Ikar ("essence") is the central institution of Midrasha. Every Sunday, teens gather to learn and socialize. Each Ikar Sunday, Midrashaniks take a "core" class (grade level) and one elective.
Forming the foundations of our curriculum, core classes challenge our teens with the most relevant issues and topics for their age group and provide a space to connect with their cohort.
"Core made me feel more Jewish."
- Current Midrasha Teen
8th Grade: Ethics in Action
with Jenn Levine
How do you decide what is the right thing? Does it matter if you lie, cheat or steal? Is there a better way to treat your dog, your parent, your friend or a stranger? In this class our Jewish tradition and Jewish peer group will help us think about personal and profound ethical issues.
9th Grade: Identity - Challenging Who We Are
with Asher Litschwartz
What does it mean to be part of a living religion? Who am I? What do I believe? How do I fit into my family, my community, and my culture? How does the way I think about myself change the way I respond to the world? We will think about these questions and more with text study, intense conversation, and games. Come hang with friends, de-stress from high school and explore issues of personal and Jewish identity.
10th & 11th Grade: Jewish Peoples and Places
with Noa Grayevsky
In this class, we will ask ourselves what Jewish peoplehood means and explore different ways Jewish peoplehood is experienced and created. Some aspects of Jewish peoplehood we will explore include values, folklore, languages, food, fashion, customs, relationship to land and place, activism and nationalism. Finally, we will learn about examples of Jewish communities in different parts of the world and in different times in history, exploring what draws and drew these people together into a community and a shared sense of their belonging to one another.
12th Grade: Ma'avar - Transitioning to Jewish Adulthood
with Hannah Lesser
What is "adulting" all about? Before we send you out into the world, Midrasha is going to support each senior in acquiring the skills to swim the butterfly (or at least a solid breaststroke) through the sometimes tumultuous waters of Jewish adulthood. From navigating Jewish communities to taxes to nutrition, applying for jobs, navigating relationships and lots more in-between this will be the capstone to your Midrasha experience. We will explore this skill-gathering through a Jewish lens, with kvetching and kvelling, and seniors will complete the year with tangible skills to support them in their transition into life after high school.
Every semester teens are offered a new slate of elective classes, running the gamut of potential interests. Electives are designed to offer access to the relevance of Jewish life in modes as diverse as our community. Midrasha has offered Jewish classes on food, drama, talmud, music, social justice, storytelling, kabbalah, sexuality, pop culture, art, midrash, race, movies, philosophy, meditation, fitness and on and on...
Games x Jews
with Asher Litschwartz
Have you ever wanted to make your own game? Do you like to play competitive card games and where thinking, "hey i could make one?" Well then this is the class for you. In this elective we will be talking about game design and how good games often draw on Jewish values. We will be designing our own Jewish games and playing them. I have no poker face when I say I am so excited to see you all there.
Pirkei Avot and Social Justice
Awaken the Ethics of our Ancestors through Action!
with Hannah Lesser
"It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but neither are you free to desist from it." - Rabbi Tarfon, Pirke Avot 2:21
Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers, or Ethics of the Ancestors) is a book that compiles the sayings of our Jewish sages from two thousand years ago. There is a lot of good stuff in there that can help us be better people. We will learn the teachings of Pirkei Avot and put them into action through direct-action projects determined by the class. If you've been craving deep reflective conversation while doodling and space to do good in the world, this elective is for you.
Judaism and Queerness
with Noa Grayevsky
We will explore (almost) all things Jewish and Queer in this elective! We will learn about transgender rabbis rewriting Jewish practice to make gender transition holy and revel in Jewish drag queens' brilliance. We will read zines by trans Jews and explore the six genders in classical Judaism (that's right - six genders, not two!) We will meet some really rad queer Jewish activists doing badass things in Oakland today IRL and learn about some AMAZING Jewish queer people throughout history, including Emma Goldman, Harvey Milk, Leslie Feinberg and Claude Cahun. While Jewishness and queerness have been a contentious mix in some communities, Jewish queers make brilliance, and we will get to revel in and learn about some of this magic.
Songs and Psalms
with Jenn Levine
Do you like listening to music? Me too! Songs can help us express our own sadness, joy, anger, love… there is music for every feeling. In this class, participants will share music they love with each other and learn about how songs from today connect to the tradition of Jewish song that dates back literally thousands of years.
Some Past Classes
Improv and Pardes
Four people go to a PaRDeS (a vineyard) to practice their acting skills. One quits acting for good, another becomes so stunned with what they learned that they stop breathing and fall over, a different one pantomimes a ladder and climbs directly to the sky, and the last one quits acting and never practices again. In this class we will use the PaRDeS Torah studying method and classic improv techniques to say "yes and..." to each other and build scenes that will start at the literal and simple (the Peshat) and move all the way to the spiritual (Sod). I cannot wait to see you there.
Jewish Artists of the 20th Century
Are you interested in art? Do you want to learn about different styles? We will be learning about some of the most innovative Jewish artists of the 20th century using mediums such as photography, installations, painting, and performative arts. We will cover Jewish artists from all over the world. We'll be viewing and analyzing their fascinating and beautiful work and then get to try our hands at various projects in the different styles.
Torah for All
Torah belongs to us all, but is and has been kept from various groups of people in different times and places. Did you know that in the past, women weren’t even allowed to study Torah and in some places today women still can’t study Torah? Many oppressed groups, including queer people, disabled people and women are also not represented respectfully or fully in some parts of the Torah. At the same time, there are remarkably radical parts of the Torah - laws that undermine capitalism, women who resist violent dictatorships, disabled people who lead our people to freedom. In this elective we’re going to explore Torah together and have a fun time doing it. Ever wonder what the big deal is about this whole Torah book? Let’s read some of it together and discover what we think.
