Once a week, we Christians take our children, stick them in a room, sit them in chairs, tell them to be quiet, and teach them the Bible. I'm not knocking it; that's how I learned my Bible -- in cramped, windowless basement rooms with cold, cement floors, pastel colored walls and a flannel board with cutouts of biblical men (generally men, not women). But it stuck, and now I teach Bible at a college and love it. For most of us, however, Sunday school doesn't provide great memories.
Oh to be Jewish! How does a Jewish kid learn the Hebrew alphabet? She eats it. Traditionally, a teacher places a piece of candy on each of the Hebrew letters. When she masters a letter, she eats the candy. Why? Because Torah is sweet, "sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb" (Psalm 19:10).
Now that's how memories are made. Eat the letter! Eat the story! Eat the book! On Passover, Jewish kids munch on a concoction of fruits and nuts called haroseth to remind them of the mortar the Israelite slaves used to build pyramids in Egypt. On Hanukkah, they eat donuts and foods fried in oil to remember the miracle of the Maccabean Rebellion, when the Jews restored the temple from desecration. The Jews had only enough oil for a day, but the menorah burned miraculously for eight days. And on Purim, Jewish kids eat hamantaschen, triangular shaped cookies with sweet things, like jelly or chocolate, in the middle to remind them of the three-cornered hat of evil Haman, who tried to exterminate the Jews in the days of Esther.
At the very heart of Judaism lies the Shema, which commands Jews to teach their kids the truth that God is one. "Recite them to you children," says the Shema, "and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise" (Deuteronomy 6:7).
Not just in a Sunday School room. Not just in a church sanctuary. Talk about God in the car or, better yet, the kitchen, with friends and family, as you make Haman cookies or fried donuts or haroseth. Make learning familial. Make learning friendly. Make learning fun.
When it's time for Purim, for example, throw a party! Learn about Esther's role in God's great liberation of the Jews.
- Bake some hamantaschen, Haman pockets. They're easy to make. Then devour them angrily, hungrily, until there's nothing of Haman's horrible hat left.
- Make a scroll with dowels and parchment. Illustrate it with episodes from the life of Esther. This biblical book is one of five traditional scrolls, or megilloth, read at Jewish holidays. (The others are Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, and Ecclesiastes.)
- Write Haman on the bottom of your shoes so that, when his name is heard as the story of Esther is read, you can stomp on the ground and blot the sound of his name from our memory.
- Make homemade groggers, noisemakers with dried lentil beans and paper plates folded over and stapled. Decorate them with sparkles and markers. Shake them every time you hear Haman's name. Scream and shake and stomp it out of existence!
- Have a beauty contest (males and females both) to remember the courage of Queen Vashti, who refused to parade herself in front of the king, and Esther, whose beauty led to the liberation of Israel.
You can, too. Purim this year takes place this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 23-24. All the recipes, games and videos you need are at www.chabad.org. I dare you. Throw a Purim party for Lent. Then post your photos on Facebook. In fact, I've posted a few photos on Facebook from my Bible class at Seattle Pacific University. I make sure my students end just about every week of term by celebrating a Jewish holiday. We're mostly Protestants, so we're not so good at it; but we have fun, and we learn about Jewish history -- our shared history -- by laughing, eating, dancing and praying, sometimes in botched Hebrew. I dare you. Throw a Purim party. Eat the book.