Individual people can be windows into a culture. Here are a few Jewish artists and activities that are fun, kid-friendly, and encapsulate a unique piece of Jewish history and life.
Barbra Streisand and Fanny Brice –Jewish Beauty!
Streisand was born in 1942 in Brooklyn, New York, to a Jewish family. Her father died when she was only a year old, and the family fell into poverty. She went to the Jewish Orthodox Yeshiva of Brooklyn and performed at the age of 7. In her teens she sang in night clubs and soon made it to Broadway. Streisand became enormously successful as a singer, actress, writer, film producer and director, defying gender roles and concepts of beauty. She is one of the few entertainers to have won an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Award.
Vocab: Immigration, Ethnicity, Brooklyn, Yeshiva, Metaphor (Don’t Rain on my Parade!), Zigfeld Follies
- Looks, Rejection and Talent
- Watch video first: I’m the greatest star on YouTube. It’s from the movie Funny Girl. What do you see? What is she saying? What do you think going to happen? Read through the lyrics (they’re on the youtube site.) Discuss: Feeling rejected or not wanted. Building up a tough skin. Have you ever experienced that in your life? Tell your kids a story of rejection and how you dealt with it. Allow them to tell their own story, or write it down.
- Discuss: What do you consider beautiful? All people are beautiful, but ideas of beauty can change like fashion. Many American Jews didn’t have an icon of “beauty” or didn’t fit into traditional ideas of good looks. Barbra Streisand broke the mold!
- Compare to Fanny Brice, a Jewish comedienne from the early 20th century, who inspired the play Funny Girl and Streisand’s character. How do their voices sound different?
- Family Movie Night: Watch Yentl
The Marx Brothers –Shtick!
The Marx Brothers were actual brothers: Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo, and Zeppo. They were born to a poor, artistic, Jewish immigrant family in New York City. The family performed together in various ways, eventually falling into comedy. In World War I, the family tried to conceal their German origins. By the 1920s they were favorites on the American stage, known for improvisation, being quirky, and making fun of class. They soon moved to Hollywood as talking films took hold.
Vocab: Vaudeville, New York, Broadway, improvisation, World War I, Hollywood, talkies.
- The Mirror Game
- Watch this video of Groucho and Harpo in the Mirror Scene. Teach your kid how to play the mirror game. First A is the leader and B has to follow. You cannot touch the other person. Then B is the leader and A has to follow. Now, try to do it so that no one is leading and no one is following and see what happens! Make your own glasses out of pipe cleaners and a mustache and eyebrows with black felt and glue dots. Do your best Groucho imitation. Play the mirror game in costume. This game is good for learning to pay attention and work with a partner.
- Family Movie Night: Watch Duck Soup
Emma Lazarus –Poetry and Justice!
Lazarus was born in 1849 to a wealthy, Sephardic Jewish family. She was a poet and a member of New York’s German-speaking Jewish elite. Jewish immigrants poured into New York to escape persecution in Eastern Europe, and Emma was moved by their plight. She thought everyone deserved refuge. The Statue of Liberty committee picked her poem, “The New Colossus” to appear on the statue of Liberty for its message: “Give you me your tired, your poor/your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” She also became a Zionist before the word Zionism existed, and corresponded with Ralph Waldo Emerson until she died at the young age of 38.
Vocab: Zionism, poetry, Sephardic Jewry, The Statue of Liberty, Colossus, Emmerson, elite, pogroms, Eastern Europe, Freedom.
- The New Colossus
- Read through the poem. What is Lazarus saying? Who is the statue for? Write your own poem for the statue of liberty. What would you want to say to new people coming into the country?
- Print out and fill in the Emma Lazarus Coloring Book.
Marc Chagall — Surrealism and homeland!
Chagall was an artist born in Belarus in 1887. He was the oldest of 9 kids and was raised in a Jewish home. He had a happy childhood and he painted about it for his whole life. He learned about art in Russia as a boy. He became a French citizen, but lived in the U.S. during the Nazi occupation. He is known for his Bible prints, stained glass and surrealist works with Jewish themes.
Vocab: Stained-glass, Modernism, Surrealism, Belarus/Russia, Shtetls
- Stained Glass
- What is stained glass? Look at some of Chagall’s stained glass work. Make “stained glass” in his style using contact paper and tissue paper. Cut small pieces of tissue paper and place on the contact paper to hang and cut. Include a cut out of a Chagall animal head or character, traced.
- Additional stained glass ideas here.
Chana Orloff – Famous Faces!
Orloff was a sculptor born in 1888 in Ukraine. After suffering through pogroms, her family moved to Palestine in 1905. She worked as a cutter and seamstress, and moved to Paris to become a professional. However, it was in France where she fell in love with art (she was friends with Chagall). Many of her sculptures were destroyed during the Nazi occupation. She is known for working with wood, and for sculpting famous people.
Vocab: Ukraine, Pogrom, Palestine, British Mandate, Sculpture.
- Playing with sculpture
- Define sculpture. Go on a hunt for potential sculptures in your house. Which is your favorite? What makes it a sculpture? How many did you find?
- Using playdough, see if you can make a face. What famous person would you want to sculpt?
Naomi Shemer – Music and Israel!
Shemer was born in 1930 in Kvuzat Kinneret. She was musical from a very young age, becoming a song leader on Kibbutz and then moved to Tel Aviv. She wrote a musical and composed songs for the IDF. Her songs often evoke the landscapes of Israel and her childhood. She was famous for her song “Jerusalem of Gold”, which became an anthem during the 1967 Six-Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem. Later she wrote Lu Yehi about the Yom Kippur War. The tune was inspired by the Beatles’ Let it Be.
Vocab: Kibbutz, Zionism, Jerusalem, Israel, Kibbutz, IDF, 1967 Six Day War, Yom Kippur War.
- Images from Jerusalem
- Listen to Yerushalayim shel Zahav. Read through the English of the song.
- Ask: What are some of the Images? Make a list. (Mountain air, wine, pines, twilight, bells, tree, wall, gold, bronze, light, violin, cistern, market, Old City, Temple Mount, caves, Dead Sea, Jericho, crown, poet, scorched lips, angels). Write JERUSALEM in the center of a piece of paper and pick 5 images or colors to draw around the name, that you pulled from Shemer’s song.
- Geography addition: Look on a map and point to all of the places listed.
- Family Music: Listen to Naomi Shemer songs in the car on the way to school.
Leonard Bernstein – The American Composer!
Louis Bernstein was born in 1918 in Massachusetts to Polish Jewish parents. He was musical from a young age, although his father initially discouraged the pursuit of the art. Bernstein attended Harvard and studied with other major musicians. He later went the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. From there he moved to New York and began a lifelong career as a composer and conductor. His career began to blossom after World War II. He conducted in Israel in 1947, and returned many times thereafter. He was also a noted philanthropist and public speaker, and a major influence on orchestral music, best known for his musical West Side Story.
- Words inspired
- Write a poem inspired by a Bernstein composition. To inspire poem: Give one word answers. How does this music make you feel? If this music were food, what would it taste like? If it were a painting, what would it look like? What colors would you use? If you could touch it, how would it feel? String the words and thoughts together into a class poem, or have them write one individually.
- To get on your feet: Freeze Dance!
- Family Music: Listen to Leonard Bernstein music in the car on the way to school!
*Note, Yiddish Theater is excluded here. To come in the spring!