic, part serious movie depicting a modern life Job, Larry Gopnik, who is pushed to the edge of a breakdown facing problems at home and at work. Larry’s problems push him to explore spiritual questions and to meet with three local rabbis, none of whom offer Larry much help in his quest to comprehend the universe.

The First Rabbi

  • Why does Larry go to see the rabbi?

  • What advice does the “first rabbi” give? What do you think of the advice?

The Second Rabbi

  • How is Larry feeling when he goes to see the second rabbi? How does the meeting make him feel?

  • Larry asks, “Why does Hashem make us question when he doesn’t give us the answers?” What do you think about what Larry asks?

  • What happens to the dentist, Sussman? What do you make of his experience?

Marshak The link to original clip is no longer working. Please find an appropriate clip in the move, A Serious Man

  • What does Larry mean when he says “I’ve tried to be a serious man?”

  • Why does Larry go to see Rabbi Marshak?

  • What do you make of Marshak’s response?

Rabbi Marshak and the Bar Mitzvah The link to the original clip is no longer working. Please find the appropriate link the movie, A Serious Man.

  • Describe how Danny feels walking into Rabbi Marshak’s office

  • What is it like for him to sit across from Rabbi Marshak?

  • How are the rabbis in A Serious Man different from the rabbis that you know?

Annie Hall (Woody Allen)

Woody Allen is an Oscar-winning filmmaker, screenwriter and comedian whose large body of comedies and dramas explore themes including psychology, philosophy and Jewish identity. In Annie Hall, a bittersweet romantic comedy, Allen plays Alvy, a neurotic, intellectual Brooklyn-born Jewish stand-up comedian who meets Annie Hall, a Midwesterner living in New York, and falls in love. –You may want to choose a different movie as an example.


  • What does think clip show you about Alvy’s character? How does he view the world?

Young Alvy the fatalist

  • What is Alvy like as a child? How does his experience as a child foreshadow his experience as an adult?

  • Describe Alvy’s mother. What is she concerned about?

Easter dinner

  • How does Alvy connect to the conversation at the dinner table? What does Annie’s family think of him?

  • Describe Alvy’s identity; how would he describe himself?

Making Connections

  • Of the film clips that you viewed in class, which characters did you connect with the most? Why?

  • Which characters had Jewish experiences that you could appreciate or understand?

  • Which experiences seemed really different from your experiences?
  • Pick one of the filmmakers whose work you saw tonight. What do you think he/she expressed about being Jewish through the characters in the film?

Closing Reflections

If you could make a film to express any aspect of your Jewish identity, what would the film be about?

Write out an outline for a screenplay by journaling about the following questions:

  • Where would your movie take place? (synagogue, home, school, family/holiday event, camp, etc.)

  • Who would the characters be?

  • What is the conflict in the movie? What does the main character want to do/change? How is the conflict resolved?

Share your screenplay ideas with your TEL group.

(You may want to develop a screenplay as a group later in the year for your TEL group project!)

Resources on Jewish Film

The 100 Greatest Jewish Movies: A Critic's Ranking of the Very Best was a 1998 book published by Kathryn Bernheimer. Bernheimer ranked the "top 50" films dealing with Jewish topics.

