Some people think of art-making as the attempt to create a great masterpiece. I don’t see it that way. I think about it as a practice that helps me get through the day. This is true in normal times; it’s even more true now.
I’ve loved writing and music since I was a kid. I went to college and grad school to study my craft, and I put in my ten thousand hours of practice, and I work hard at my art. But in the end, I make art now for the same reason I began long ago: it’s a way for me to deal with the hugeness and vulnerability of how it feels to be human. A way to process all the emotions I experience in the course of a normal day. Plus, it’s fun.
In addition to my love of making art, I love using art in my teaching. Whether it’s writing or dance, collage or sculpture, knitting or TikTok videos, art is a miraculous tool. Art allows us to create our own small world – a natural tendency of humans, since we are made of the image of God. It gives us a way to keep our hands busy, which is more important than it might sound. And it lets us chew on deep, juicy human questions in a small, manageable way.
How can we make our surroundings (our clothes, or bedrooms, or notebooks) line up with what’s inside us? What really matters; how should we live; how can we deal with our own emotions, our desires, and the parts of our lives we feel like we can’t stand for one more moment? And I’m serious about the TikTok videos; anyone making one has to ask, what do I want to keep to myself, what do I want to reveal to the world, and how do I do that?
If this sounds appealing (or if you could use a break from everyday reality right about now), try one of these creative prompts below. I’m offering them in the form of writing because it’s one of the most accessible ways of making art, since most of us use it every day anyway – but if you feel more comfortable in another medium, simply translate these prompts into your favorite art form. No matter what form you choose, I encourage you to try and approach it with a sense of playfulness, not deadly seriousness! Have fun, and see what comes out. You might be surprised. And you never have to show anyone, so you can be totally honest.
-Write a poem in the form of a list of questions. Write as many as you can think of. They can be silly or serious, angry or bored, relevant to your daily life or totally wacky. The only rule is that you’re only allowed to write questions. See where it takes you!
-Write a short letter to your future great-great-grandchild. You could choose an occasion like their b’nai mitzvah or a specific birthday. What do you wish for them? What do you want to pass down to them about this moment in your life? What’s a memory you’d like to share with them? A secret you’d like to tell them?
-Create a post in your favorite social media (or, if you don’t like social media, write a poem or draw a cartoon) that gives the world a glimpse of who you are inside. It can be something funny you notice in the world around you; a serious observation about your inner or outer life; a skill most people don’t know you have; or a quote you agree with.
-Find a quiet corner, take a few breaths, and write a poem or a few sentences about what’s happening inside you, beneath all the noise. How are you? What do you need? What are you learning about yourself? Is there any way you could be more gentle with yourself?
– What’s something you’ve secretly dreamed about creating, or never thought you could? A fashion design, a memoir, a play, a dance… create a low-stakes, two-minute miniature version right now!
A Bat Mitzvah Tutor’s Blessing
I hand you the yad,
silver pointer to trace the letters
as you chant,
and you place it
beneath a letter on the parchment
and breathe in.
the electric current
now. It is your turn.
So many mouths have held
So many teachers,
so many students,
all of us both at once.
There is no early or late in Torah,
say the rabbis,
just this moment,
which is every moment:
you chanting, a spring
flowing from thousands
of years ago, living in you.
If you are a vessel,
and we all are,
may you be filled with love
with teachings which are yours alone.
And one day, when you are
as impossibly old as I am,
may you too have the privilege
of passing down
what you have learned.
How to Sail
Scrape the curse off the parchment. Stir the broken letters
into a jar of water. Make a woman drink it: thus said Elohim. But why: thus said Molly, twelve years old. Now I was the teacher. We sat there, two black flames in a room of white fire. We were sailing on a wind that passed through the open window of a room next to the marketplace, two thousand years ago.
(reprinted with permission from Divinity School by Alicia Jo Rabins (American Poetry Review, 2015)
How to Graduate
God wrote me a letter in invisible ink. But I got overwhelmed: the parchment, the lemon juice the light and the candle. I accidentally set it on fire. For forty days and nights, the smell of caramel surrounded me, and when it receded, I sent out my only dove.
(reprinted with permission from Divinity School by Alicia Jo Rabins (American Poetry Review, 2015)
“There are children, grownups, everywhere
That would love to hear your voices
Singing for our health to be bright
So that we can join together...and paint our world with healing and hope”
-From the original song, Painting Our World with Healing Hope, by Karina and Debora Zilberman
“Families that share stories about parents and grandparents, about triumphs and failures, provide powerful models for children. Children understand who they are in the world not only through their individual experience, but through the filters of family stories that provide a sense of identity through historical time...Through sharing the past, families recreate themselves in the present, and project themselves into the future.”
—“Do You Know…” The power of family history in adolescent identity and well-being
Read more about Dr. Marshall Duke and his work, here.
“There are people out there who are educating their hearts as we speak. They’re getting on with the work, they’re loving their kids, they’re loving their students, they’re loving their communities. We must retrain our vision toward those people—we must develop eyes to see and ears to hear where that love is already happening—that is worth our energy and our care and our time, to tend that love, to show that love ourselves.”
—Krista Tippett, Founder and CEO, The On Being Project
“There are just two outcomes that really matter: First, that students feel Judaism is the fertile ground in which they get nurtured to grow, and second, that they find Judaism joyful.” Rabbi Joy Levitt, Executive Director, JCC Manhattan
"Civil discourse requires us to listen generously and to act as though—and to really believe—we could be open to persuasion. We each may think: 'I did not cause this situation, I am not to blame.' Yet we each have the capacity to help society turn the corner, if we honestly ask what went wrong and what we can do about it."
