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"Our Jewish Roots"

Comments and Overview:

We felt our students would be better able to understand the stories of the Bible if they were familiar with the ways of the Jewish people of long ago. This was a very exciting series and laid a foundation for future studies. "Our Jewish Roots" lasted for 9 weeks. We had 7 rotation classes plus a group Sunday (Palm Sunday) where we were all together, and a culminating activity. We also took a field trip after church one Sunday to a nearby community to visit a synagogue. We borrowed a bus and took the students and some parents. It became an outing as we brought lunches and stopped at a fast food place on the way. The rabbi pointed out many of the items we studied and answered countless questions. We noticed that he was not very anxious to convert us.

Palm Sunday we viewed a video in our AV room. (A 30-min. Gospel Films video called The Passover by Zola Levitt) It showed a family preparing for and participating in a Seder Feast. The father, a bearded gentleman, described the customs and meanings as they went along. It was well done.

The last week we hosted an open house for the congregation during our Sunday school hour. All of the art projects were on display, dance was demonstrated, the children and teachers explained what they had done in each room, and refreshments were served.

This is a brief summary of the whole rotation. A more detailed description of some of the classes is also available.

1. Slide Presentation and Map Making
Students made maps of important sites in Israel using poster board, markers, puff paints and sequins. As they worked the teacher showed slides from a trip to Israel to describe the places they put on their maps. This was a multiple-intelligence dream class. (A more detailed description is available below.)

2. Hebrew language and writing.
Students learned about the role of the rabbi and the importance of the scriptures to Jewish people. They discussed the laws and how people memorized scripture to pass it on. They learned that the first books of our Bible came from the Torah. Our minister recorded a tape of himself speaking Hebrew words including the Shema (Deut. 6). Students listened to the tape while they practiced writing Hebrew phrases. They used ribbon to tie their scrolls. (A more detailed description is available below.)

3. Jewish music and dance
Students spent the whole class time learning Jewish folk dances. Even the boys had fun!

4. Unleavened bread
Class met in the kitchen. The students followed a recipe and made unleavened bread. While it was baking they reviewed the origins of unleavened bread and Passover and its significance to Jesus at the Last Supper. While students found it hard to believe people actually liked this bread they learned about being thankful for what God provides. They also learned about doing something in remembrance of an important time.

5. Jewish Holidays
By using a large flip chart and pictures from the Internet, students learned about the Jewish calendar and 7 of the holidays important to the early Jews. There were several hands-on activities to participate in such as tasting honey and apples, chalking their shoes and stomping, and crawling into a Sukkot hut. We tried to tie in the concept of adapting holidays to previous cultural traditions. Most of the data came online (original link removed as it no longer is in use) - suggestion would be to simply do an internet search on the different holidays for additional ideas. (A more detailed description is available below.)

6. Bible Times Food
We called this class "A Biblical Garden." Scripture references, pictures and interesting facts about Bible time foods were passed out among the students. They shared their information then tasted each food (pomegranate, caper, barley, almond, date palm, grape, olive and fig.) Each class reused artistically made name cards, pictures, and Bible verses for each food to decorate a large bulletin board as a garden. Not all the foods were popular but the class was. (This complete lesson plan is available below.)

7. Bible Time Homes
This class dealt with some of the aspects of life in Bible times. Resource picture books and items from the Holy Land (sheepskin, oil lamp, etc.) were on display. Each class measured out the dimensions of a typical home using tape on the floor and sat in it as they discussed building materials, furnishings, family composition, etc. They then drew floor plans of their houses "now" and a Bible times house "then." They drew comparisons of various items in the homes. As a final project the classes made either a Mezuzah or a Phylactery. (A more detailed description is available below.)

Slide Presentation / Map making


The children will be able to:

  1. view a slide presentation of sights in Israel.
  2. locate sights in the slide presentation to create their own map of Israel.


  • slide projector
  • slides of Israel
  • screen
  • poster board (1/2 sheet per child)
  • glue
  • scissors
  • pattern of Israel to trace
  • printed names of sites that will be located during slide show
  • puff paint for rivers
  • map key
  • sequins etc. to locate cities

Lesson Plan


Invite children to get ready for a tour of the country where Jesus lived, walked, and preached. What is the name of this place?


