NACOEJ CURRICULUM PROJECT
ETHIOPIAN JEWS ARE PART OF THE WORLDWIDE JEWISH COMMUNITY
To develop educational lessons on Ethiopian Jews for North American youth, sixth grade through high school.
To enable North American youth to:
- Learn about the unique 2,500-year history of Ethiopian Jewish community, called Beta Israel (The House of Israel).
- Recognize that the Beta Israel community is a member of the worldwide Jewish community.
- Learn about the struggle of Ethiopian Jews to maintain their commitment to Judaism while living in isolation from other Jewish communities for centuries in Ethiopia.
- Learn about the cultural and religious practices the Beta Israel share with world Jewry as well as their African-influenced music and dance.
- Consider how to put Jewish values into action, and recognize that helping Ethiopian Jews is a Jewish value.
ABOUT THE NACOEJ CURRICULUM
The North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry's (NACOEJ) curriculum project is designed to provide North American students, enrolled in Jewish and secular schools, with information about the Ethiopian Jewish community called Beta Israel. The curriculum addresses the Beta Israel community's origins and its struggles to maintain Jewish traditions and religious practices, which are similar but not identical to those of Jewish communities around the world. The curriculum committee includes Jewish and non-Jewish educators from elementary through college levels, as well as active members of NACOEJ.
At the outset of this project, key staff members of a number of Jewish educational organizations were interviewed. Samples of their excellent lessons were instructive in our search for an overall approach to the NACOEJ curriculum. A student journal, called My Journal: Journey toward Tzedakah, and a Knowledge Chart may be used to help students become engaged in each lesson and help them to process what they learn about Ethiopian Jews, their place in the worldwide Jewish community and the Jewish value or concept exemplified in students' action on behalf of this ancient Jewish community. The NACOEJ curriculum provides teachers and students with information necessary for each topic. The curriculum project's purpose is to enable students to gain understanding of Ethiopian Jewish history and culture, the Beta Israel community's 2,500 year commitment to Judaism, their return to Israel and their place in the worldwide Jewish community. In the course of such learning, students will have the opportunity to put Jewish values into action, and realize that helping Ethiopian Jews is a Jewish value.
OVERVIEW OF THE NACOEJ CURRICULUM
The overall theme of the NACOEJ curriculum is that Ethiopian Jews are part of the worldwide Jewish community. Each topic may be taught separately. Ideally, all topics should be covered in order to provide a better understanding of Ethiopian Jewry's rightful place in the world's Jewish community. Teachers may also want to use a lesson's information and resources in other contexts. An Informational Chronology, Informational Narrative, photographs and music/dance downloads* (Opus for Shoulders, Wedding, Operation Solomon) are available. These resources may be used by students for background information on Ethiopian Jews. The NACOEJ Curriculum Project is designed for students in grades six through high school. Lessons can easily be adapted for younger or older students.
Teachers may choose to use the scripted lesson plans or adapt them as a general guide for teaching students about Ethiopian Jews. They may wish to modify lessons based on the extent of students' response to issues raised in a lesson, or teachers may see ways to adapt the core elements of a lesson by appropriately relating them to their school's regular curriculum. It may also be desirable to spend more time than indicated on some lessons, even expanding one lesson to two class sessions.
Links for optional activities include a List of Jewish Values and additional information about Beta Israel holiday celebrations and religious rituals, as well as options for student journals and charts for thorough engagement in their learning. Each lesson also includes an option for the discussion of Jewish values appropriate for the topic.
The NACOEJ curriculum project, to date, includes three topics:
Topic 1: The Plight of Ethiopian Jewry
Topic 2: Why Jews Migrated to Ethiopia: Myths, Legends and Historical Sources (A Timetable and Map Study)
Topic 3: A Jewish Life Cycle Event: A Beta Israel Marriage Ceremony Enactment
*Eskesta - Beta Israel Dance Troupe
NACOEJ CURRICULUM: ETHIOPIAN JEWS ARE PART OF THE WORLDWIDE JEWISH COMMUNITY
NACOEJ CURRICULUM PROJECT COMMITTEE MEMBERS AND ADVISORS
Naomi Greenberg: Professor of Community Health, LaGuardia Community College, Long Island City, NY
Grace Guy: Teacher, Clara Barton High School, Brooklyn, NY
Judith Jaffe: Retired, high school teacher
Gary Metzger: NACOEJ Director of Community Relations and Special Projects
Lore Rasch: Teacher, PS 31 and IS 162, Bronx, NY
Eadie Shanker: NACOEJ Curriculum Project Coordinator, retired Director, CUNY Mentoring and Pre-college Programs
Nike Silberstein Artistic Director, Programs To Go, Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York
Nicola DeMarco: Teacher, I.S. 227 Queens, NY
Richard Sheftman: Computer Technology Consultant, retired high school teacher and NYC Board of Education Staff Developer
Nike Silberstein, Artistic Director, Programs to Go, NYC Board of Jewish Education
Sherri and Robert Steinberg: NACOEJ members
Letter from the Director
Why A Special Ethiopian Jewish Curriculum?
The question is asked, "Why do we need a special curriculum on Ethiopian Jews?"
The simple answer is that there is very little knowledge about Ethiopian Jews in the United States, and, indeed, in the Western World, especially among our young people. This lack of information leaves a gap in the education of our children, who need to understand the worldwide Jewish community of which they are a part.
In addition, the response of American Jews to the plight of Ethiopian Jews in our time hasbeen, and continues to be, critical to their survival and to their future. Just as this remnant of an ancient Jewish community has needed the partnership of American Jews in their struggle to make aliyah, so too they need our support to become absorbed in Israeli society, a transition that is often not easy, due to the great gulf between the life they left behind in Ethiopia and the life they now face in Israel. To inspire our youngsters to take part in this effort, we must introduce them to the Ethiopian Jews and imbue in our youth a recognition of their importance to the Jewish world.
Finally, we must encourage our youngsters to understand and respect special cultural and religious heritages within the Jewish world. It is vital to the continuous mix of Jewish communities that we assist in the preservation of the traditions of Ethiopian Jewry as practiced in Ethiopia and as taught by their own religious leaders, the revered kessim. Recognizing the beauty of Jewish ways that are strange to us is essential to true Jewish continuity.
We hope that this curriculum will meet with your approval and that of your students.
- Barbara Ribakove Gordon, Executive Director, North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry