Family Education at Temple Israel this Month--Puzzle Me a Puzzle

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To be honest, I looked at the list of national holidays and observances for January, and January 9, when we will have our havdalah program is National Word Nerd Day. I think of myself as a Word Nerd, and then I saw that only three days earlier is Sherlock Holmes Birthday (January 6). So both of those lead me to puzzles and word games. And right in the middle of our month is National Crossword Puzzle Day (December 21).
From a teaching perspective, games and puzzles are not just something families can play, but they can also design them. And I'm a strong believer that people learn best by doing and creating. So I'm going to encourage you to make your projects early and hopefully we'll be able to play some games together or share our puzzles with each other.
I'm not an expert in this, but at last month's trivia game, one of the questions mentioned the Hassenfeld Brothers, Herman, Hillel, and Henry, who founded Hasbro which is one of the biggest game and toy publishers around. Their foundation supports HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) and Brandeis University and other Jewish tzedakot. But really, this month's approach is just a way to get into the content and have a good time exploring.
Puzzles are about satisfying curiousity. I have every expectation that in order to do these puzzles, you're going to have to look things up and do research. Take the time to encourage your child(ren) to explore and not just look for the answer. In fact, as you'll see below, part of each puzzle is to choose one of the answers and explore. Or, when you make your own puzzle or game as a project, narrow the focus. Then, as you research clues or facts for your puzzle, your family will have the opportunity to learn more deeply about that topic. It will also give me an idea of what kinds of topics you and your family find interesting.
Remember last month when we read the story Hanukkah at Valley Forge, which wasn't actually historical but had value in any case? Well, this is kind of like that. A guy named Christopher Morely who was a big Sherlock fan (who established the Baker Street Irregulars) simply decided that since Holmes refers to the Shakespeare play "Twelfth Night" twice in the stories (in “The Adventure of the Red Circle” and “The Adventure of the Empty House”), Morely said that Sherlock's birthday was on twelfth night, that is, January 6. By this point, you're probably saying to yourself, "Jeff is not just a Word Nerd. He's all kinds of nerd." Guilty as charged. But given the perpetual interest in the greatest puzzler of all time, whether your favorite Holmes comes from reading or from watching (Basil Rathbone, Peter O'Toole, Robert Downey Jr, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jonny Lee Miller), I hope you'll unleash your inner puzzler and explore American Jewish history.

Family Learning

This material is arranged by accessibility. One puzzle piece is the easiest, and six pieces is the most challenging. Work through as much as interests your child. The goal is not to complete as many puzzles as possible but to take your time, look up the answers, explore what might be interesing, and please TAKE NOTES about what you explored. The rabbis say that one who tries to grasp too much, ends up holding on to nothing. You know your child(ren). Stop when you are ahead. You can come back and do more later, and you don't have to do the same amount with each child. On the other hand, feel free to continue learning as adults. Family learning is for the whole family and not just the children.

The Torah teaches not to put a stumbling block before the blind. So I have emailed the parents a page with links to the answers for these puzzles. Be planful with your time. If you are traveling over winter break, print up some of the puzzles to take with you to do while traveling.