Trace the pattern of Israel, label Israel and the surrounding countries.

Add map key and direction key.

Begin slide presentation. As each site is visited have the children add it to their own map. (We started in the north of Israel and worked our way south) Sites included were: Sea of Galilee, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem, Jordan River, Dead Sea, Sinai Desert, etc. (Include as many as your time allows and slides you have to present.)


Display student maps in a location for the church congregation to view.

Hebrew Writing


The students will:

  1. hear Hebrew words and scripture.
  2. practice speaking and writing Hebrew.
  3. learn about the Jewish Bible.


  • have minister tape reading of the Hebrew Shema and the alphabet or some words.
  • locate a Hebrew Bible and perhaps one in another language.
  • cut brown grocery bags to look like scrolls and ribbon to tie them for each student.
  • have markers or calligraphy pens.

Lesson Plan


Greet the children and introduce yourself. 

Open with a prayer.


  1. Locate Deuteronomy 6: 4-5 in the Bible (Shema pronounced Sh'mah). Play the tape in Hebrew.
  2. Hebrew is the language of Israel-like German or English but much older.
  3. Alphabet has 22 consonants and no vowels. Look at alphabet and words in Hebrew. Practice writing some of them.
  4. Show a Hebrew Bible. Notice they write from right to left and back to front. Show a Bible from a different country too, if you have one available. German would be best. The Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek, later translated to Latin, then German by monks such as Martin Luther. Later into English.
  5. Jewish children still take lessons after school 1-3 days a week to learn to read and write Hebrew so they can read the Bible in their language
  6. There are 24 books in the Hebrew Bible rather than 66 as in our Bible. There is only an Old Testament. The words are the same as ours but some of our books were combined in theirs. The Old Testament teaches both Christians and Jews about God and his love for us.
  7. Jesus was Jewish, a descendent of Abraham.
  8. Rabbis or teachers in Jesus' day memorized the Bible. Jesus heard the Torah read when he went to the synagogue. Sometimes he read it. Each year in the synagogue they read week by week all the way through the Torah.
  9. The Torah was written on parchment scrolls. The paper was made from the stems of a plant called papyrus. Stems were beaten together into long strips, rolled and dried to make scrolls. Others were made from goat or sheep skins that had been dried and stretched. The Torah is rolled up at one end and unrolled at the other as the words are read.
  10. The Torah contains the first 5 books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Torah is kept in a special cabinet called the Ark.
  11. Practice writing then write a verse on brown paper and tie it with ribbon.


Jewish Holidays


The children will:

  1. see the relationship between ancient holidays, Bible time holidays and present day holidays.
  2. recognize Jewish holidays and what they symbolize.
  3. see that holidays provide a means of passing on beliefs and traditions to future generations.


  • Create flip chart pages describing information about the calendar and the 7 holidays (information available at various web sites and ) We pointed out the month, a Bible story or reference, food, and customs for each holiday. Also copy symbols of each holiday. Use them to illustrate your flipchart pages. Make a copy to cut out for the students to use on the floor. Make a name card for each holiday for the floor.
  • Build a Sukkoth hut in the classroom and decorate it with autumn leaves. (A card table works)
  • Provide a snack tray with slices of apples and a honey dip for a Rosh Hashanah snack.
  • Make a chart showing Gregorian and Jewish months and holidays.

Lesson Plan


Greet the children and introduce yourself.

Open with a prayer.


  1. The Jewish religion is a tapestry woven of laws, history and folklore.
  2. Use the chart to compare our calendar with Jewish holidays, discuss beginnings of the calendar
  3. Share information about Sabbath (Shabbat)
  4. Discuss each holiday as you flip the pages on the flipchart:
    a. Rosh Hashanah (New Year)- sample the apple snack
    b. Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)
    c. Sukkot (Feast of Booths)- allow children to try out the hut.
    d. Hanukkah (Feast of Lights)
    e. Purim (Festival of Lots)- stomp feet covered with chalk
    f. Pesach (Passover- Festival of Unleavened Bread)
    g. Shavuot (Festival of Weeks)
  5. As you discuss each holiday let the children make a chart on the floor using name cards with the holiday's name and pictures of the various symbols, foods and decorations. This will help to keep the customs separated in their minds.