1 The Chosen 1981 PG Jeremy Kagan

2 Fiddler on the Roof 1971 G Norman Jewison

3 Schindler's List 1993 R Steven Spielberg

4 Shoah 1985 NR Claude Lanzmann

5 The Jazz Singer 1927 NR Alan Crosland

6 Annie Hall 1977 PG Woody Allen

7 Funny Girl 1968 G William Wyler

8 Gentleman's Agreement 1947 NR Elia Kazan

9 Exodus 1960 NR Otto Preminger

10 Ben-Hur 1959 NR William Wyler

10 The Ten Commandments 1956 G Cecil B. DeMille

11 Crossing Delancey 1988 PG Joan Micklin Silver

12 The Golem 1920 NR Paul Wegener and Carl Boese

13 Au revoir, les enfants 1987 PG Louis Malle

14 Almonds and Raisins 1988 NR Russ Karel

15 Enemies, a Love Story 1989 R Paul Mazursky

16 The Great Dictator 1940 NR Charlie Chaplin

17 The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz 1974 PG Ted Kotcheff

18 Blazing Saddles 1974 R Mel Brooks

19 Chariots of Fire 1981 R Hugh Hudson

20 Body and Soul 1947 NR Robert Rossen

21 The Pawnbroker 1965 NR Sidney Lumet

22 Goodbye, Columbus 1969 PG Larry Peerce

23 Bugsy 1991 R Barry Levinson

24 Cabaret 1972 PG Bob Fosse

25 Crimes and Misdemeanors 1989 PG-13 Woody Allen

26 The Last Angry Man 1959 NR Daniel Mann

27 The Outside Chance of Maximilian Glick 1988 G Allan Goldstein

28 Job's Revolt 1983 NR Imre Gyöngyössy and Barna Kabay

29 Homicide 1991 R David Mamet

30 Madame Rosa 1977 PG Moshé Mizrahi

31 Driving Miss Daisy 1989 PG Bruce Beresford

32 Reversal of Fortune 1990 R Barbet Schroeder

33 Europa Europa 1991 R Agnieszka Holland

34 The Big Fix 1978 PG Jeremy Kagan

35 Broadway Danny Rose 1984 PG Woody Allen

36 Julia 1977 PG Fred Zinnemann

37 Marathon Man 1976 R John Schlesinger

38 A Majority of One 1962 NR Mervyn LeRoy

39 Oliver! 1968 G Carol Reed

40 Down and Out in Beverly Hills 1986 R Paul Mazursky

41 Holocaust 1978 NR Marvin Chomsky

42 Dirty Dancing 1987 PG-13 Emile Ardolino

43 The Front 1976 PG Martin Ritt

44 Biloxi Blues 1988 PG-13 M ke Nichols

45 The Diary of Anne Frank 1959 NR George Stevens

46 Shine 1996 PG-13 Scott Hicks

47 Daniel 1983 R Sidney Lumet

48 Yentl 1983 PG Barbra Streisand

49 The Young Lions 1958 NR Edward Dmytryk

50 Marjorie Morningstar 1958 NR Irving Rapper

Websites for updated lists of Jewish Movies with short synopses.
Havayah Two: Judaism & Literature

Jewish Identity Games
Tell the teens: In this lesson, we are exploring Jewish identity through the hiddur lens of literature. In that spirit, we will begin with a creative writing exercise.
There is a legend that the writer Ernest Hemingway wrote a whole story in just six words. The story was, "Baby shoes, for sale, never worn.”
In the spirit of that legend, a magazine about Jewish culture called “Guilt & Pleasure” recently sponsored a contest called six-word Jewish stories. Here are some of the entries:
Jewish dad, not mom. No guilt here.

“Yes, we can drink chocolate milk.”

Ten summers at camps in Wisconsin.

God said 'Go.' 'Stop' He forgot.

Pogroms, pogroms and more pogroms.

God likes us. We don't.

Yeshivah banned trick-or-treating. Left after Kindergarten.

You're really wearing that to synagogue?

Little boy, now a dad. Oy!

Post-Rosh Hashanah with Cantor Dad: Cheeseburgers.

Stuck in the desert, messiah AWOL.

Knishes, yes. Kishka? Not so much.

Food is basically love to me.

Try your hand at a six-word story about your Jewish experiences/identity. It could be funny or serious. Try a few if you are able!

Breaking the Ice: Jews and Literature—Whaddya Know?

Tell the Teens: “Literature, books and learning have always been of central importance to Jewish culture. Below are a list of quotations, some ancient and some more contemporary, about the importance of books and literary knowledge to the Jewish people. Read them out loud with a partner (this is called hevruta style studying). After reading, each partner will pick one quote that resonates with them in some way. It may connect to how you think about books or it may be challenge you. Share with your partner.”
After the teens have worked in hevruta, bring the group together and invite the teens to share a few responses in the large group about which quotes connected to their own ideas about books and learning.

Cover your bookcases with rugs and linens of fine quality; preserve them from dampness and mice and injury; for it is your books that are your true treasure.

~ Ibn Tibbon 1120-1190? Spanish Jewish Scholar

Never refuse to lend books to anyone who cannot afford to purchase them, but lend books only to those who can be trusted to return them.

~ Ibn Tibbon 1120-1190? Spanish Jewish Scholar

If you drop gold and books, pick up the books first, then the gold.

