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I Need a Hero

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

School is back in session and already the tension is mounting with the first of many projects already looming large. The first assignment?

Famous American Biography Assignment

Part 1
Read a biography of a famous American. The book must be at least 100 pgs. The subject must be someone who has made a significant contribution and is no longer living. Complete the Biography Notes worksheet thoroughly and neatly.

Part 2
Draw a portrait of the famous American and label with five adjectives describing him/her. Thoughtful consideration should go into choosing the adjectives and you must be able to give good reasons for your choices. This part will be done in class.

Part 3
Write a full page (minimum) tribute about this individual, including specific accomplishments, admirable personal qualities, obstacles overcome, etc. This tribute should be typed or written in your best cursive, and be free of grammatical and spelling errors.

Part 4
Give an oral presentation about the life of this famous American. Pretend you are the person you read about. Tell about “your” contributions, and about “your” life. You will need to rehearse at home and be very prepared. You will only have five minutes for your presentation.

Monday afternoon
Beernut hands me the instructions for this assignment and excitedly announced his choice for a famous American who had made a “significant contribution”: Sandy Koufax.

FrumeSarah: “Sandy Koufax? Really, Beernut? What did Sandy Koufax do?”
Beernut: “Mo-om! Everyone in the whole world knows that Sandy Koufax didn’t play on Yom Kippur.”

The poor kid has no idea that Sandy Koufax’s athletic accomplishments, such as the speed of his pitches, are what catapulted him to fame. It’s only within our community that he is known first and foremost for taking himself out of the lineup of Game 1 of the 1965 World Series.

Tuesday afternoon

FS: “Good news, Beernut. I’ve ordered a 106-page biography on Sandy Koufax and it will be here on Thursday.”
BN: “Uh Mom…I can’t do it on Sandy Koufax. He’s still alive.”
FS: “Are you sure? I really thought he’d died.”
BN: “Yep, I’m sure. Mr. Nakamura told me.”
FS: “It’s OK. We can come up with someone else.”
BN: “Mom, I’ve already done that. I’m going to do my report on…Louis Brandeis.”
FS: “Louis Brandeis?”
BN: “You know…the first Jewish Supreme Court judge.”
FS: “I. Know. Who. He. Is. But Beernut, where the hell did you learn about LOUIS BRANDEIS???”
BN (with eyes rolling):Religious school.”

Oh…right.

Wednesday afternoon
FS: “Bad news, Beernut. I can’t seem to find an age-appropriate book on Louis Brandeis. But I know we can come up with someone else. Hey…I have a book that I got as a Chanukah gift when I was just about your age and it’s about a fellow named Haym Solomon.”
BN: “Who was he?”
FS: “Well, he came to America when he was thirty-five years old and was instrumental in helping America gain her freedom from England.”
BN: “He wasn’t born here. He wasn’t American.”
FS: “I think that a good arguement could be made for him given there was no America at the time AND he was responsbile for getting the money the Colonists needed to pay for the war.”
BN: “I’m not sure. How about Papa? He fought in TWO wars.”
FS: “Yes, he did. But I’m not sure Mr. Nakamura would consider that a significant contribution given the thousands and thousands of young men who served in those times.”
BN: “How about King David? He’s definitely dead.”
FS: “He’s not American.”
BN: “Right.”
FS: “You know, Beernut, you don’t have to pick someone Jewish.”
BN: “Yeah, Mom, I do.”

And then I remembered. Remembered what it was like to sit through history classes as a youngster and wonder where I fit into the story. Learning about California state history was like studying a foreign country. My family was still in the shtetls of Eastern Europe. They weren’t anywhere near the El Camino Real, which runs from San Diego up to Sonoma. So to do a report on someone like Levi Strauss writes us back into the story.

For children of ethnic, religious, and cultural minorities, pointing to heroes that look, sound, and act like them is empowering. It send the message of inclusion and belonging. And it sends the message that they too can make significant contributions to our world.

Incidentally, anyone know how Mr. Koufax’s health is these days??

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. Wednesday, 15 September 2010 11:49 pm

    Beautiful and moving story. Nice to see that Beernut has such a strong Jewish identity.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Thursday, 16 September 2010 11:59 pm

      Thanks. I imagine that it is a similar feeling, attending school in France as a religious minority.