Conclude with the old Jewish saying "Israel kept the Sabbath," but it's more like "the Sabbath kept Israel." The same can be said for these Jewish Holy Days.

Bible Times Food


Given information, scripture, pictures, & actual samples of foods that were popular during Bible times the students will be able to describe and discuss these foods.
Resources: A Biblical Garden by Carol Lerner (book from our public library)

Lesson Plan


How many of you have wondered about foods that people ate during Bible times? What are some of the foods that were popular?
How do we know this? (The Bible refers to many of the foods)
Today we are going to learn about various foods that were popular during Bible times. We will read scripture that tells about this food and even sample the foods.
We are going to create "A Biblical Garden" (have the words written artistically on a large sheet of paper for a mural heading)


Pass a colored picture of a lentil plant around (color copied from the book A Biblical Garden) -tape onto the wall near your heading "A Biblical Garden."
Put each fact on a strip of paper (I used a larger font & printed them on a colored piece of paper - one color for each plant.)
Pass a strip to each student (some students will get 2)
Go around the room & have each student read their fact. (You may want to have a short discussion on points that are of particular interest.)
After each student reads his fact have him tape it on the wall, near the picture.
After all the facts are read & discussed for lentils pass around a bowl of cooked lentils for each student to taste.
Pomegranate: Repeat process
Caper: Repeat process
Barley: Repeat process
Almond: Repeat process
Date Palm: Repeat process
Grape: Repeat process
Olive: Repeat process
Fig: Repeat process

Summary: (5 minutes)
As you can see, we now have "A Biblical Garden."
Go around the room & ask each student to tell what food they liked best & one interesting fact that they learned today.

Genesis 25:32-34 "Look, I'm dying of starvation!" said Esau. "What good is my birthright to me now?" So Jacob insisted, "Well then, swear to me right now that it is mine." So Esau swore an oath, thereby selling all his rights as the firstborn to his younger brother. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew. Esau ate and drank and went on about his business indifferent to the fact that he had given up his birthright.

  • The lentil is one of the very oldest plants to be cultivated for food.
  • Its white flowers develop into small pods, each containing one or two lentil seeds.
  • These seeds were eaten in a stew or used to make heavy bread.
  • Lentils can grow in inferior soil and were an inexpensive food, popular with people.
  • Esau traded his birthright for a very commonplace meal.

Pass around picture
Give each student a sample of lentils

Exodus 28:33 Make pomegranates out of blue, purple, scarlet yarn and attach them to the hem of the robe, with gold bells between them.
Deut. 8:7-10 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with springs that gush forth in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley, of grapevines, fig trees, pomegranates, olives, and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking.
1 Kings 7:20 Each capital on the two pillars had 200 pomegranates in two rows around them, beside the rounded surface next to the latticework.

  • Wandering through the desert, the Jews were encouraged by anticipation of the Promised Land. Pomegranates, they were told, were among the fruits of this good land that awaited them.
  • The plant usually grows as a small tree and has long been cultivated in warm climates for its fruits.
  • The fruit is the size of an orange with a thin dry rind. Inside are many red seeds each surrounded by a juicy pulp.
  • The form of the plant decorated the priestly robes, and sculptured pomegranates appeared on the pillars of the first Temple.

Pass around picture
Give each student a sample of a pomegranate

Ecclesiastes 12:5 ....and the caper fruit shall fail; for man goes to his grave, and the mourners go about the streets.

  • Eating the buds and young fruit was thought to stimulate appetite and the sense of taste. The verse speaks of old age as a time when the caper plant no longer has this effect.
  • The caper plant is a low, sprawling shrub that can grow in difficult places- on walls and in dry, rocky valleys.
  • Each large white flower blooms for just a single night.
  • The green buds are gathered to be pickled and served as a flavoring for meat.

Pass around picture.
Have each student taste a caper.

Exodus 9: 31-32 All the flax and barley were destroyed because the barley was ripe and the flax was in bloom. But the wheat and the spelt were not destroyed because they had not yet sprouted from the ground.
Ruth 2:23 So Ruth worked alongside the women in Boaz's fields and gathered grain with them until the end of the barley harvest. Then she worked with them through the wheat harvest, too. But all the while she lived with her mother-in-law.

