Monday, January 3, 2011

Having fun with History and Challah: Our New Family Literacy Program

I’ve managed the Museum’s ESOL program, Shared Journeys, for the last 3 years. It's been incredibly rewarding to develop new programs, write lesson plans, and pilot, promote and implement our workshops. New immigrants learning English always bring a different perspective to our museum. Over the last 5 years there’s been a growing demand to work with entire immigrant families. In response to this, we’ve recently launched a Family Literacy program, a new way to teach English and learn about adjusting to life in the U.S. Participating families come together to have fun, learn and adjust to a new life together.

Visiting the Rogarshevsky home at 97 Orchard
Last week, with the help of collaborators including La Guardia Community College’s Center for Immigrant Education and Training and the Fifth Avenue Committee, we piloted this new Family Literacy program. Ten families took a couple of hours from their busy lives for a multi-session program to spend time together, learn about immigration history, compare their own stories to the ones in the past and have fun as a family. We shared the story of the Rogarshevsky family, an observant Lithuanian-Jewish family that lived in our building in 1915. We titled the workshop “Preserving Tradition in a New Environment” because the family struggled with preserving their Jewish faith while working long hours in garment factories. Abraham, Fannie and their 6 children lived in a small tenement apartment of 97 Orchard Street.

Making collages about favorite family activities

With the help of Kathryn Lloyd, Jess Varma and Raj Varma we told the story of how the American work week often compelled Jewish immigrants—especially children—to work on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath. The Sabbath is an important day of rest sacred for an observant Jewish family. This story sparked reactions from the Shared Journeys families. I recall a Peruvian family sharing how difficult it was for them to have to work during Christmas. In their native land this was a time to rest and not work. A Pakistani-Muslim family shared how they would try to work around their religious beliefs. For example, the father of the family runs a little shop and this allows him to shut down in order to pray five times a day.

Some of the families got to come back to the Museum and use our brand-new demonstration kitchen to try their hands at making traditional Challah bread like the Rogarshevsky family would have eaten. Miriam Bader led them through a simple demonstration, and the families got to take some samples home and bake them. At the end all of them got to share their own recipes for Christmas.
It’s been exciting to watch this program come together. My hope is that many more immigrant families will experience it in the months to come.

Braiding dough for Challah

--Posted by Education Associate Pedro Garcia

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