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October 10, 2015 | 27th Tishrei 5776

Art and the Jewish Soul No 1, 5768

Al sh'loshah d'varim haolam omed:
Al haTorah, v'al ha-avodah, v'al g'milut chasadim.

The world depends on three things:
on Torah, on worship and on loving deeds.
- Pirkei Avot 1:2

This year each issue of V’shinantam will be written by Cantor Cheré Campell. Cantor Campbell grew up surrounded by art and artists; she paints for the enjoyment of it and frequently views art at museums and galleries. A central aspect of her work in Jewish education is collaborating with artists to use visual art as a vehicle for students to express the meaning they find in Judaism in a personal and creative way. Cantor Campbell was invested at HUC-JIR in New York, and holds degrees in psychology from Earlham College and in music from the University of California in San Diego. She has served at Temple Shalom in Colorado Springs, at The Village Temple in New York, and is currently the director of the religious school at Brooklyn Heights Synagogue. This series will focus on incorporating the arts into your Jewish classroom.

V’shinantam is organized around the three pillars of Torah, Avodah, and G’milut Chasadim. In the Torah section you will find an essay, in Avodah, applications for your classroom, and in G’milut Chasadim additional resources.

Creation of Artworks as a Bridge to the Self, a Bridge to the Spirit

There are a myriad of reasons why art should be an integral part of our curriculum. Parents are seeking community, meaning and relevancy in the synagogue and religious school for themselves and for their children. As teachers it is our challenge, indeed our imperative, to guide our students toward finding their own meaning in their Jewish experiences. To do this, the creative voice is essential. Self-expression through the arts gives our children an avenue to personalize the Judaic knowledge they are being taught. The arts guide our children to discover who they are. Using art in Jewish teaching allows their personal identity and Jewish identity to evolve together.

Being involved in the expressive arts helps develop a sense of self. Tired after a day of school, in the late afternoon when they need to run or to rest, students invited to use their imagination gain energy and a sense of connection to their own thoughts and feelings. Being at home with themselves also allows our students to forge their community, to become friends through the learning process. It is interesting for our students to know each others’ creative, personal interpretations or to collaborate on a project where each individual has a valued, unique perspective to bring.

The arts help students to sense the mystery and wonder of their heritage. When they are invited to participate in that heritage by expressing their own ideas, the students find their place in our rich Torah stories and midrashim. The pleasure of making or of seeing something beautiful is a great experience in itself. To link beauty and Judaism enriches both for our children. The arts are also fun; to make art is joyous. Students enjoy playing with the materials. They enjoy learning about new materials and trying them out. They need to know that the goal is participating in the artistic process, not making a perfect final product. Furthermore, if students are honestly and freely engaged in an artistic process, they will create better artwork that is a reflection of themselves.

Children grow from taking risks and from solving problems, essential aspects of the creative process. Art offers the opposite of the reductive experience of testing; it is enlarging and freeing. There is no right or wrong creation. If students experience art as play, children can jump into the experience happily and take the calculated risk it presents. Far from being grade-threatening, art is soul-enriching.

Using the arts in teaching isn’t about pedagogic or artistic skill, it is a question of philosophy. If we believe that Judaism remains vibrant and relevant through Jewish people creatively exploring and understanding our heritage and traditions, then we need the vehicle of art in our classrooms. A classroom that encourages creative self-expression is healthy and beneficial for all students (no matter their “artistic ability”) as well as for Judaism.

Getting Started

You do not need a fancy art closet to be quite effective in your art lessons. All art supplies come in a huge array of sizes, types and qualities. Here are some suggestions for beginning your art closet:


Flat brushes: Hardware stores carry flat brushes in 1-inch and 2-inch widths. These are easiest to use for young children ages 7 and under.

Round brushes: Start with size 32 for your youngest students. The least expensive are camel hair brushes. Synthetic brushes are good but can be more expensive.

You’ll want to have both kinds of brushes in a variety of sizes. As students grow, they can use finer, smaller brushes as well as the largest brushes. You can build a collection of gradually smaller brushes for your students.


Newsprint: Get a pad for drawing and dry materials. This lightweight paper comes in many sizes.

Shelf paper or “butcher” paper: They come in rolls and are good for painting and drawing murals. These papers have a shinier side and a duller side. The shiny side will hold paint better.

Photocopy paper: This paper works best for drawing and lettering with inks. You can use the least expensive, lightest weight.

Construction paper: Have a selection of colors and sizes.

Watercolor paper: The rougher finish makes this paper wonderful for painting because it grabs the paint and allows the colors to be richer and more varied in intensity than a smooth-surface paper would. It comes in many different weights and sizes (and price ranges). It can be saturated with water; it will hold its shape when wet.


Watercolors: Watercolor is transparent and washable. Pans of dry watercolor need to be started or activated by putting a drop of water on each pan and letting it soak in for five or ten minutes. Then the student can stir the paint with a brush and get a saturated color.

Tempera: Tempera paint is thick, opaque and washable. It comes in squeeze bottles ready to use or in powder form that must be mixed with water.

Liquid starch: Mix a little bit of starch with tempera to make finger paint.

Acrylic paints and oil-based paints: Avoid these. Acrylics are not washable, nor are oil-based which also have toxic fumes.

Aluminum foil: A roll is useful to make small plates to mix paints in

Glue: White glue can be diluted with water and applied with popsicle sticks or with foam
“brushes” or sponges for a different effect.


Charcoal: It comes in two shapes—“pressed charcoal” is thick pieces; “willow” or “vine” charcoal is thin long pieces. Both are fun to use and messy! Students can shade with it, blend it with their hands.

Chalk: Like charcoal, it can be blended, used in different thicknesses of line and applied with different pressures of the hand. Colors can be blended.

Drawing pencils: These are big, black and thick. Students can make expressive lines with them.

Crayons: They are tidy, colorful and expressive, as are colored pencils. Because crayons are of wax, they can be used with paint to create a neat effect. The crayon color will bounce through the paint, and the paint will adhere only to the areas not covered with crayon.

Using these media will encourage students to draw loosely, to use large, free movements with their hands and arms. Drawing is different from writing, and these tools will prompt the students to try different ways of marking on the paper than they use when writing. That is why I recommend these materials over #2 pencils and markers, which are much more limiting and better for writing.


Clay: This is the most responsive and least expensive sculpting material. Unlike metal or wood which already have shape, clay is formed entirely by the artist. It is made of earth, and therefore washable and non-toxic. You do not need a kiln; many air-drying clays are available, as are clays that can be baked in the oven. When dry, clay can be painted with water-based paints. Sculpey™ is polymer clay. It is colorful and useful for making very small sculptures or jewelry. It is baked in the oven after the piece is finished.

Found items: Use everyday items and arrange them as sculptures or join them with clay. Found items might be collected on nature walks or just from tidying the classroom!

Additional Resources

The following websites are great nationwide sources for art materials. site also includes information about the materials and demonstration videos.

Suggestions for further reading

For more articles on the philosophy behind Jewish art education, see Torah at the Center Vol. 10, No. 1on The Arts in Jewish Education.

A classic book that is about more than drawing, but will give you some basic skills for drawing and teaching art is Betty Edwards’ The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. A companion workbook is also available.

Check out The Soul of Education by Rachel Kessler, particularly chapter 6 on “Creativity.”

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