WEST BLOOMFIELD — The oft-overlooked histories and symbolism of the 12 tribes of Israel are coming to life at Shalom Street in West Bloomfield.
The museum and activity center tucked near the lobby of the West Bloomfield Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit is currently home to a new exhibit called “Tales of Our Tribes.”
The exhibit, which will last until the end of January, decorates walls with lore that is core to the identity of the Jewish people and their faith, according to Shalom Street Director Rabbi Robert Morais.
Morais said the exhibit is part of the museum’s biannual special exhibits. He said “Tales of Our Tribes” offers lessons and materials that are suitable for a wide audience, ranging from preschoolers to adults.
According to the book of Genesis, the 12 tribes are named after the sons of the patriarch Jacob: Asher, Benjamin, Issachar, Naphtali, Gad, Dan, Zebulun, Judah, Simeon, Reuben, Levi and Joseph, the last of whom had his house split between his own sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
The Torah says their descendants conquered and settled in the land of Canaan, a region currently home to Israel and its neighbors.
Morais said the 12 tribes’ backgrounds are not something that typically attracts much attention in typical Jewish life. But he said the lessons could give people a greater understanding of Jewish community and family history.
“The ancient biblical tribes had very clear identities, and each of their identities is expressed by the blessing that the biblical ancestor Jacob gave to his sons on his deathbed,” he explained.
The “Tales” exhibit is divided into different sections and activities that allow kids to role-play the things that made the tribes traditionally famous. One tribe, Issachar, is known as the scribal keeper of knowledge, so its exhibit is a wall scroll of Jacob’s blessings in Hebrew. For another tribe, Naphtali, a portion of the exhibit is dedicated to a model diorama of a battle at Mount Tabor.
Other tribal displays invite guests to create family trees, sit on a throne, make noise with musical instruments and post sticky notes on a hope wall for Israel.
JCC Executive Director Mark Litt said Shalom Street, as part of the JCC, tries to bring in exhibits that contain Jewish themes and can resonate with everyone.
“The thought was, we take the kids through the tribes,” he said. “Some of the tribes were leadership. Some were farming. It’s having kids think about what is important to me as an individual.”
Litt said this exhibit differs from past events in that it’s staged completely in-house, and he thanked the Charles H. Gershenson Trust for funding it.
“With that gift, we were able to fund a wonderful designer. Then we developed a wonderful, wonderful teaching experience,” he said.
“Tales of Our Tribes” will run from now until Jan. 30, 2012, at Shalom Street in the JCC, 6600 W. Maple Road, in West Bloomfield. Public admission is free. To learn more, call (248) 661-1000.
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