Are Judaism and sexuality in conflict with each other? Does Judaism teach us anything about sex or about gender? Can Judaism help us as we think about our own choices and values about sex, sexuality, gender, and relationships? In this class we’ll create a safe space to talk about sexual ethics and choices in a meaningful and personal way.
Jewish Dungeons & Dragons
Begin an epic quest for the kabbalistic treasures of the Baalei Shem, create your character, battle golems, and gain experience points. Jewish Dungeons and Dragons will delve into Jewish lore and history to create a new midrash where you control the characters . This elective is exactly what it sounds like -- a weekly Jewish role playing game session. No experience with Dungeons & Dragons or role playing necessary. Can't wait to see you there.
Making a Misheberach for Oneself: Resilience Workshop
To save a life is one of the most important mitzvot (commandments). When we say the misheberach (prayer for healing) we wish for a COMPLETE healing -- of body and of soul. In this elective we will co-create ritual together and make space to explore various activities to support our mental/emotional/spiritual health. Activities include working with clay, collage, writing poetry, yoga, spa treatments and your suggestion here! Throughout the course we will be inspired by Jewish values around caring for ourselves and will fill our tool kits with acts that feed our souls, increase resilience and heal what ails us.
Jewish Youth 4 Justice Now
As we watch our schools, city, country and world in crisis; as the environment is under attack, as white supremacy is on the rise, as immigrant children are taken from their parents and teenagers of color are murdered at BART stations, have you wanted to do something? In this elective we will learn about social, racial, economic and gender justice as Jewish youth, and take action together. We will explore the topics of racism, sexism, capitalism, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, and classism while also supporting local social justice struggles. If you want a place to get involved in activism and make a difference, while being a part of a loving and supportive group where your feelings and thoughts matter, this group is for you.
What Do I Believe - Discovering your personal life philosophy
How do you see the soul? What is your definition of justice? In this class, you'll have an opportunity to share and to learn from others philosophy, and answer questions like these and many more.
Turning Trash into Torah
This is a “non-art” class. Don’t try to make something beautiful. What we are going to do is to make thought visible. It can be an ugly blob. But what is its meaning for you?
Together with the text and everyday materials, we will embark on an inner journey to make G-d and the text visible. This is the class to be a child (childlike not childish), to allow the soul to play and make shapes that the rational mind may at first consider worthless. Once these forms find their voice they can become powerful personal metaphors resonating with our nature and help us to find a deep personal experience with the text.
Jewish Cooking Mesibah
"B'te'avon" is Hebrew for enjoy your meal (literally "good appetite"), "Mesibah" translates to party. Food, and the love we put into making it, is the ultimate source of nourishment. For those who want to brush up on their cooking skills, learn nutrition basics about Jewish food from around the world, and the biblical ingredients that are still key players in modern day nutrition, (not to mention have fun while enjoying the delicious fruits of our labor) this class is the place for you. Think Jewish food is limited to matza ball soup and bagels? Heck no! While delicious, there is so much more to eat in the Jewish world. You will come out of this class with an increased awareness of Sephardi and Mizrahi recipes, how to prepare delectable Purim, Passover + Shavuot treats and a full belly!
American Jewish Theology
Over the past century, American Jews have revolutionized how we think and speak about G-d. Come explore the writings and theologies of these American theologians as we closely read a range of philosophical and poetic texts. We try to understand how American democracy, spirituality, feminism, and Queerness are transforming how we experience God and older notions of divine power. Theologians we will study include Modechai Kaplan—the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism; Abraham Joshua Heschel—noted civil-rights activist; Zalman Schechter-Shalomi—the founder of Renewal Judaism; Rachel Adler—a feminist Jewish revolutionary; and Jay Michaelson—a Queer theologian. We will conclude the course by trying to develop our own theology.
Monsters, Midrash, and the Magid
Dive deep into oral tradition. Learn your own personal narrative style. Create stories in community and work to see how a folktale, midrash, or myth evolves over time with many tellers. Learn the myths of Lilith, the Golem, and other legendary Jewish creatures and how they are reflected in contemporary stories. This class will involve storytelling and will be taught using many modalities so even if writing is not your thing this class can still be for you.
Exploring Our Lives and Faith Through Daily Readings
Using daily meditations, reminders, and prayers such as those from Sacred Intentions and Restful Reflections, we will explore topics relating to our Jewish faith and our daily lives. Through games, activities, stories and conversation, we will process the stories and prayers that we read from daily readers and leave Midrasha feeling strong and ready to take on the week's trials and challenges.
Jewish Perspectives on the Body
We often imagine that religion is more concerned with the soul than the body. One of the more unique elements of Judaism, however, is a deep care about the miracle and messiness of the human body. This seminar will explore Jewish perspectives on fitness, transsexuality, the soul/body divide, disabilities, health, gender, and other topics related to embodiment.
What is D-I-Y all about? What do Jews have to do with it?! From growing food to pickling to bread-making to book binding (and beyond!) we will practice awesome new skills while learning the Jewish roots and connections of each craft. In addition to the hands-on projects, you will come away with an understanding of different groups of Jews who have participated in self-sufficiency practices such as kibbutzim, Petaluma chicken farmers, and the Yiddish farm.