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September 21, 2014 | 26th Elul 5774

The Battle of Yodfat

November 3, 2002
Marc Rosenstein

7:00 I arrive at Yodfat and make a number of trips carrying art supplies, costumes, bows and arrows, etc. from the parking area up to the top of the plateau, where the activities will take place. It is about a ten minute climb, not particularly steep. It is going to be a beautiful, warm day.

8:00 The rest of the staff arrives, and we put on our Roman tunics and discuss last minute arrangements. Each student will be given an identity card describing a personality from first century Yodfat -- this will be his/her role for the morning; the personalities all belong to one of five categories, identified by symbol on a large sticker worn by each student: warriors, mothers, youth, disabled/infirm, and communal leaders. Each of the four classes will move through four stations:

  • the city council, deciding on a response to the Roman ultimatum
  • the cistern: measuring a cistern, calculating the water supply, deciding how to distribute it when there is not enough; drawing water out of a working cistern and transporting it via pitchers and cups.
  • trapped in a cave: looking for help in classical texts when faced with the dilemma of surrender or death
  • war games: archery, catapult assembly and testing, planning tactics

8:30 The school buses arrive, right on time, and disgorge 120 seventh graders. Each of us leads a class to our station.

8:50 I arrive at my station with my first class, 15 learning disabled kids with two teachers. I seat them on the stairs of the cistern, explain the day, distribute their identity cards and ask them to tell the group about their characters. Most of them are not impressed; some make it clear that they will refuse to cooperate with the "game." The teachers are energetic and involved, coaxing, encouraging, scolding, trying to get the kids to get with the program. I present the problem facing us: do we surrender to Vespasian, or do we stand siege against the odds? There is some discussion -- there are indeed some strong opinions. As planned, L., an actress who has prepared all the arguments for resistance, "comes late to the meeting" and joins the discussion, making impassioned pleas in support of going to war. The majority votes with her, and we move on to work in small groups: preparing a response to Vespasian, preparing flyers to call the surrounding village to arms, and making flags. The teachers and L. and I move from group to group, keeping kids on task, discouraging horseplay. The teachers are active and enthusiastic -- working hard and serving as role models as they do so. When it is time to move on they thank me profusely.

9:40 My second class arrives, 35 kids with two teachers. I have to wait about 3 minutes while one of the teachers gives a slightly tiresome introduction, reminding the kids about the historical situation, and reminding them to take notes (!) The students are enthusiastic to share their characters -- they clearly are enjoying playing with identities. There is a good discussion of the dilemma, and L.'s surprise entrance has the desired effect. The teachers are active in encouraging kids to speak up -- and to listen to each other. When we break to work on flags, flyers, etc., one of the teachers circulates with L. and me among the groups, keeping kids on task.

10:40 My third class. The discussion goes well. The teachers stay just outside the entrance, talking to each other, photographing, talking on their cell phones. L. and I have our hands full during the activity part, and I ask the teachers to join us, but they respond that the kids seem to be working well -- why intervene?

11:30 My fourth class arrives. They are still pretty excited from a water distribution relay race they have just played, and their teacher looks like it has been a long day. The discussion is difficult, but it goes. The activities degenerate into chaos. The teacher keeps her distance -- either overwhelmed or afraid she will be. I can see that urging her intervention will not be useful. She, L., and I are all relieved when it is time to head for the buses.

12:15 Our staff gathers for a brief post-mortem. All in all, a success. The kids were cute, age-appropriate, and seemed to "get it." But the teachers, oy, the teachers...

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