Hebrew Academy Grade 6 student Noemie Bendayan is one of 50 finalists in an international contest run by an Israeli museum, and her work will soon be on display for thousands of visitors to enjoy.
Over several months, Noemie’s grade participated in the 2019 My Family Story International Competition in Memory of Manuel Hirsch Grosskopf. An initiative of the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, the 24-year-old program has been popular in schools around the world. It offers students a chance to explore their family histories and deepen their connection to the Jewish people.
Together with their French teachers, Choula Friedman and Noemie Benizri, the students conducted extensive genealogical research and produced projects, which they showcased for their families in March.
Noemie’s project, The Melody of Happiness, an ornate violin containing a diorama of her family at the Shabbat table, was chosen by a jury of educators and community members to be considered by the museum.
“The top of the violin represents music from my ancestors,” explained Noemie, whose musical family spans generations. “Inside the violin is my family today, and when we’re all together for Shabbat. We love to sing and dance; we’re in a musical box because my family is surrounded by music.”
Miriam Schrager, the elementary school’s director of French studies and academics, came up with the idea of getting Hebrew Academy students to participate in My Family Story in French. Hebrew Academy is the only school that competed in a second language.
“When we did our Israel at 70 school-wide exhibit last year, I ordered 40 panels about aliyah to include in the display,” Schrager said. “At that time, I discovered the program on Beit Hatfutsot’s website. I contacted the museum and decided it would be a great fit for us, since I saw the potential for our students to work on it in a second language. The curriculum already exists in French, as it was designed for schools in France – as a first language.
“I am always looking for meaningful French programs and felt that this program on Jewish roots would be particularly meaningful for our students.”
The Grade 6 class began the project at the beginning of the year, working on assignments, doing interviews, assembling family trees and collecting artifacts.
The accompanying artwork, which ranged from intricate replicas and dioramas to elaborate photo collections, was largely completed at home.
“I was so impressed by the creativity and the depth of the students’ research,” said Schrager. “Most of the parents told me the kids discovered family stories they hadn’t even known themselves before.”
Friedman added that, “A lot of them commented that they were very happy to learn about their grandparents’ past. For many it was unknown. Some children also told me that it was a family project and it brought them closer together.
“Many were very impressed by the family trees they found online. Some students remarked that they were also happy to learn about their past because doing so helps them to build the future.”
During their interviews, students asked their relatives what they expect from generations to come.
“It made the students realize that they are part of a chain that cannot be broken. It made them appreciate the responsibilities we all have as Jews,” said Friedman.
Noemie will join fellow finalists in Israel on June 16, when her work will be on display at the museum.
“When I found out I won, I was freaking out,” said Noemie. “It’s so exciting. This will be my first time in Israel and also my work will be in a museum. I’m really excited and I’m really proud.”