Rabbi Richard Flom stood on the bema — the raised platform at the front of the synagogue and proceeded with a crash course in conservative Judaism.
Addressing 115 John Muir Middle School students, he explained the 12 tribes of Israel, the ark, the presence of the Israeli flag and the Torah.
“You will notice unlike the books you are used to this goes from right to left,” Flom said. “Hebrew is written right to left. You will see the Hebrew on the right-hand side and the English translation on the left-hand side.”
The object that generated the most interest was a long, twisted antelope horn known as a Shofar that is sounded on special occasions, including Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Flom sounded a few notes on it, to much applause.
Temple Emanu El was one of three stops students made Tuesday during a walking tour that provided first-hand exposure to the faith traditions they are currently studying under social studies teacher Barry Sarna.
“Seventh-grade curriculum has a lot of religion in it from a historical standpoint. I thought it would be a great idea if we could come visit the church or synagogue,” Sarna said. “And then I thought we could not only do it, but do it cheaply, or free.”
In addition to the synagogue, destinations included St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Church and First United Methodist Church.
“It has grown every year,” Sarna said. “They all know what they are doing, the rabbis and priests. And they have good time with it, and they are so happy to welcome us in.”
Students said that the walk is just one creative approach their teacher uses to teach them about the influence of Christianity, Judaism and Islam during the Middle Ages.
On one occasion, he staged a mini-reenactment of a medieval battle in which the students had to defend themselves against flying wads of paper using their text books, said 13-year-old Alexia Hatun. Another time, he gave them a taste of the corruption of the medieval Roman Catholic Church.
“He had us take a test he knew we would fail,” Alexia said. “It was all fake, but it was to teach us about the selling of indulgences.”
Fr. John Collins, pastor at St. Robert Bellarmine, explained the church’s liturgical calendar, the priests¿ vestments and the significance of the baptismal font.
“We believe that baptism is our spiritual entry into the church and the life of God,” Collins said. “Often times the church will place [baptismal fonts] physically at the doorway as a reminder of how we are entering into a life God wants us to have.”
The stained-glass windows and statuary typically found in Catholic churches are somewhat like family photos hanging on the wall in homes, he said.
“We all have these walls and what we are doing is we are honoring the people who have gone before us and reminding ourselves who they are and the fact that they were just like us,” Collins said. “You walk into the church and it is like our family, our family portrait wall. They are there to motivate us and inspire us as we go on our journey.”
For many students, Tuesday was the first time they had stepped into a synagogue or a church, Sarna said. The walking field trip is a reminder that there are wonderful enrichment opportunities within Burbank, he added.
“When they come here they are going to see…that there are more similarities than differences,” Sarna said. “That is what they are going to come away with.”