Activity: Putting Down Roots

The aim of this activity is, once again, to focus on the family stories of the students and to gain a wider perspective by viewing their own experience against the background of the community experience.

  • The students should prepare for this activity by examining their family stories and learning as much as possible about the early years of their family in the country. For any students who have experienced the move in their own lifetime, there will be a wealth of material on which to draw. For those whose families made the move several generations ago it will be hard to find much material, but there is likely to be in the family a certain amount of ‘lore’ that has been passed down to at least some family members.
  • Ask the students for their associations when they think of the experiences that immigrants undergo. These should be written down and divided into different categories according to whether they are positive (such as ‘new opportunities,’ ‘religious freedom’ or ‘higher wages’), negative (such as ‘loneliness,’ ‘economic worries’ or ‘struggling with a new language’) or simply neutral.
  • Use any or all of the excerpted Yiddish poems quoted above. Analyze them to try to reveal the feelings of the narrator as he confronts and reflects upon the new reality of America. They were written by immigrants to the United States, but they represent any modern Jewish immigrant’s transition from the ‘old world’ to the new.
  • Now the students should talk about what they know of their own family experiences. Once again, this is an opportunity for any students who are themselves immigrants, or children of immigrants, to talk about their personal experiences. This may be very important because they may have become marginalized by their experiences: this is a chance to focus on these experiences in a sympathetic environment.
  • Focus on the more difficult aspects of the family experience, drawing on the ‘negative’ association list that you have made. Ask the group about the sorts of things that might help ease the transition for new immigrants. Should the Jewish community play a role in this? Why might it be well equipped to help the immigrants?
  • In small groups they should discuss ideas that the Jewish community organizations should consider in order to help new Jewish immigrants. Prepare a five-point plan.
  • All the groups should now come together and debate their suggestions, in order to create a group plan for helping immigrants in the community.
  • Finally, there should be a meeting with a representative of the community that is dealing with immigrant assistance. Ask him/her to compare some stories of earlier waves of immigrants with those of more recent arrivals, and to explain what was done in the past and what is being done in the present. The class should present their suggestions and examine whether the community in fact does all of these things. If these things are not being done, the students should suggest them to the community representatives.


 

 

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10 Dec 2006 / 19 Kislev 5767 0