      • Friday, 17 September 2010 4:28 am

        Or teaching in France as a religious minority! 🙂

  2. Thursday, 16 September 2010 12:23 am

    His health is excellent, Sandy that is.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Friday, 17 September 2010 12:00 am

      He should live and be well.

      Of course, the Koufax biography arrived today…as promised. I’ll keep it for a future assignment.

  3. Thursday, 16 September 2010 1:35 am

    very nice story! actually, all his teacher want from him -is to read information and to be able to work with this information-thats it. but it is very nice that your kid want his hero to be jewish)

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Friday, 17 September 2010 12:02 am

      I thought so too! He has been raised in a vibrant Jewish home. But there is no pressure for him to narrow his scope only to Jews. So I was thrilled when he expressed his own desire to seek out a famous American Jew.

      Thanks for reading AND commenting!

  4. Thursday, 16 September 2010 5:53 am

    As a fellow product of the California Public School System – I totally relate. Though when I had to do that product, I did it on President Lincoln.
    I think if I had to do it now it would be someone like Gloria Steinem – a vibrant Jewish Feminist. (I’m sure this surprises you 😉 )

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Friday, 17 September 2010 12:06 am

      Doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. No term should be hijacked by one particular approach. Feminism should be open to all women who choose to assert their rights to be women in their own ways. Sadly, this is rarely the case.

      Along the same lines, I find it frustrating that the term “Reform” has come to mean “know nothing, do nothing” when in fact that is in complete opposition to the movement’s founders. I am living proof that Reform can mean observant, yet embracing modernity.

      Of course, that leaves me without a like-minded community…

      • Friday, 17 September 2010 8:33 am

        I feel the same way about the CM. There is a post coming on that on my blog though (b’li neder), so I won’t weight down your comments with my tirade.

  5. Thursday, 16 September 2010 6:56 am

    Beernut was 100% right in rejecting Haym Solomon. Definitely not American. You were 100% right in rejecting papa, though I’m surprised you didn’t mention that he isn’t qualified because he’s not dead.

    When I was first reading through, and before I got to part 4, I was thinking Helen Keller. She is a fantastic subject for things like that not least because her story is really engaging.

    What about Milton Berle though there probably wouldn’t be a kid’s book about him. But there would be one on Jonas Salk!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Friday, 17 September 2010 12:11 am

      Haym Solomon is as American as George Washington. Both born abroad, both fought for Independence, both embraced the United States as his own.

      As for Papa, didn’t want to go there.

      Someone else is doing Helen Keller. And though she fit the teacher’s reqs, her religion-of-choice (Swedenborgianism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swedenborgianism) disqualified her as far as Beernut was concerned.

      Jonas Salk would have been on my list, but given the short notice, we were limited by what our local bookstore had in stock.

      • Wednesday, 22 September 2010 2:14 pm

        I was under the (false?) impression that George Washington was born in Virginia.

  6. Thursday, 16 September 2010 10:09 am

    This was … hilarious. And touching.

    My best suggestion for things like this? Always: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_American_Jews

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Friday, 17 September 2010 12:12 am

      Never even thought to look there. Silly Rabbi.

  7. Thursday, 16 September 2010 4:15 pm

    I always felt like an alien at school, he’s being really brave to share.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Friday, 17 September 2010 12:13 am

      The great thing about Beernut is that it would never even occur to him that he is doing anything praiseworthy.

  8. Thursday, 16 September 2010 7:42 pm

    no bios for kids on louis brandeis?! i sense a market niche for us, frumesarah. let’s write it in our free time, k?

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Friday, 17 September 2010 12:13 am

      That’s exactly what BossGiraffe said!

  9. Thursday, 16 September 2010 7:47 pm

    on its way to you…

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Friday, 17 September 2010 12:13 am

      You are such a love. Todah m’rosh.

  10. Sunday, 19 September 2010 6:08 pm

    This post made me think immediately of a book from my childhood, http://www.amazon.com/Guess-Whos-Jewish-American-History/dp/0933503555, which may still be on the shelf in my office. I’ll check when I’m there tomorrow.

    In the meantime, wishing you and the rest of your gang a wonderful, sweet New Year.

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