It is mid- December and the hallways at Oakland Hebrew Day School are pulsing with excitement. Hanukkah may be in full swing and winter break is soon to come, but this enthusiasm is not generated by these. No, our entire school is impatiently awaiting the annual Maccabia.
At OHDS, Maccabia is a day long, student directed, competition encompassing, Sports, Judaics, Drama , Music and Art. Teams are led by an 8th grade General with the support of two 7th grade Captains. Teachers are team members; the students are the leadership. One team wears warm colors (red/yellow/orange) and the other wears cool colors (blue/green/violet).
Maccabia happens on a Thursday. The planning begins on Tuesday evening with early emphasis on coordinating and planning the art components. On this single Maccabia day, each team must produce an originally designed trash can (these then enhance our campus permanently), complete a major hesed project, compose an art piece with the youngest students, produce a school gift and, design and complete the hallmark of the day – the team shelet (banner).
The shelet is a 2ft by 3ft cloth banner. Banners from previous years hang in our school Ulam. The shelet director is always a middle school artist. At a team meeting (2 nights prior to the event), leaders select a pasuk (verse) that includes the team name and then the shelet director goes to work, drawing a design based on this pasuk. This year team Taninim and team Nesharim were in contest, which allowed for great creative opportunity. The design must include the pasuk, the team name and the Hebrew date. Once I approve the shelet design, the artist/director draws this onto the fabric, ready to go by Thursday at 9:30a.m.
All day Thursday, the Art Studio is a center of industry. The shelet must be completed by 2 p.m. It is both painted and collaged by a team of artists, under the supervision of the shelet director ( a middle school student). Colors are mixed, collage elements explored and a d’var Torah, based on the art is discussed and written.
In another area of the room, two 5th grade students are recruiting and supporting our youngest artists, in grades K-2, to create a mini-shelet for each team. The enterprise spreads into the hallway. Here a group of artists from each team transfers their pre-approved designs to large trash cans, turning an ordinary object into an incredible piece of art. This year, these middle school artists transformed plain gray garbage cans into sweeping masterpieces of eagles swooping and sea creatures breaching. As with the shelet these artists must prepare to explain to the panel of judges, how the design reflects the team names.
The school gift changes from year to year. In years passed, teams have gifted mehitza curtains, tiled street signs and sukkah panels. This year, spread on the floor was a chuppah, ready to be completed to enhance our traditional celebrations such as Haggigat ha Siddur. The teams work collaboratively on the school gift and they are judged by their level of cooperation. At the end of the day, a 2 artists from this project must, together, describe the process with which they completed this gift.
The Hesed project also changes from year to year. We have made blankets for the local children’s hospital, cuddly pillows for families who are living in a shelter and placemats for a meal delivery service. This year, our students in grade k-2, made mizrah plaques, under the direction of older students, to be sent to a school in Brooklyn which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Although I have been a part of Maccabia for 8 years now, the day never ceases to amaze me. In the span of just hours, these students create majestic pieces of art. Although they are in competition, in the Art venues, partisanship is suspended and collaboration reigns.
At 2pm, the teams gather in the Ulam for their final presentations. Even though I have been involved with the Art all day long, to see the finished pieces and hear the students’ speeches and divrei Torah is always a privilege.
If you ever wonder about programming that can excite and teach an entire community, consider replicating Maccabia, Oakland Hebrew Day School style.
Yes, we begin the day as two teams, one dressed in warm and one dressed in cool. But, at the end of the day we mix to form a resplendent rainbow!