Urban Jewish Education

Post from Beverly Socher-Lerner, founding director of Makom Community.

What do a pear, a princess, and a fashion designer all have in common? They’re all on their way to the U.S. Mint and Constitution Center on a camp day field trip, and they’re getting ready for Purim, too!

Being a Jewish educator in an urban setting is a special journey. The city of Philadelphia is our classroom. Our students sit next to each other on a SEPTA bus comparing their favorite routes. And they understand, deep down in their kishkes, the beauty of the many kinds of people who make up this amazing city.

Before we head out to the Mint and Constitution Center, just before Purim, we stop to reflect on some of our context that means we don’t live in Shushan. Do we have a crazy king who lets his advisers create edicts without much oversight? No! Only way to undo an edict is another edict? No! A single government adviser who has it out for a whole people just for being true to who they are? No! So let’s go learn about the systems in our country that we have instead…

Then we boarded a bus and rode it across town from our home base near Rittenhouse Square to the historic part of Philadelphia. We explored the mint and watched coins made, learned about the challenging journey the U.S. has had so far in creating a democracy with liberty as a core value, learned about the journey to the White House (a far better option than a king!), and had a picnic lunch.

Conversations that happen when the city is your classroom are amazing, between Z, a 6 year old, and G, one of our Makom Community staff members:

Z: What makes something funny?
G: What kinds of things usually make you laugh?
Z: I love surprises.
G: I think surprise is a great part of something being funny. Like when you expect one thing to happen, but something else does.
Z: How does that work?
Another student: Knock knock
Z: Who’s there?
Another student: Sticks out tongue and makes silly noises.

Both laugh uproariously. And now that we’re laughing, it feels like Purim. They all took home hand-made hamentashen to share with their families, folded inside a new understanding of the Purim story grounded in our time and place. Chag Purim Sameach—wishing you a Happy Purim from Makom Community!