Judges 15:5 When Samson had set the torches on fire, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistine, and burned up both the shocks and the standing grain, as well as the vineyards and olive groves.

  • Barley and wheat together were the basic food grains for the people of the Bible.
  • Barley may have been the first cereal to be cultivated for food.
  • It can be grown in poorer soils and doesn't need as much rainfall as wheat.
  • It is cheaper to grow than wheat, so it was eaten by the poor and fed to horses and cattle.
  • Barley ripens and is harvested several weeks before wheat.
  • The hailstorm in Exodus came after the heads of grain (ears) had already developed on the barley and the seed capsules (bolls) on the flax. The wheat plants were still so young that the grains had not yet formed. The plant known as spelt is an inferior kind of wheat and was planted around the boarders of wheat and barley fields.
  • Barley was probably the "standing corn" of the Philistine, which Samson set alight.

Pass around the picture.
Give each student a sample of barley.

Jeremiah 1: 11-12 The word of the Lord came to me, saying, "What do you see, Jeremiah?" And I said, "I see a branch of an almond tree." The Lord said to me, "You have seen well, for I am watchful to carry out My word."

  • The almond blooms very early and is a symbol of the spring to come. In Israel, the pink and white blossoms burst open in February and March, but the leaves develop only after the tree has flowered.
  • Almond trees grow in the wild and also in orchards.
  • The nut we eat is the seed of the fruit. It develops inside a velvety covering, enclosed by a hard shell.
  • The Hebrew word for almond also means "to be watchful" or "to be wakeful," and the passage from Jeremiah plays on this second meaning of the word.

Pass around the picture.
Give each student an almond.

Psalms 92:13, 15 The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree... They shall still be vigorous in old age, full of sap and luxuriant leaves.

  • A date palm growing by itself will not produce fruit, because the flowers that develop into fruits (female) and the flowers that make pollen (male) grow on separate trees.
  • Pass around picture. In the picture, a cluster of female flowers is shown. The brown sheath that covered the growing cluster has split open, and now the flowers are exposed. They are very small, arranged along twiggy stalks.
  • After it is pollinated, each flower develops into a single date fruit.
  • The fruits from one of these clusters weigh from ten to forty pounds, and eight to twelve such clusters may be produced by a healthy tree.
  • Date palms live and continue to bear fruit for over one hundred years.

Have each student try a date.

Psalms 80:9 You removed a vine from Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.
Genesis 9:20 After the Flood, Noah became a farmer and planted a vineyard.
Isaiah 18:5 Before the harvest, when the blossom is gone and the flower becomes a ripening grape, he will cut off the shoots with pruning knives, and cut down and take away the branches.
Isaiah 1:8 Jerusalem stands abandoned like a watchman's shelter in a vineyard or field after the harvest is over.
Read Matthew 21:33-46

  • Bread and wine hold a central place in the religious rituals of the Western world, and the culture of grapes may be as ancient as growing of grains.
  • When the floods leave the earth and Noah makes his vineyard, the grape becomes the first plant whose cultivation is mentioned in the Bible.
  • Grapes were eaten as fresh fruit, dried for raisins, and made into wine and vinegar.
  • The plant and its fruits are mentioned throughout the Bible. In the verse from Psalms, the vine becomes a symbol for the Jewish people themselves; elsewhere it signifies peace and prosperity.

Genesis 8:11 This time toward evening, the bird returned to him with a fresh olive leaf in its beak. Noah now knew that the water was gone.

  • Ever since the dove carried the olive leaf to Noah, this tree has been a symbol of peace.
  • The olive was perhaps the most important tree in the lives of biblical people. The fruits and their oil were used for food, and the oil was a fuel to burn in lamps.
  • Olive oil was usually the substance being used whenever the Bible speaks of "ointments" or "anointing" the body.
  • Olive trees were often grown on the higher slopes above the vineyards in the western part of Palestine.
  • Olives grow in shallow soil and are able to with stand long periods of drought, but they do not thrive in the long cold periods which can occur in southern Judah.
  • The olive harvest was the last major event of the agricultural year. It could be done in a more leisurely way than the grain or grape harvests because the fruit ripened slowly, and often lasted from mid September until the start of the rains in October.
  • Most olives were picked by hand although those on the higher branches would be shaken or beaten down.
  • Although they are slow to mature, olive trees can live for hundreds of years.
  • A good tree can produce 10 -15 gallons of oil each year.

