Staff and students at a Jewish day school in the small Israeli desert town of Arad cemented their year-long study of Chasidic thought with a graduation ceremony that focused on two local favorites: chocolate and pita bread.

According to organizers, the graduation party at the Chabad-Lubavitch run Bnot Menachem Girls’ School, was designed to make the most of sparse resources in an immigrant community dealing with rising rates of poverty.

Besides the school’s standard fare of a student-led play, a demonstration of the Middle Eastern bongo drum known as a tarbuka, and several inspirational speeches, principal Chani Mendelzohn decided to also feature a series of four stations where family members could put Jewish philosophies into practice.

At a chocolate-making station, students and their parents created their own treats. The exercise, explained Mendelzohn, was meant “to represent the material world” and the day-to-day tasks that can be infused with holiness.

A second activity allowed guests to make their own Shabbat candles and reflect on the spiritual light that Jewish girls and women bring into the world each Friday night, said Mendelzohn.

Guests at the graduation party got to roll out their own pita dough.
Guests at the graduation party got to roll out their own pita dough.

Celebrants made pita bread at another station, where they discussed the meaning of the blessing said over bread, and the amount of physical labor that goes into making the dough, beginning with harvesting the wheat. Although rooted in the physical world, said Mendelzohn, bread sustains life, giving a person the chance to do more and more mitzvahs.

In deference to the school’s multi-ethnic population, a variety of condiments were served with the pita, including apricot jam and the traditional Middle Eastern combination of za’atar and olive oil.

In the final activity, Mendelzohn demonstrated how to make shapes out of balloons. Participants walked away with the shapes of kosher animals used as sacrifices during the time of the Holy Temple.

“It was important to make sure there was something for everyone,” said Mendelzohn. “Whatever we did had to be memorable, and had to have meaning.

“You can have fun anywhere,” she added, “but education has to be both fun and meaningful.”