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A Visual Exploration of Jewish Values: The Art of Jewish Youth

Tucson Hebrew Academy Student Artwork to be displayed in Green Valley Synagogue Gallery 

As a Jewish educator at a Jewish school, thoughts often swim in my head about how I am going to convey the importance of Judaism while accepting that all Jewish children who walk through our gates won’t graduate wanting to daven every morning. The role of Judaism in our lives has changed at least the practice. What hasn’t changed is our hyper-focus on values and living a Jewish life. Values. Values are the mainstay in our beliefs. They teach us how to act and think, how to consider the community and others, and how to engage in the world and have a positive impact.

At Tucson Hebrew Academy, in addition to teaching the practice of Judaism, there is a stress on the development and the strengthening of Values. Annatude is a program that was created to memorialize a wonderful member of our Jewish community who, even through her tough battle with cancer, still upheld these ideas of being human and living a good Jewish life. There are 10 identified values: Positivity, Kindness, Joy, Health, Gratitude, Compassion, Torah, Faith, Love and Teamwork. Every month, students at THA gather in the auditorium in their “Shabbat table” groups (1 student from each grade level) and learn about, discuss and act on one of these ideas.

Developing values takes practice, just like anything else. Practice doesn’t come from one 45-minute session, but through putting it into action and taking the time to reflect on how we demonstrate and live our values.

As a K-8 day school, we see a huge range of understanding in our students. I’m inspired to connect with these different ideas and levels of understanding in the Art Studio. The creation of art is often an expression of the way one lives a life or the way they wish life was. When we make art, it should be a true expression of what is happening on the inside. Well, when you are five, that doesn’t just naturally happen; their life choices and deep contemplations aren’t bouncing out of them and onto the page. They just aren’t there yet. They are, however, capable of thinking about how it feels when they choose to be positive or when they slip down the rabbit hole of throwing a fit. And so that’s where we start. We take art elements, like positive and negative shape, cut out a shape from a single piece of paper, and talk about what positive and negative mean. What does it mean in Art? How can we turn something from a negative into a positive? And we do that with words, and we do that with paint, turning our negative shapes into positives (while practicing thinking positively). In the Lower School, the focus is on learning what values are, what they mean and what they look like. Just like the elements of art, they are the building blocks for creating something beautiful.

In Upper School, while all pre-teens need reminders of values, there is a deeper understanding of how values play out in our lives. Older students can identify when they are upholding their values and when they are not, but usually only when asked to pause and reflect. Today, this age group lives in a world of celebrities and reality TV, where people post and say things without thinking beyond this moment. Kids are bombarded with flippant reactions, from world leaders and reality stars alike to large world problems. There is a disconnect between the values people proclaim they have and the actions that they demonstrate. And it is a slippery slope.

We are made up of our experiences, our ideals, and our actions. So, Upper School students created reflective self-portraits, which consider their most important values, which reflect on how they demonstrate those values (or don’t), which help identify that each person is made up of layers of choice and action and that all of it defines who you are and how you are perceived. Self-Portraiture often allows an artist to reflect on who they aspire to be, and through the creation, dwell on the path of getting there. 

This Fall, Beth Shalom synagogue in Green Valley has invited our students to display their work in a gallery show. The theme, A Visual Exploration of Jewish Values: The Art of Jewish Youth, will be hanging through December, with a bagel breakfast and art talk on December 3rd

Amy Pozez - THA Art Teacher

Amy Pozez is an Artist and an Art Educator. She has been teaching at The Tucson Hebrew Academy for six years and recognizes the importance of the understanding, the continuity, and the embodiment of Jewish values as well as community involvement. She teaches all students, Kindergarten through Eighth grade. 

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