Wall panel in the entrance to synagogue.

Entering with a New Set of Eyes
by Ann Armon, Hebrew/Judaics, Kindergarten LanderGrinspoon Academy: The Solomon Schechter Day School of the Pioneer Valley

As the Gan Yeladim was returning from our annual high holiday visit to B’nai Israel to experience the Beit K’nesset, I took in the foyer with a new set of eyes!
  Emmett Leader’s installation transformed that hallway from a cold institutional place one wanted to scurry past, into a place to linger and enjoy. I needed to gather the kindergarteners and re-group before returning back to class. I asked the yeladim (children) what they saw in the panels. They were so excited to notice all the animals and familiar symbols hidden in the work! It was such a great opportunity to extend our time at the shul and to soak up Yiddishkeit a little deeper before resuming the routines of our day.
  After that experience, I wanted to see what it would be like to experience those panels a bit more formally with the first-graders. Although these children had been to B’nai Israel as kindergarteners, their families were not members of the congregation and I realized they had probably not seen Emmett’s installation.
  “I had planned to have them quietly observe at first for a few minutes before making comments. No way! They were so excited and had so much to say that I could not bear to contain them. The children immediately responded to the medium, they were thrilled that it was clay and wood, and by the colors, “they make me feel peaceful!” The first graders loved searching out the animals and kept mentioning that the art made them feel holy like Shabbat.
  After their first round of responses I divided them into sub-groupings to focus on different panels in order to encourage more specific responses. The children loved the section with the dove cotes and spoke about how the doves are bringing us peace and how we need to give them a home so that they can keep making peace in the world.
  Of the Torah, a student said that it stores Shabbat and holiness and of the antelope in the corner, many expressed how much they loved it and how peaceful and special it made them feel. One girl, exclaimed that it (the art work) made her feel very special and holy as a Jew. One boy was so enthusiastic about the pieces that it was very hard for others to get a chance to speak because one thought flowed into another. His comments kept deepening the longer we communed with the work until he finally exclaimed, “Look at that dove cote up in the sky! That's where God can peak through and see us and send down peace to us!”
  I had intended to spend ten minutes with the children responding to the art, but they were so swept up in the work that it quickly turned into half an hour. I used the panel with the horse and wagon full of chickens as a springboard to briefly squeeze in a little information about Emmett Leader's love of the Eastern European Jewish world, mentioning that was where most of our great grandparents came from and how Emmett’s art links us with our ancestors.
  It has been so sweet to accept Emmett’s work’s invitation to slow down, linger, soak up the beauty of those stories, and to join them together with our impressions, to form new strands.
  We are so fortunate at Schechter to have this work next door. I can only imagine what the older students who immerse themselves in that culture as part of their curriculum, will experience in those images.