- Martha Minow, the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University and Joseph William Singer, Bussey Professor of Law, Harvard University
The Wow Metric of Success: Jewish Life in Bloom on the Farm: Spring has arrived, and the Jewish community is busy planting with purpose. In Vaughan, Ontario, the yellow coltsfoot and purple-blue scilla are just starting to flower at the Kavanah Garden, a half acre community garden that’s part of Shoresh, the Canadian-based Jewish environmental organization that includes the Kavanah Garden and Bela Farm. Last Sunday, on “Yom Manual Labor” volunteers gathered to turn the soil, plant seeds, paint outdoor tables and participate in construction projects with the Shoresh team, preparing the garden for growing season.
“Our Jewish community is only as strong as its ability to include all members in the fabric of Jewish life. Doing so helps each of us recognize the unique strengths we all bring to the Jewish community, and that community cannot possibly be complete until we actively and intentionally welcome each other.”
-Meredith Englander Polsky, 2017 Covenant Award Recipient, Director of Institutes and Training, Matan, and Developmental Support Coordinator, Temple Beth Ami Nursery School
“From all of my teachers, I have grown wise.” Psalms 119:99. Framing Jewish Education, a project of The Jewish Lens and supported by The Covenant Foundation, was created to engage teachers, students, and families in conversation about the value of Jewish education and to illustrate the power of great teaching and learning via a curriculum based on visual literacy and text.
“For me, study is a divine and daily imperative; I study a page of Talmud daily so that I am not only teaching. My teaching is constantly being fed by my learning.” —Erica Brown Associate Professor, George Washington School of Education and Human Development. Director, Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, 2009 Covenant Award Recipient
The Covenant Classroom means something different to every educator but common goals are to motivate, engage and be inclusive of all learners. In this volume, we’ve collected an array of Teachings on Inspiration and Motivation in all areas of Education.
#ThankATeacher It has been twenty-five years since The Covenant Foundation first opened its doors, and we continue to be humbled by extraordinary Jewish educators from across North America and across the spectrum of Jewish life who have devoted their careers and considerable talents to the field of Jewish education. Now, in celebration of a quarter-century-old tradition of honoring Jewish education and educators, and to kick off a year of public engagement around great teaching, we’re proud to share The Covenant Foundation voices app with you: a new digital way to give and share your gratitude.
“What would it look like if we bet on Jewish early childhood education for the long-term, as our tradition instructs? The task might seem large, but the reward, we know, is great (Pirkei Avot 2:15).”
“Countless leaders have been inspired by the story of the Jewish people leaving bondage in Egypt – those whose names we know, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and those whose names we never will know, whose every-day acts of kindness and resistance fuel social change. This story, our story, has become a cornerstone of modern social justice work.”
—Abby Levine, Director of The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
This is how I see a “Covenant Classroom”: a place where challenging topics are passionately discussed; a place where complex ancient texts are grappled with; a place in which self- esteem grows, and motivation to learn increases exponentially because of it. An environment in which each Jewish soul is given the confidence to continue the eternal search for meaning.”
—Dr. Sandra Ostrowicz Lilienthal, Curriculum Developer and Instructor at The Rose and Jack Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education of Broward County and 2015 Covenant Award Recipient
“When powerful, new approaches to learning are introduced through digital tools, meaningful disruptions occur along the way… When this happens, new approaches which previously seemed inaccessible, are suddenly within reach.”
—Barry Joseph, Associate Director for Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives, American Museum of Natural History
“The future of Jewish teen engagement can in fact be found in 3D printers, and in text-people, and in service, and outdoor education, and in anything that brings teens into contact with authentic learning experiences and passionate, caring, knowledgeable educators.”
—Charlie Schwartz, Senior Jewish Educator, Director, BIMA & Genesis, Brandeis High School Programs
Portal seems like a particularly apt metaphor for entry points into Jewish life and learning because ultimately we want those experiences to be deeply experiential and transformative. We also want them to be accessible. A portal has no toll; passage is free. At the same time, a portal is particularistic, not a generic entrance. It conveys a sense of magic, ritual, and power. Similarly, we want to convey that Jewish life is rich, layered, and meaningful beyond what is immediately apparent. We want the encounter with Jewish life to take you on a journey that is profound and surprising. And, given that each of us may enter through the same portal but have a completely different experience of what is on the other "side," the possibilities are endless.
— Judith Rosenbaum, Executive Director, The Jewish Women’s Archive
"We need a new kind of creativity in the classroom that’s going to reach Jewish kids… If a teacher is imaginative, he or she is going to connect to students’ hearts and souls.”
—Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary, Board Member, The Covenant Foundation.
"There are four types of students... The sponge absorbs everything. The funnel brings in on one side lets it out the other. The strainer lets out the wine and retains the lees. The sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour." —Pirkei Avot 5:15
"There’s a misconception that a venture must depend on large grants from big donors. It makes more sense and it’s more sustainable to test out an idea, and see whether it has the opportunity to make an impact on people’s lives."
— Ariel Beery, founder, PresenTense
I think [creating new Jewish texts] is a really good description of what we’re trying to do. These days we’re increasingly creating products that are intended to be shared on the web. We’ve felt and continue to feel that this medium, and virtual communication as a whole, is being under-tapped for its possibilities for making art.
— Reflections from Sam Ball on the New Jewish Filmmaker Project