What better way to look backward and forward at the same time than to listen to the voices of our temple’s children. How much they have grown over their few short years. How blessed we are to know that they are our collective future!
Over the course of my tenure at Union Temple this year, I’m paying visits to each of the classes and doing a little “Ask the Rabbi.” Wow—your kids are so smart! I thought you might enjoy listening in. Here are brief excerpts from the visits so far.
From the Third Grade Class:
Saanika: I’m part Hindi. So my question is: Does Judaism believe in more than one god?
Rabbi Mark: As I understand it, there are different Hindu traditions, but they all see the various gods as manifestations of one God, Brahma. Same in Judaism. There is only one God, and yet we can talk about various aspects of God as if they are separate. Here, look at this. (Draws a six-pointed star on the board). What’s this? In Judaism it’s called the Star of David, or the Magen David. In India it’s called a Shatkona. In India, the upward-pointing triangle stands for the male god Shiva, and the downward-pointing triangle stands for the female god Shakti, because God is male and female. Same in Judaism. The upward-pointing triangle is Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu, male, and the downward-pointing triangle is Ha Shekhina, female. One God, and God is both.
Isaac: What about in Japan?
Rabbi Mark: Japan has exactly the same symbol! In the Shinto religion the star with two triangles is called a Kagame crest. You know, there are Jews all over the world. In India, there are the B’nei Ephraim Jews. In China, the Tiao Jin Jiao (挑筋教) Jews. Jews are one people. And yet we all have local customs and traditions.
Aarron: What’s the Polish name for Jews?
Rabbi Mark: In Poland, most of the Jews spoke Yiddish, so they spoke of themselves as the Yiddin. At one time, there were more Jews in Poland than any other place on earth. The Polish Jews made a word play of the word Polanya (the Polish word for Poland). They turned the word Polanya into three Hebrew words: Po (here) lan (lives) Yah (God).
From the 5th Grade Class:
Pearl: How old is God?
Rabbi Mark: How old are you?
Pearl: I’m ten.
Rabbi Mark: So, do you want a kid answer or the adult answer?
Pearl: The adult answer.
Rabbi Mark: OK—but the adult answer is even hard for adults to understand. Here it is: There was nothing before God. Now, since the universe is almost 14 billion years old, and since God created the universe, God would have to be at least 14 billion years old. Right? So far, so good. But guess what? Before God created the universe, there was no such thing as time. God created space and time at the same time. So since there was no time before God created the universe, there’s no way to say how old God is. God just…. is!
Franny: Why did God create the universe?
Anthony: God felt generous.
Rabbi Mark: Wow. I can’t think of a better answer than that. I’m going with Anthony’s answer. Think about it: If there were no universe, there’d be no Franny to ask such a wonderful question, and there’d be no Anthony to give such a wonderful answer, and I would not be here with you to hear it. So yes, I agree with Anthony. God created the universe to be generous, and to give us this great gift of being alive on the planet right now.
Calvin: Who was the first human?
Rabbi Mark: Well, there’s the science answer and there’s the Torah answer, and they each teach us something important. The science answer is that we evolved from the apes, and before that the lemurs, and before that the amphibians, and before that amoeba. All of that is true. The Torah tells us a story, that says we are all descended from one original human being, who was both male and female, and then was separated into a man and woman, and that all of us are descended from that original adam or earth creature. The Torah story also teaches something very true and very important. What do you think that is?
Jonah: That we are all related to one another.
Rabbi Mark: Absolutely!
Alice: What gender is God?
Alessandro: Gender is a construct!
Rabbi Mark: I do not disagree.
Cleo: In the Torah, God is portrayed as a boy. In most passages God is a “he.”
Rabbi Mark: OK, so let me respond to Alice and Alessandro and Cleo: In Spanish, the table is la mesa, as if the table is a “she.” That’s just how that language works. Same thing in Hebrew. Everything’s either male or female—even though, like a table, they may be neither. In the Torah, God is usually referred to in the masculine, but God is not masculine; and is not a boy or a man. Moses calls God Attah, which is the masculine form of “You” and also At, which is the feminine form of “You.” In the Torah, God is described as a father and as a mother—in the Book of Deuteronomy God gives birth, and even breastfeeds.
I look forward to being in all of the wonderful Union Temple Religious School classes this year!