Jewish text matched with teen spirit

Maryana Harouni teaches Tanach class at the Shoresh
Hebrew High School program.
Photo by Dan Schere

“OK, a little bit of drama here,” Maryana Harouni tells the four teenagers as they open the first chapter of the book of Samuel.
“Elkanah says to Hannah, ‘Why are you crying? Why don’t you eat? Life is good.’

“What do we think of Elkanah?’”

This is Harouni’s weekly Tanach class and the scene at Sunday’s open house at the Shoresh Hebrew High School program — a three-hour supplementary Jewish education program for students in 8th to 12th grade.
Now nearly two decades old, the program, which meets at the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville, caters to students who are looking for serious Jewish studies. The curriculum covers Jewish history, rituals and text study.

The students in Harouni’s class are reading about how Elkanah favored Hannah, one of his two wives, by giving her a double portion of food during ritual sacrifices. But Hannah, like many of the favored biblical matriarchs, was barren. Ekanah responded to her complaints by telling Hannah that she should be satisfied being married to him — and enjoy her meal.
Harouni, former director of Shoresh, asks the students to interpret Elkanah’s message.

“He wants her to accept the fact that she can’t have kids,” one girl says. “It’s like, if your friend is upset about a breakup or something you say, ‘You don’t need a boyfriend. You’ve got me.’”

Another girl says she’s conflicted about Elkanah.

“Initially, I saw him as being condescending,” she says. “I can see both. It’s not him saying, ‘I’m better than 10 sons.’ He’s saying, ‘I’m devoted to you.’”

Harouni says her Tanach classes seek relevance to current topics, such as the #MeToo movement, the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram and the musician Drake.

“What I’m trying to give them is how this Tanach, which was written 2,000 or 3,000 years ago, has relevance to our lives,” she said.

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