SF rabbi’s picture book brings kids to Torah by way of yoga J. – The Jewish News of Northern California

Posted: July 2, 2020 at 7:48 pm


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The rabbi is a yogi. And now also a childrens book author.

With her colorfully illustrated debut, I Am the Tree of Life: My Jewish Yoga Book, Rabbi Mychal Copeland is aiming to introduce young children to Judaism through the vehicle of yoga, because, well it has worked for her.

In our tradition, the body is a way we connect to the Divine, explained Copeland, a rabbi for 20 years and a certified yoga instructor for 15. The body is a vehicle for prayer. We bow, we loosen our spines you dont just pray with words. Its all intertwined.

Copeland is just finishing her third year at Congregation Shaar Zahav in San Francisco, where in addition to her rabbinical duties she teaches some adult yoga classes. Previously, she was director of InterfaithFamily Bay Area and a university rabbi for 13 years, first at UCLA and later at Hillel at Stanford. Shes also exercised her writing skills as a columnist for J., Huffington Post and OnFaith.org, and as co-editor of a bookon LGBTQ inclusion in religious life.

Copelands personal and career paths have given her ample opportunities to explore what is known as embodied Jewish practice. That is, the recognition that our spiritual selves are integrally interconnected with our physical selves such that when we eat, drink, dance or pray, we can enliven our spiritual practice, she said.

Because children learn so much through their senses and movement, she believes childhood is a great time to capitalize on that and direct them toward an awareness of the spiritual.

There is growing interest in teaching children through movement, drawing on the link between mind and body, Copeland said. When we pair learning a concept like a Torah narrative with embodied practice, the learning can be accessed differently than if it were only read.

Her 32-page book, which was published in April, introduces common yoga poses, such as tree and crescent moon. Simple instructions enable any participating adult to guide children through the movements. The book is recommended for grades K-2 on the publishers website, and for grades 2-3 on Amazon.

In yoga, we dont pretend to be a tree. No, you become the tree, the lion, the fish, the mountain, she said. Its about seeing the self as part of the world.

Copelands interest in yoga began decades ago, and she has studied various yoga traditions that she brings to her classes.

The idea of writing a book came to her in 2015 on the porch of a girls cabin at Camp Tawonga, where she was a summer rabbi-in-residence for many years. We were having so much fun and the girls were asking about some of the Torah stories we were discussing. The yoga movements sparked more questions, she said.

What brought it all together, she recalled, was the tree pose.

In the Jewish framework, Torah is a tree of life. The idea really came through that Torah is alive, not something we interact with passively. And when we use our bodies in this way, stories come alive in us.

Copeland already had developed some of the material with her own two children now 12 and 15 when they were babies, and has had other opportunities to work out the yoga-Torah connection with older kids. Her concept for the book was to introduce children to movements, and use them to spark some identification with the stories and their lessons.

Kids go on a journey through Torah, bringing our stories to life through movement. They will stand like Mount Sinai, dance at the Red Sea and become the giant fish that swallowed Jonah, she said.

Her publisher, Apples and Honey Press, an arm of Behrman House, gave Copelands manuscript to an illustrator in Brazil, Andr Ceolin, whom she had never met.

One of the pieces that was important to me in creating the illustrations for this book was that the children doing the poses in the book would represent a diversity of children. There is not enough diversity represented in our childrens lit, Copeland said.

She described Ceolin as whimsical and expansive an incredible artist.

The book, her first for children, was published when the coronavirus pandemic largely was confining people to their homes. Soon after, she was able to use it as the basis of a virtual childrens yoga class she offered to her community on Zoom.

Its a useful book for these times, she reflected. Ive been thinking about having kids at home for many months, and how to keep active when sheltering at home. The book gets children moving and their parents, too.

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SF rabbi's picture book brings kids to Torah by way of yoga J. - The Jewish News of Northern California

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July 2nd, 2020 at 7:48 pm

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