Thursday, March 7, 2019

Paper Midrash in the Windy City

Chillin' in Chicago at Cloud Gate (a.k.a the Bean)

We were worried about the cold. The temperature was going to be measured in single digits and, like true Southern Californians, we put on warm jackets when it dips below 65. We were concerned whether people would brave sub-freezing weather to make paper midrash with us... but they did! And it was great!

We led two workshops at Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard, Illinois; one for adults and one for teens. The adults came for an evening of Havdalah, a little nosh, some teaching on Midrash, and cutting up comic books. Chicagoans are not stopped by cold weather; we had a big crowd, part of the vibrant adult education program at Etz Chaim.

Isaac teaching at Congregation Etz Chaim (and some participant artwork)

It was clear that participants were drawing on what they had studied in Melton and other programs; most participants were already familiar with what midrash is and they were ready to create their own.

Rabbi Shawna teaching at Congregation Etz Chaim (and some participant artwork)
The participants made some beautiful papercut explorations of the creation story in Torah and Midrash. Proving that pop culture is not just for kids, one couple even stumped Isaac with their favorite villain.

We got some great feedback from the group, like this: “Paper Midrash was fantastic! I love that we got to make a piece of art. I also enjoyed learning about the different types of interpretations from Torah, stories that fill in the gaps versus how Torah is put into practice. The presenters brought great energy and knowledge.”

Sunday morning we worked with the CEC high school teens. We brought lots of Spiderverse and Captain Marvel for the teens to work with and — again — we were pleased to see the depth of their designs and how even in working with the same story, no two designs were alike.

A beautiful place to teach teens about Midrash and art

More teen papercut artwork

In both groups there were multiple interpretations of a midrash in Talmud that says that trees talk to each other. We wondered if it was the experience of the seasons (something we don’t have the same way in California) that had people aware of the natural cycle of spring and  eagerly awaiting the the regrowth of trees.

Posing with the teen artists (and some more teen artwork)

We also led a workshop for the Jewish Federation and Jewish United Fund of Greater Chicago, at a fabulous communal space in the suburbs called Sketchpad, where a bunch of Jewish organizations share space for creative (and “regular”) pursuits.

Sketchpad was an incredible place to teach and create

We were so impressed with the concept for the space and how it was used; it was great to be able to work with talented and enthusiastic Jewish educators from different organizations, all under one roof.

With the group from Jewish Federation and Jewish United Fund of Greater Chicago

We loved learning about the space and the Jewish community in Chicago as much as we loved sharing midrash with the group. We always begin the creative part of our workshops with the blessing for creating art from On the Doorposts of Your House and were thrilled to introduce this prayer to Jewish educators, who were excited to bring it back to their own students.

Want more information about bringing Paper Midrash to your community? We’re currently scheduling residencies and workshops for the 2019-2020 academic year; contact us at for details.