Our Stories

Rosh Hashanah STEM Story Hour

September 29, 2016 by Sindy Udell (Faculty and Staff)

Children and their parents work on a STEM activity together.What does Rosh Hashanah have to do with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)? Last Sunday, thirty children from the greater Washington, DC area came to JPDS-NC to find out. Kindergarten teacher Xani Pollakoff and Admission Associate Lindsey Marks led an innovative program that uniquely combined Rosh Hashanah teachings with STEM and design thinking.

Children listened to and participated in the telling of the story Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride by Deborah Bodin and Shahar Kober. This Rosh Hashanah story is based on the first train ride from Jaffa to Jerusalem in 1892, which shortened the trip between the two cities from three days to three hours. In the story, Engineer Ari is chosen to drive the train to Jerusalem from Jaffa. Ari is so excited by this honor that he boasts to his friends and then does not say goodbye to them before he leaves for his journey. Along the way, he makes several stops and collects Rosh Hashanah goodies – apples, honey, round challah, and shofarot – to deliver to the people of Jerusalem. As part of his journey, Engineer Ari also realizes that he was not kind to his friends and promises to do teshuvah – “to do better.” He plans to apologize and bring some Rosh HaShanah goodies to his friends when he returns to Jaffa.

At this point in the storytelling, one of the program leaders received a “telephone call” from Engineer Ari; he was in a panic because his train broke down and he could no longer deliver the presents to his friends and do teshuvah. In keeping with our educational philosophy at JPDS-NC, we asked the children to solve this problem. First, the children brainstormed different ways to get Engineer Ari back to Jaffa from Jerusalem. Ideas included fixing the train, building a boat, building an airplane, building a rocket, and building a teleportation module. Next, the students sketched a prototype of their ideas. Then they selected materials to build their model, choosing among wiki sticks, model magic, tape, glue, cardboard, Styrofoam, buttons, corks, and other recycled materials that JPDS-NC collects for use in the Design Lab and sadnah (studio). By the end of the morning, airplanes, rockets, teleporters, and ships filled the room. One student even made a bird’s nest so that a bird could fly Engineer Ari to Jaffa.

We were delighted to host new and old friends at our first Rosh HaShanah STEM event and impressed with the creativity of the children as they problem-solved, designed, prototyped, and built their spectacular projects. Kol Hakavod to the children and Shana Tova to our whole community – we wish you all a new year filled with the joy of learning.