Building Community

Part of the challenge of creating a community is recognizing all the different ways that Jews approach Judaism (even within the same movement). Listening to each other, drawing each other in, having different entry points, allowing people to express where they are at and being accepted by the community, welcoming and engaging Jews in the discussion of how they connect to their Jewish community…are all necessary and powerful ways to create a stronger peoplehood.

How in our teaching do we promote this engagement?
Students need to experience being part of a community that values who they are, where they are at, what they have to say, what they can contribute to the Jewish community.

Communities are messy—with so many varying opinions and approaches, and our classrooms should reflect that and be messy as well. There isn’t one answer, and that is exciting, that opens the door to so many more of us being included in the discussion.

Building Community Progression: Who Am I? Who Are You? Who Are We? How can we work together so that our shared Jewish values point the way to allow people to come together, work for a common goal and make the world a better place?

For teachers to get to know the students:

  • Ask students questions while they are working to get to know them.  Ask them about:

    • their personal experiences with or their views on the topic they are working on
    • how their day is going, what happened in school today…
  • Call parents to find out more about the students, ideally in the beginning of the year. Ask them if there is anything you should know about their children.
  • Ask students about their hobbies and interests and integrate their interests into your lessons.
  • Have each student respond in writing to the question: What can you contribute to our class this year?

To build connections in class:

  • To help the students get to know each other's names, use the students' names often.  Have students greet each other using modern Hebrew--Boker Tov, Sarah!  Mah Shlomcha, David?
  • Small group work builds connections between students.  The teacher should create the groupings as often as possible to mix the students up in different combinations, so that students get to know each other. 
  • Have students share what they learned from someone else in their small group to foster respect for each other and to encourage them to listen to one another during small group work. At end of day, ask the students to share with the class or write on a notecard: What did you learn from another student in the class today?
  • Have each student bring in a meaningful Jewish object from home:

    • With their parents and have the parents teach their children the meaning of the object, then share what they learned with whole group
    • Without the parents—assign a different student each week to bring in a Jewish object from home and share its meaning with the class.  The student should ask their parents about the meaning of the object to prepare for presenting it to the class.
    • Take pictures of the students and their Jewish objects to display in the classroom with a written description of the personal meaning of the object by the student.
  • Ask students to bring in pictures from home that show them at a Jewish event, in Israel, celebrating a Jewish holiday… to share with the class.
  • Through Iyun Tefillah during the year, ask the students to share personal experiences that connect to the themes of the prayers. 
  • Share personal stories about yourself to make students feel comfortable with sharing stories about themselves.  Use a personal dilemma to work through with your students, such as: How can I make Chanukah meaningful and not materialistic for my family?
  • Have students share positive qualities about each other.  Create notecards with the names of the students.  Pass out the cards and have each student share something positive about the student whose name is on the card they received.  You can talk about the power of words to make others feel good.
  • When students share something about themselves, and someone else has that in common, that child can say “Gam Ani” (me too in Hebrew) or have them put their thumbs up.

Ice Breakers that can build connections:

  • Beachball Toss: write questions on a beachball that ask students to share something about themselves. Toss the ball to each person. When each person catches the ball, they have to answer the question that their hand landed on, then toss the ball to the next person. Abby has beachballs for this.
  • Candy Game: Fill a bowl with multicolored candy such as M&Ms (if no nut allergies in the class) and assign a category to each color. For example, green can be "family" and red can be "favorite activities." Have each student take a few pieces of candy from the bowl and instruct them not to eat the candy. After all students take some candy, tell them the categories and have the students share something about themselves based on the candy colors they have.
  • Freeze with Music: Play modern Israeli or other music and have students move around the room to the music without touching anyone.  Adjust the following prompts to your class.  Stop the music and have the students take a minute per person to share with someone near them something they would post on social media about themselves.  Play the music again, stop, have students share with someone new--their favorite song and why.  Share what is one thing you'd like to change about the world?  
  • Gam Ani (Me too): A version of A Strong Wind Blows. Participants stand in a circle with the leader in the middle. The leader says something about him/herself (ex. favorite ice cream, number of sibs, favorite Jewish holiday, recent travel....). Anyone who has that in common with the leader says, "Gam Ani" and walks through the middle of the circle to a different spot in the circle.  The last participant to find a place in the circle goes to the middle and repeats the process by sharing something about him/herself.  Can also do this with chairs and take one chair away like musical chairs.  Create guidelines for what you want the students to share, so it is appropriate and not too personal.  This idea is from The Bible Players.
  • Human BINGO: create a BINGO board with possible statements about the participants (ex. _______ went to a Jewish camp this summer).  To get BINGO you need to fill in 4 boxes in a row or diagonally with people you met who fit those descriptions.
  • Inner and Outer Circles: create an inner and outer circle and have the inner circle face the outer circle, so everyone is paired up.  Ask a question for each pair to discuss, then have the inner circle move one person clockwise and ask a new question.
  • Mitzvah Movements: Everyone stands in a circle. Review what a mitzvah is--sacred act including lighting Shabbat candles, helping others, taking care of the earth...  Have each person think of a mitzvah they do and how they can show that mitzvah in a movement.  Go around the circle and each person shares their name, a mitzvah they do, and the movement.  The rest of the group repeats the person's name, mitzvah and movement.
  • Mystery Card: Everyone writes something about themselves that no one knows on a notecard.  Collect the cards, then have everyone take a card and try to find the person the note describes.
  • Name Game: Have each student describe him/herself with an adjective that begins with the same letter as their name.
  • Three Things in Common: Have each student pair up with another student he or she doesn’t know. Each pair should find three things that they have in common. Then each pair presents their findings to the rest of the group. Source: Behrman House Blog
  • Web of String: Sit in a circle and start with a ball of string.  Find a connection to someone in the circle (ex. play the same sport), then toss the string to that person, but hold onto your end.  Keep passing the string around as people find connections to each other, so you see a web of string in the middle that connects everyone.

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