Jewish LGBTQ Hero Poster Series Curriculum — Sandra Lawson

Students will learn about contemporary LGBTQ Jewish hero R. Sandra Lawson, empathize with the experience of feeling like an outsider, and start to dream about their own innovative Jewish practices.

July 5, 2022

By Essie Shachar-Hill, Keshet

Introduction

Time: 45 mins

Age: 12-18

Materials: 

Goals:

  • Students will learn about contemporary LGBTQ Jewish hero R. Sandra Lawson
  • Students will empathize with the experience of feeling like an outsider
  • Students will start to dream about their own innovative Jewish practices

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Frame (3 mins)

“Today we will be learning about a contemporary Jewish hero. It’s important to learn about Jewish heroes because there are so many extraordinary Jews in our history and present who have made important contributions to the Jewish people and the world at large. It’s also important to learn about lots of different Jewish heroes because it uplifts the fact that the Jewish community is diverse, and there is no one way to be Jewish. Today we are going to learn about Rabbi Sandra Lawson.”

Learn (3 mins)

Sandra Lawson is a rabbi, an activist, a public speaker, and musician.  She has also been known as the Snapchat Rabbi and featured in the JTA as one of 10 Jews you should follow on Snapchat and The 50 Jews everyone should follow on Twitter. She is a veteran, black lesbian vegan who is ordained through the Reconstructionst Rabbinical College. 

Engage (15 mins)

Because of the various social identities she holds, Rabbi Lawson says, “I […] live on the margins of our social life, so what that means for me is I see things. I see things that my colleagues may not see. I experience the world as a rabbi very differently than my male colleagues. And I also think that makes me more innovative.” (Source “30 Minutes Elon Fall 2018”

Depending on the age and experiences of the group, you may need to clarify what is meant by being on the margins of a group. 

Discuss:

  • Have you ever felt like you were on the margins of a group, or like an outsider? What was that experience like? (Note: students may bring up painful experiences or experiences of being mistreated or alienated. Be prepared to respond empathically and honor lived experiences as real and valuable contributions.)
  • Being on the margins of a group can be painful. For example, Rabbi Lawson often talks about being a Black Jew and being questioned about being in Jewish spaces as a painful reminder that others don’t see her as belonging. But she also says that it allows her to see things that others don’t see. What do you think she means by that? (If students need further prompts, ask them to think about things a woman rabbi might notice that a man rabbi wouldn’t, or about things a Black Jew might notice about Jewish community that a white Jew might not notice, etc.)
  • Have you ever noticed things about a group that other people in the group didn’t notice? Why do you think you noticed those things and others didn’t? (You might mention here that people often only notice things that personally impact them. One of the joys of having a diverse community is that different people bring their unique perspectives that we can all learn from.)

Innovate (20 mins)

What does Rabbi Lawson mean when she says her experiences make her more innovative? Let’s find out! Read JTA’s “Sandra Lawson, black lesbian vegan rabbinical student, hopes to redefine where Judaism happens” OR listen to Judaism Unbound’s episode 34 from 23:04-29:56.

After learning about how Rabbi Lawson is innovating her Jewish practice and teaching, think about how YOU would like to creatively practice Judaism. 

Using magazines, glue sticks, markers, etc, create a collage, drawing, or map that highlights new ways you would like to see Judaism practiced. 

(If students need further prompts, ask: Where and when is this Jewish innovation practiced? What ages would this practice attract? How can you use technology or current trends to practice Judaism? Is this practice in person or online?)

Have students share aloud!

Extras (if you have more time, multiple lessons, or want to assign homework)

  • Outside of class time, ask students to engage in an intergenerational dialogue with a Jew from an older generation. Have students ask that person about how Judaism was practiced in that person’s life, as well as sharing some of the new innovative ways Judaism is being practiced today. 
  • On the theme of Jewish innovation and using technology, have students create a TikTok illustrating a concept that the class has learned about this year

Appendix

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