~ Anonymous

My pen is my harp and my lyre; my library is my garden and my orchard.

~ Judah Ha-LeviSpanish Poet, Physician

Make books your companions; let your bookshelves be your gardens: bask in their beauty, gather their fruit, pluck their roses, take their spices and myrrh. And when your soul be weary, change from garden to garden, and from prospect to prospect.

~ Ibn Tibbon, c. 1120-1190 ? Spanish Jewish scholar

Three possessions should you prize: a field, a friend, and a book.

~ Hai Gaon, Head of Bet Din in 998; Wrote commentaries on Torah and Talmud until his death at age 99.

None is poor save him that lacks knowledge.

~ The Talmud

Books lead us into the society of those great men with whom we could not otherwise come into personal contact. They bring us near to the geniuses of the remotest lands and times. A good library is a place, a palace, where the lofty spirits of all nations and generations meet.

~ Samuel Niger, Gathered Works 1928

My mother and my father were illiterate immigrants from Russia. When I was a child they were constantly amazed that I could go to a building and take a book on any subject. They couldn't believe this access to knowledge we have here in America. They couldn't believe that it was free.

~ Actor Kirk Douglas

A Brief History of…Jews and Literature

For many years, Jews have been known as “the People of the Book” because of the importance of reading and studying to our culture. Originally, Jewish literature was sacred in its context—midrash, for example were stories that were written to explain and comment on the Torah.

In Eastern Europe, during the 1800s, Jewish authors began to tell stories that were more secular in nature, written in Yiddish. One of the most famous Yiddish writers was Sholem Aleichem, whose stories about Tevye the Dairyman and his family became the basis for the musical Fiddler on the Roof. Writers like Shalom Aleichem used satire and humor in their exploration of very human characters. Poland-born author Isaac Bashevis Singer emigrated to the United States and was a winner of the Nobel Prize.

At the end of the 19th century, as Jews from around the world began to make aliyah to Israel and the Hebrew language was modernized, writers began to pen secular stories, poems and longer works of fiction in Hebrew. Some of the best known early Israeli authors include Chaim Bialik and S.Y. Agnon; later authors include Yehuda Amichai, Amos Oz and Orly Castel-Bloom.

In the United States, Many acclaimed Jewish-American authors have emerged in the last century, exploring Jewish themes, characters, issues and identity in their work. Some important Jewish-American authors include Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Grace Paley, Cynthia Ozick, Rebecca Goldstein and Michael Chabon.

Today, Jewish authors around the world are writing fiction, poetry, graphic novel and other forms of literary expressions.

Experiences in Jewish Literature

Poetry, Marge Piercy
Marge Piercy is a poet, novelist and social activist. Born to a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father, Piercy credits her Jewish grandmother for inspiring her storytelling. Piercy’s book of poems The Art of Blessing the Day contains poems with Jewish themes and interpretations of Jewish prayers. Here is a sample of her poetry:


Look around us, search above us, below, behind.
We stand in a great web of being joined together.
Let us praise, let us love the life we are lent
passing through us in the body of Israel
and our own bodies, let's say amen.

Time flows through us like water.

The past and the dead speak through us.
We breathe out our children's children, blessing.

Blessed is the earth from which we grow,

Blessed the life we are lent,
blessed the ones who teach us,
blessed the ones we teach,
blessed is the word that cannot say the glory
that shines through us and remains to shine
flowing past distant suns on the way to forever.
Let's say amen.

Blessed is light, blessed is darkness,

but blessed above all else is peace
which bears the fruits of knowledge
on strong branches, let's say amen.

Peace that bears joy into the world,

peace that enables love, peace over Israel
everywhere, blessed and holy is peace, let's say amen.


  • In this poem, Piercy writes her own version of the Kaddish. How is her version different from the English translation of the prayer?

  • What poetic liberties does she take?

