HOT TOPIC: Can we use the arts to reinforce and deepen the study of Bible?

Rebecca Shargel

Motivating Students to Learn Classical Texts: Teenagers making a film and creatively retelling a biblical story

In a Jewish high school classroom, pairs and trios of teenagers sit in small groups, pouring over three different Jewish texts. A young film-maker wearing a kippah challenged them: “You have been selected to turn a Jewish story into a movie. You have two minutes to pitch your idea for a short film to a movie director.  Here are three texts to choose from: two from Genesis and one from the Talmud. (These texts were Genesis chapters 11 and 37 and the oven of Akhnai story from the Talmud.) Read them together in your group and select one that you want to turn into a short movie. Discuss with each other how best to adapt this text into a film and then present your idea to the class. Afterwards everyone will vote on which idea to use for our film that we will complete this week for a school performance.” A trio of boys selected the text of Genesis 37, Joseph’s competition with his brothers. They adapted it to fit into a television reality show. Their idea was voted to be the film by the group.

The scenario above describes a week-long project at the Shoshana S. Cardin Jewish Community Day School in Baltimore. Between the second and third trimesters, they had a special Interim Week that focused on Jewish storytelling, using a variety of arts.  Prior to the week, students selected one medium from which they would tell a story; these included dance, fine art, and film-making. The aforementioned scenario described the film workshop. The teacher was a local film-maker who was a graduate of a Jewish day school.

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