Pass around picture.
Give each student a sample of an olive & olive oil.

Genesis 3:7 At that moment, their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they strung fig leaves together around their hips to cover themselves.
Mark 13:28f Now, learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its buds become tender and its leaves begin to sprout, you know without being told that summer is near.

  • The fig is the first plant to be mentioned in the Bible.
  • The many references to the fig tree throughout the Scriptures show its importance in biblical life.
  • Fresh or dried, figs were part of the daily diet of the people.
  • The fig was cultivated so early in human history that its origins are not known.
  • It is a small tree, 1 0 to 20 feet high.
  • The year's first figs begin to grow before the leaves unfold, but they are small and hard and not good to eat. A second crop ripens over the summer and provides edible figs.
  • Figs provided fruit in the early summer, they were seen as a sign that summer was coming. Mark 13-.28
  • Jesus used them as a symbol of the approach of God's judgment.
  • The shady fig tree was seen as a symbol of security.

Pass around picture.
Give each student a sample of a fig.

Bible Time Homes

This lesson focused on some of the aspects of life during Bible times. Each week, we measured and taped off an area on the floor that would represent the size of a typical dwelling in Bible times and all sat down in it (I'm thinking it was 5'X9', but I'm not sure--it was small!). I showed the students some pictures and gave them some facts and figures to help them understand what a typical low-to-average income family's house would be like. I posed some questions (like why would some of the houses have flat roofs, why did some people live in tents, etc.) and we discussed this. Most of the students were able to use common sense/logic to determine the answers. If not, we talked about the advantages/disadvantages etc., in order to figure out the answers. We talked about house size, building materials, furnishings, and who lived there (many generations under one roof).

Next we moved to a table, I gave each student a pencil and a piece of paper, and I asked them to fold the paper in half. I asked them to write "Now" on one half and "Then" on the other half. Then I would ask them to draw/sketch a picture of what their house looks like. Then on the other side they would draw a typical Bible time house. We continued on, comparing furnishings such as tables/eating places, light sources, etc.

After that exercise we made Mezuzahs and Phylacteries. (Not each group did both; I chose which one because there was not time to do both.) I explained what they mean/were used for. I had a brief description printed on a piece of paper for each to take home. For the Mezuzahs I had each student write the scripture that traditionally goes in the Mezuzah (which is kind of long, but I wanted them to have that experience and to really have to read the scripture). The students who made the Phylacteries could choose any meaningful Bible verse to insert into their project.

For the Mezuzahs I gave each student a small piece of paper to write the verse on, a pencil/pen, and a piece of poster board. Once they wrote the scripture they could crumple the paper to make it look ancient, etc., if they chose to, and then they rolled up the poster board, inserted the paper and we taped it shut. You could also use toilet paper or paper towel cardboard rolls for this--same effect.

For the Phylacteries I gave each student a small cardboard jewelry box. I had wrapped both parts of each box in newsprint-like paper with no writing on it. I also gave them a small piece of paper that would fit into the box once it was folded, a strip of cloth--from an old sheet--that would fit and tie around the student's head or upper arm, and markers. The compartment was traditionally leathery, so we colored the outside of the boxes to make them look that way.

Resource books showing pictures of Bible time homes, animals, crafts, dress, etc. were displayed on a table in the room and used in the discussion. A sheep fleece, an oil lamp from the Holy Land and several other artifacts were also on display. Information came from these books: IVP Handbook of Life in Bible Times by J.A. Thompson (pub. For Guideposts by InterVarsity Press, New York, 1986) and How People Lived by Dr. Anne Millard (pub. by Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, 1989)

A Rotation Set from Trinity Presbyterian Church, Mercer, PA, 
Design team: Karen Crooks, Midge Johnson, Jeanne and Joanna Wanchick, and Pamela Pope Courtney

A representative of reformatted this post to improve readability.

Last edited by Luanne Payne
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