Pioneering spirits: A personalized history of our Jewish community
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Pioneering spirits: A personalized history of our Jewish community

grades:  High School (9-12) 

Lesson Summary:

In this activity, three multi-generational family or congregant groups rotate through stations facilitated by discussion leaders: one is a pictorial history of your own community, one is a dramatic reading of the Rebecca Samuel letter from Petersburg, VA in the 1790s, and one is the families’ retelling and recording of their own family histories onto a community timeline. Each group should spend 25-30 minutes at each station. You may need to ask parents, co-teachers, high school teaching assistants/madrichim (lit. “guides”), or other volunteers from the community to help lead the different stations. First we will outline these stations, and then provide some suggestions about openings and closings for this activity.

Enduring Understandings:

1. Jewish traditions and practices vary from community to community, and across time.
2. Jewish religious and cultural life is deeply connected to community.
3. Immigrants often make difficult sacrifices when they move in search of a better life.

Essential Questions:

1. What is the role of Jewish community in Jewish life?
2. How has the experience of being Jewish in America changed over time?
3. How does moving to a new place shape one s experience?

Be Inspired:The ideas included are offered as starting points as you and your students explore, discover and live the lessons. Be sure to elicit and encourage student and parent participation, consistently reinforcing the value being addressed. Allow lessons to authentically develop and change based on engagement and interests.

Lesson Plan Components

For the educatorJewish Thought, Text, and Traditionsmore

Jewish every dayIncorporate Jewish Valuesmore

Materials and resourcesmore


(documents available via link below in "procedure" section)

  • Images and primary source documents that portray the history of your congregation or community
  • costume for the actor/volunteer who plays Rebecca Samuel
  • 4x6" index cards
  • a long sheet of butcher paper
  • markers
  • tape 
OPTIONAL: Guest speakers to share about community s history or to speak about being new to the community, children s story about the life of an immigrant or your states history.

NOTE TO EDUCATOR: This lesson requires the advance set-up of three separate stations.


Explore, Discover, and More Extension and Reinforcement Activitiesmore

Music Connectionsmore

Evidence of Learningmore

• Participants will be able to explain why it was important for Rebecca Samuel to have a Jewish community in which to participate.
• Participants will be able to connect images from their community to shared communal ideas, values, and traditions.
• Participants will be able to list similarities and differences between the traditions in their communities and the one described in the text.
• Participants will be able to posit Rebecca Samuels feelings about their communal traditions based on information in her letter.


Lesson Contributors

The Jewish Women’s Archive is a national public history organization dedicated to telling the stories of Jewish women and inspiring change and inclusivity in communities everywhere. The collections and encyclopedia on invite learners of all ages to connect with role models from history and today. Nearly 100 lesson plans for kids, families, and adults help Jewish educators weave stories about identity and activism into programs about Jewish values, holidays, and ritual. And, JWA’s professional development programs and trainings encourage educators to connect with one another to create new ways of engaging the communities they serve. As we say at JWA, “You cannot be what you cannot see,” so check us out anytime, anywhere, at