Posted on December 7th, 2015

Beyond Tissue and Glue

When they hear “religious school art class,” most people probably think of Chanukah coloring pages and Tu BiSh’vat handprint trees, not a year-long artistic exploration of hiddur mitzvah (‘beautifying the commandments’) and Jewish culture.

However, especially in supplementary programs, I’ve found that the only way we can truly ensure meaningful Jewish art education is to dive into Project-Based Learning (PBL).

Granted, PBL has become a bit of a catchphrase, and “true” PBL may require more class-time than a supplementary school can manage. However, with only minor modifications, PBL can be adapted for the religious school art room. Planning a semester- or year-long art project may take more effort, but the reverberations in students’ emotional attachment to Judaism are astronomical.

Rather than one-off holiday projects throughout the year, why not have students draft a “Chag Book” that includes 2-4 pages for each holiday, filled with the students’ interpretations of each holiday’s rituals and illustrations for the associated blessings? Rather than decoupaging tissue paper onto yet another Chanukiyah outline, why not have students brainstorm recycled materials to build their own functional Chanukiyah from scratch, plan it out, and present it as a gift to the school? The projects will take weeks if not months to complete, and that’s perfect: students will start to take pride in a project they spent so many hours planning, contributing to, and perfecting.

Stop handing out ready-made templates and coloring pages. Instead, give the students a basic framework, then ask them to formulate the rest of the plan with you: “Our goal for this semester is to create a beautiful new Torah cover to replace the one that’s getting worn down in the sanctuary. What materials should we use to make our Torah beautiful?” Get students invested in the process and formulate projects that add beauty to the community and your students’ lives. Do more than color and glue: create functional beauty for your community to share.

Rae Antonoff, MAJE, is a Jewish educational consultant, writer, and artist based in Los Angeles, CA, whose work primarily focuses on Jewish art education and Hebrew resource development.