Imagine four corners in a room, each with a distinct sign: Corner 1 STRONGLY AGREE, Corner 2 AGREE, Corner 3 UNSURE, Corner 4 DISAGREE. Now imagine you are in a room of your peers and must quickly move yourself to one of the corners after hearing each of the following statements:
“I believe God is good.” You see someone or a group of peers run towards each corner. Where do you go? Only a few seconds to decide. A moment later the leader continues with the next statement, “I believe God protects me.” Some stay where they are and others move to another corner. What do you do? There is no time to look around, just follow your first instinct. There are no correct answers. We continue with about 10 more statements, including: “I believe we should pray to God,” “I believe God controls what happens to us,” and “I believe God looks like you and me.” There is a lot of movement as each statement is quickly internalized.
This activity was part of a Jewish education lesson I co-led for GARIN, 8-10 year old children, at camp earlier this session. Prior to the activity, we read a book and discussed some of the many ways we peak of God in our tradition, ranging from God as “Healer,” “Creator,” “Ruler,” and “Friend.” We made it clear that there are many ways to think about God and there are no right or wrong answers. With the pressure to be “right” removed, they were super engaged and got very quiet right before I announced each statement. It was clear that in the children were excited to choose/express their own opinions in a safe space.
In Jewish life we are often talking about God (what God did in the Torah) and directly to God (in nearly every blessing and prayer whether knowingly or not). It is not often that we take time to stop and think about (let alone publicly affirm) what we believe.
Judaism places a high value on asking questions and respectfully engaging in and debating our beliefs and practices. The very first Jew Abraham questioned and bargained with God. Throughout his life his relationship with God changed as did many of our biblical ancestors. Our cherished rabbis and sages spent their lives debating what God meant in our sacred texts and what God wants from us. Today as Reform Jews we continue to be a people open to diverse ideas and understandings of God. With each new experience we grow and change, so too does our relationship with the Divine and the world around us.
Andrea Fleekop, Education Director, Temple Beth El of Pensacola