  • These wordsearches use words related to our Jewish community.
  • Here is the easiest version. There is a word bank and the words are either horizontal reading left to right or vertical reading top to bottom. The missing letters form a secret message.
  • Here is a second word search also about the Jewish community. It is larger and has more words. It includes a word bank, but words can also go diagonally up or down (although the letters are left to right). It also has a secret message, but there isn't a template to fill in the words for the message.
  • As you or child(ren) do the word search, make sure that everyone knows what the different items are. Rather than give them the answers, try to guide them to do a little research. Keep track of what you looked up. As you research, think about questions you might ask for our project, see below.
  • Here are the answers for the easier version and here are the answers for the second version.
  • Concentration can be a simple memory game, which may be just what your child needs. Just reviewing what the pictures represent and requiring the finder to identify the pictures before being able to take the cards boosts the educational value of the game.
  • This set of 16 images is actually 8 pairs of images. The pictures are described and explained on the sheet. As noted on the sheet, you can play in at least three different ways.
  • Print up one page at a time and make two copies. Cut out the images and look for identical images. Then do the same to the second page.
  • Somewhat more difficult is to make two copies of both pages and play with a larger number of pairs of identical images.
  • Most difficult is to make one copy of the two pages, and look for pairs of related but not identical images. A variation on this is to make two copies of the two pages and play concentration and either allow both related or identical pairs, or only allow related but not identical pairs.
  • As you and your child(ren) play concentration, make sure that everyone understands what the different items are. Rather than give them the answers, try to guide them to do a little research. Keep track of what you looked up. As you research, think about questions you might ask for our project, see below.
  • Here is a crossword puzzle dealing with Jewish history. Only a few of the clues are general knowledge, and the rest should be used as opportunities to do some research. Wikipedia or MyJewishlearning.com are both fairly reliable for this. This version of the crossword also includes a word bank which may make it too easy for children who will count the letters.
  • Here is another version of the same crossword without the word bank, and here is an html version of the same puzzle.
  • As you and your child(ren) play complete the crossword, make sure that everyone understands what or who the different clues are. Rather than give them the answers, try to guide them to do a little research. Keep track of what you looked up. As you research, think about questions you might ask for our project, see below.
  • Here are the answers for the crossword puzzle
  • This is a much larger word search that refers to significant American Jews as well as events. This easier version of the word search includes clues, along with the first two letters of the term you are searching for. Words go on horizaontals, verticals and diagonals, but no words go backwards.
  • Here is a more difficult version which includes clues but does not provide the first two letters of the search term.
  • As you and your child(ren) find the words in this word search, make sure that everyone understands what or who the different clues are. Some names are particularly interesting because they are also associated with other institutions. Rather than give them the answers, let them figure out the terms by doing research. Keep track of what you looked up. As you research, think about questions you might ask for our project, see below.
  • Here are the answers for the crossword puzzle
  • This is a crossword of a variety of American Jewish institutions, many of which will be unfamiliar.
  • In this easiest version, the organizations and institutions are provided in a word bank. Again, a crafty player may just figure out a way to use the word bank without thinking about the clues, but remember that the goal is to look up some of the terms and think about what these organizations do and what they tell us about American Jewry. Note: to make the crossword work, The letter A is a subsitute for the word American in the various clues, the letter J replaces the word Jewish, and I substitutes (most of the time) for "Israel".
  • This version is much harder because it doesn't have the word bank, and here is an html version that also lacks the word bank.
  • I do not expect all of the parents to know all of these organizations although you may. If you also don't know about an institution, share your curiosity with your child(ren). If, on the other hand, you have had direct interaction with some of these organizations, share that as well. As you do research, think about questions that you might use for the project, see below.
  • How does being American influence your Jewishness?
  • Here are the answers for the crossword puzzle
  • This crossword includes Jews on TV and in movies; we will learn more about Jews in popular culture later on, probably in Adar (for Purim, which is traditionally associated with drama). This one is kind of difficult unless you or your child(ren) are film buffs. I also don't expect that we should be using these answers for our project. So you (or your child) may want to look these actors up, and that is fine, but don't submit questions about them.
  • The much easier version of this crossword includes the first names of these actors along with the clue, which in each case is a film or show in which the actor appeared. Here is an html version of the same puzzle with the first names.
  • Here is a much harder version that lacks the first names and just has the show or movie in which the actor appeared. This version has all of the same clues as the easier version, but the actual puzzle is organized entirely differently. You may find it fun to have one person do one version while another does the other. Then you might collaborate when one of you knows an extra leeter because of an intersecting term. Again, there is an html version of this crossword puzzle.
  • One clue shows up several times because there were several Jewish actors in the cast. What do you make of that?
  • Here are the answers for the easier crossword puzzle and here are answers for the harder crossword puzzle

Family Project

Try to be planful with your time. Try to complete the puzzles by the end of winter break. so you still have about a week for your project. Our havdalah session will be on January 9, 2021, at 5:45 PM.

Minimally, I would like each family to contribute at least four multiple choice questions based on research done while completing the puzzles. These will be used in a Kahoot game which we will play after Havdalah. If you have more time (and I understand if vacation makes it hard for some, but I expect that some families will be looking for things to do during vacation), try some of these projects.

Find an image from American Jewish history or the American Jewish community and make your own drawing or painting of the image. There are commercial ways you can get a puzzle made from a picture, but it is perfectly fine to just paste the drawing/painting on to some cardstock and to cut out random shaped pieces with an exacto knife (or to paste onto some construction paper and just cut out shapes with a scissors). Have another member of family construct the puzzle.
Using your research about an American Jew, an event in American Jewish history, or an American Jewish organization, make up a Limerick or two like the ones Bill Kurtis recites as part of the limerick challeng on Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me on NPR. Remember to leave off the last word, and you can share the limerick at Havdalah.
Another "Wait, Wait" derived project is to create one or two "bluff the listener challenges". Research one of the American Jews mentioned in the puzzles and then tell three stories about the person. To make it more challenging, make either one or two of the three stories up, and don't tell the listener whether there are one or two true stories.
Using your own clues based on your research, make your own crossword. You can do this by hand, or you may consider downloading a program like Eclipse Crossword which is free and which I used to make the crossword puzzles here. If you do this, you can send me the html version and we can try to solve it collaboratively during havdalah. Or you can make a wordsearch. Again, this can be done by hand, or you can use a free piece of software called 123 Wordsearch Maker.
Here is an example of a word search made by Temple Israel member Eli Tschampel.

Resources for Learning

Our Family Ed Havdalah program is January 9 at 5:45 pm on Zoom. Please send your questions to me by January 3 so I can create a fun collaborative Kahoot game using your questions.

There are lots of good books on American Jewish history, although very few are designed for young people. The best short history for young people is by Hasia Diner, A New Promised Land. It is about 140 pages and is written for middle schoolers. Longer, but more probably more accessible because of its layout and use of sidebars is American Jewish History: A JPS Guided.

Here are some online articles that survey American Judaism.

Let's Start a Conversation

Need help with the learning or your project? Reach out to me at

  • The Nines of Clay, On the Hill, Scranton, PA
  • (570) 507-7542‬
  • Jeff@ConversationalTorah.com