Poetry, Alicia Ostriker

Alicia Ostriker has published eleven volumes of poetry, including the volcano sequence and No Heaven. Her work appears in numerous Jewish journals and anthologies.  She is also the author of The Nakedness of the Fathers (midrash and autobiography) and For the Love of God: the Bible as an Open Book (essays).  For more info on her work,  


by Alicia Ostriker

 As to the deep ineradicable flaws

in the workmanship

 anger and envy

anger and envy

 stemming from over-enthusiasm

that rises like a water lily from mud


and the stone

of self, of ego

 that insists on its imperial monolog

that strangles its audience


I would like to repent but I cannot

I am ridden like a horse


What does the contriver have in mind

the contrivance wants to know

 because otherwise what is the point

of all this moaning


pretending to be sorry for everything

groveling like a chained-up snake

crawling over a stone book

in the rain of words

 for which someone is responsible

at times the food devours the eater

 the pot wishes to speak to the potter

the clay chooses the hands


 We are not competent to make our vows

we are truly sorry

 we pull you down from a cloud

or bend our knees to you like dancing dogs


death breathing invisibly next to us in the subway

in the office in the kitchen on the park bench

 we promise to love only you

faithful, faithful, we promise

 we lie, we are not competent

still we implore you

 please look at us and take us in your arms

not like a master like a mother

  • Ostriker titles her poem “Kol Nidre.” What is Kol Nidre? Explain its spiritual significance.

  • What does she mean by “I would like to repent but I cannot”?

  • What images of Kol Nidre does the poem capture?

  • How does it relate or not relate to your experience of Kol Nidre? 

To my granddaughter on her bat mitzvah

A girl stands in a doorway

what a bright morning

what fresh air

everything underground is pushing up


The girl walks down the street with her nose in a book

what a bright morning

she knows she herself is the book

she is learning to read


The letters are magic

the letters are holy

the letters are fire and water


what a bright morning


                            O if we could speak

                            what a bright morning 

                            O if our accumulated wisdom

                            were a magic ring she could rub or wings to fly


The girl would still smile to herself

the girl would smile to herself and walk forward

her secrets are holy

what a bright morning this is


  • In this poem, Ostriker addresses her granddaughter on the morning of her Bat Mitzvah. What is the mood/feeling of the poem?

  • What is Ostriker referring to by “The letters are magic the letters are holy the letters are fire and water?” Explain what this image means to you.

  • What does Ostriker mean by “if our accumulated wisdom were a magic ring she could rub or wings to fly?” How does that idea relate to what happens at a Bar/Bat Mitzvah?

Graphic Novel: Art Spiegelman/Maus excerpt
Chapter 3: Prisoner of War

Art Spiegelman is a comics artist and writer best known for his Pulitzer-prize winning memoir Maus. In 1986, he released the first volume of Maus (Maus I: A Survivor's Tale, also known as Maus I: My Father Bleeds History) The second volume, Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began followed in 1991. Maus attracted an unprecedented amount of critical attention for a work in the form of comics, including an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2005, Time magazine named him one of the “Top 100 Influential People.”

In Maus, Spiegelman tells about his parents’ experience in Poland before and during the Holocaust. He also makes himself a character in the comic, exploring his relationship to his father.

  • What do you make of Spiegelman’s choice to make the Jews of Europe portrayed as mice?

  • Describe his relationship to his father.

  • What do you learn about his father’s experience as a prisoner of war? What are the traits that

help his father survive that experience?

Fiction: Nathan Englander short story, “Reb Kringle”
Nathan Englander’s short fiction has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, and numerous anthologies including The Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Anthology, and the Pushcart Prize.

Englander’s story collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (Knopf, 1999), became an international bestseller, and earned him a PEN/Faulkner Malamud Award and the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Englander was selected as one of “20 Writers for the 21st Century” by The New Yorker.


  • Describe Buna Michla’s attitude about Reb Yitzhak’s job. How is different from his attitude?

  • How does he feel about the words “Merry Christmas”? Why?

  • What makes Reb Yitzhak stop playing his Santa role? What is at stake for him? Why is he willing to lose his job?

Making Connections

  • Select one of the authors whom we read in class. How does he/she express his/her Jewish identity through his/her work?

  • Have you read other literature by Jewish authors? What were some of the themes the authors wrote about?

Closing Reflections

We began our havayah with a very short writing exercise. After learning about Jewish literature during class, we see that there are many different ways to tell a story and to capture your experiences.

Which author has inspired you the most?

What genre of literature do you most appreciate?

Which writer connects most to your own sense of Jewish identity?

Pick out 1-2 sentences or lines of poetry that connect with you and write them down in your journal.

Websites with lists of Jewish books:

Share with your friends:

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