Rosh Hashana was approaching, and I had a Jewish student as my student of the week. I told him to bring something that represented his holiday, and he came in with challah bread. He did a good job explaining that it represented the mana God provided for His people while they were in the desert.
I had never tried challah bread and didn’t know what to expect so I gave out tiny pieces. They loved the bread so I started giving big pieces. Some of the Christian children said I was like the preacher passing out bread on communion Sunday. I’ve been called worse.
They had fun trying to pronounce the word. According to our expert, it was like holla (as in “holla and tell your brother to hurry up”) but with a throaty sound at the beginning. They all agreed they would “holla” for more challah. They gobbled up two big braided loaves.
My quiet Jewish student was not only the student of the week. He was the star of the day.
He gave a sweet explanation of what Rosh Hashana meant to him, and I had a summary on the board. I was about to move on when one of the Christian students with a mouth full of challah bread saw the name Moses on the board. His hand shot up.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Moses? Are they talking about my Moses?” I asked him what he meant by his Moses. He wasn’t shy to elaborate. “The one I’ve been learning about my whole life. The one in the Bible. Ten Commandments, parting the sea. You know, Moses.”
The Jewish kid explained that he, too, had been learning about Moses his whole life. My Muslim student asked if they were talking about the same Moses he studied. Classroom confusion set in.
I’m no religion scholar, but I did my best to offer clarification.
What started out as a way to give a student a chance to shine, turned in to a beautiful lesson for social studies and for life. We learned about differences and similarities. Every minute of the discussion was respectful. That was many, many years ago.
I don’t know that I could have the same discussion in my classroom today. That worries me. The world has gotten polarized with everyone holding on so tightly to what they believe that they don’t even want to hear about a different way. On that day, in my little classroom, in my little corner of the world, we were tolerant and respectful.
The mother of the Jewish child said after that presentation, when friends came over they all asked for challah bread. The bread served as a good conversation starter about religion. One student whose family didn’t worship in any way told me they started buying challah bread at Publix because it made excellent sandwiches.
The challah story happened in the fall. The spring found us studying the early settlers. When we learned about the Pilgrims and the Puritans and their desire for religious freedom, I had the perfect real-life example. Thanks to the sacrifices of many, we live in a country where challah bread might be deeply meaningful or it might just make a good sandwich.
I love that we live in a country where we each get to decide for ourselves.