Torah Time

by Laurie Bellet

Last week I was doing a pre-Simhat Torah pre-K family event and the blank scrolls I had ordered from S and S were delayed in shipment. I needed to make my own quickly and they were oh so simple and everyone was thrilled:

I cut fabric to the size I preferred (about 10″ x 17″). Laying the fabric horizontally I hot glued (I was in a crunch for time) the side edges to dowels which were slightly smaller than ½-inch diameter and about a foot long (pre-cut and packaged at Michael’s). I layed the fabric with the “right side” facing down so that, when the scroll was rolled, the decorated side would be seen. I also purchased a product called a “clothespin doll stand.” This piece of circular wood is a ring, ½-inch diameter. I painted the clothespin doll stands silver and hot glued them to the ends of the dowels to give the impression of rimonim.

I glued a piece of white construction paper to the inside surface of the fabric for the children to work on. In this activity (a brief make and take) the children (ages 2-5) stamped the scroll with images from Bereishit and alef-bet stamps. I made these by gluing foam Alef-Bet letters from to wooden cubes. They finished it off with a sparkling gem, heart shaped, because we love the Torah.

They were so easy and popular that I made many extra to have throughout the year. The activity itself is adaptable to several activity levels and is an engaging template for student journals and commentaries.

Finding art in Torah text also becomes a simple matter once you get the knack for it. As a class group, or with individual students, read the text both silently and aloud. Be sure to look up the definitions of any unfamiliar words. Imagine that there are pictures with the text. How might they appear? Then:

Listen for the Sound. Ask students to close their eyes and listen as you read dramatically about thunder. Blow a shofar when the text calls for trumpets. Play contemporary CD’s putting the text to music. Ask students to paint or draw the lines, shapes and colors they envision.

Emphasize Body Parts. Is there a hand or a finger? Represent its action with a handprint or tracing. Consider footprints in verses emphasizing walking or standing. Exploit elements of graphic, visceral imagery. PROVOKE THEM TO CRINGE!

Play on the Colors. Some pasukim read like a veritable box of 64 Crayola® crayons. Encourage students to use color combinations to get at the rich imagery of a passage. ®Empower them to create their own rainbows, their own ephods, explaining verbally or in writing what their chosen colors or pattern signify to them. PROMPT THEM TO THINK!

Highlight the Action Verbs. Is anyone weaving? Carrying? Battling? Collage the specifics or the generic. Given the imagery of the seasons, use a variety of collage papers to represent parashiyot of seasonal or diurnal significance. Young children, especially, enjoy doing collage with magazine or wallpaper pictures of fruits, landscapes and animals.

Play on Emotion. Discuss the emotive aspects of your study. Encourage students to experience the emotion, representing it in a manner of personal relevance. ALWAYS TAKE CARE TO RESPECT PRIVACY BOUNDARIES.

Do you have students who are reluctant to participate in art related activities? In middle childhood, artistic realism becomes important to students. Many, unable to render the image as it appears in their mind, become frustrated and reticent, if not oppositional, to art experiences. Implementing the following art techniques, liberating the artist from the imposition of realism generally, meets with resounding success in the face of initial balkiness:

• Complete the picture. Present the student with a relevant shape, pre-pasted/drawn on the paper. A mountain could be a triangle, stars some circle punch-outs. Be daring; start them off from a free form shape. Beginning from a place of abstraction, levels the field, allowing every student to stretch his/her own imaginative wings.

• Take your pencil for a walk. When the text calls for movement of any kind, ask students to meander the pencil on the page in any expressive fashion. Assure them that you are not anticipating a photo quality image. Next, they use their lines to create an entire picture, either realistic or not. Conclude with a discussion of the resulting picture, the process or how they chose to render difficult images.

• Tearing, rather than cutting paper eliminates the need for precision.

• Painting on wet paper causes colors to spread and blend so that the artist must release some control of the product. Finishing with specific lines in black ink creates a memorable image.

• Using round paper, triangle paper or anything but rectangle paper can intrigue students enough to free them artistically. Create on sandpaper for art in the desert.

• When using clay, insist that students forgo skinny limbs and many attached pieces. Such efforts are likely to crumble. Instead, students can start with a fistful of clay and “pull” the shape from the lump. They will be amazed at what they mold!

• When drawing to music, practice strokes, first, in the air. Then reprise the music and move to the paper.

• Purposely distort letters and figures so that drawing accuracy becomes irrelevant.

• Create on large paper; give students a “view finding” frame (a piece of 9″ x 12″ black paper with a smaller shape cut from the middle). Direct them to discover the area of the picture, which best represents their connection to the text; glue on the frame; cut off the excess.

•Always, mount each piece carefully and label your bulletin board displays, to inform your viewer of the process involved, and your goal with the adventure.