Living the Legacy


How Does My Identity Inform My Actions?

Unit 1 , Lesson 2

Jewish Women's Archive - Living the Legacy

How Does My Identity Inform My Actions?

Lesson plan:
  1. Set Induction

    1. If you taught Unit 1, Lesson 1 (Exploring My Identity), hand back to your students one of their Identity Index Cards.


      If you didn't do the Identity Index Card activity from the previous lesson, explain that we are each members of many different groups (groups we are part of). These groups may shift over time and in different contexts. Give your students a few minutes to jot down a few of the groups they are members of, such as family, sports team, class, etc.
      Skip b and c below, and continue with the second sentence of d.
    2. Explain that as part of our identity, we experience membership and belonging. Just as we have many different parts to our identity, we also belong to many different groups, which may shift over time or in different places. Some of these belongings are voluntary – like joining a team or a club – and some are (mostly) involuntary – like being part of one's family or one's race; even if one chooses not to identify with this membership group, others may identify you as belonging to it.
    3. Have your students look at their Identity Index Cards and think about what membership groups are represented there. You may want to give them a couple of examples. For instance, if you said you were a "sister" one of your membership groups is your family or if you said you were a student one of your membership groups might be your school.
    4. Give your students a couple of minutes to think about what is on their card and what membership groups are represented. Then ask as many of your students as possible to each share one membership group that they are part of and make a list on the board. See how long a list you can make. Students may add other groups besides what is on their card if your list is short. Point out that certain identities can lead one to feel a sense of belonging to more than one group. For example, an Orthodox Jew may feel a sense of belonging to a community of religious people of all faiths as well as a sense of belonging to the Jewish community. This person might feel shared identity with a religious Christian and with a secular Jew, even though the secular Jew and the religious Christian may not share a sense of belonging to the same community.
    5. After you've completed the list of membership groups, introduce the terms "Power," "Oppression" and "Privilege." Ask students to define these terms. After collecting a few responses (or if no one is able to offer a definition), share with them the definitions in the vocabulary section below. Raise the issue that membership groups are usually not neutral. Some groups tend to have more power and privileges than others, and the power of one may depend on the lack of power of another (this is what leads to oppression – the system that gives certain people power and privilege at the expense of other people). Also, one's sense of belonging and power can shift depending on context. For example, in a school that is mostly Jewish, being Jewish may come with certain power, whereas in some parts of America, Jews are a small minority and therefore may have less power. You may also want to point out that power and privilege are not always visible to those that have them. When privilege is unearned or has  always been part of one's experience, it can easily be taken for granted as "just the way things are" or not even noticed. Ask students if they can think of examples of power or privilege in their own lives/communities.
    6. Explain that each of our membership groups probably has stated or unstated values or principles that guide the actions of its members. These values may also be related to the group's power. Ask your students to choose a group from the board and identify a value or principle of the group. (If your students need an example to get started, you might suggest that your school has certain rules or an honor code that is supposed to guide student behavior.)
  2. Who's in, Who's out?

    1. Divide your class into small groups of no more than three or four students.
    2. Hand out copies of Document Study #1Document Study #1Document Study #1Document Study #1Document Study #1 to each group and give the groups a chance to read and discuss.
    3. You may want to point out to students that the "Your People" document is actually a secondary source and not a primary source. This excerpt is based on an interview but is not a transcript of the interview itself.
    4. After students have finished their discussions and come back together, explain: In these examples people's ideas about their identity and membership groups shaped how they viewed the world around them and also how they chose to act in the world. Sometimes we also make choices about how and when to express our membership in our group or whether we want to express that membership at all. For example, we may choose to wear a Jewish star only when we are with other Jews, we may choose to wear it all the time, or we may choose not to wear one at all. Provide the opportunity for students to respond to these statements.
  3. A Yarmulke: Choosing How to Identify Yourself

    1. Hand out copies of Document Study #2Document Study #2 to your students.
    2. Have your students take turns reading one paragraph at a time out loud. After each paragraph, stop the students and discuss the following questions with your class.
      • Paragraph One:
        • According to his sermon, why did Rabbi Braude wear a yarmulke between Selma and Montgomery?
        • Why do you think Rabbi Braude was reluctant to wear a yarmulke?
        • Why do you think the rabbis got such a positive response from fellow marchers?
        • How do you think this made the rabbis feel? Do you think this might have influenced the way the rabbis felt about wearing their yarmulkes?
      • Paragraph Two:
        • How does the purpose or symbolism of the yarmulke change as a result of rabbis wearing them during the marches between Selma and Montgomery?
        • What is its new positive name and symbol?
        • What is its new negative name and symbol?
        • How is it possible for one object to have so many different associations attached to it? Can you think of other items connected to identity that may be viewed differently by different groups?
      • Paragraph Three:
        • Consider the parallel drawn between the yarmulke and the clerical collar.
          Is this yet a different symbolism for the yarmulke than in the previous paragraph? Why or why not?
      • Paragraph Four – Six:
        • Review: When is a yarmulke traditionally worn? By whom?
        • Why did Rabbi Davis go to Alabama?
        • Have the yarmulkes worn by Rabbi Davis and Rabbi Braude really changed function? Why or why not?
        • Do you think the rabbis changed how they felt about the yarmulke as a result of their experience in Alabama? If so, how?
    3. Explain that sometimes, like the rabbis in this sermon, our comfort with expressing our identity through certain symbols can change.
    4. Have your students write a journal entry based on the questions:
      • Have you ever had an experience where you were uncomfortable wearing/doing something that identified you as part of a certain group?
      • Did your feeling about this change? If so, why? If not, what do you think could cause you to feel more comfortable with it?
    5. If there's time, have a few students share what they've written. Otherwise, the students can hand in their journals, and you can write some responses to what they've written and hand the journals back during the next class.
  4. What's Jewish About Justice?

    1. Post the "What's Jewish about Justice" signs around the classroom/space you are using.
    2. Explain that membership, belonging, and exclusion aren't only categories of personal identification. They also describe how larger groups relate in society. Your students should consider the fact that the same identity can be experienced as providing a sense of belonging in one context and a sense of exclusion in another. For example, being Jewish may lead to feelings of belonging in a Jewish setting and exclusion in another setting. Explain that this simultaneous "in"/"out" identification has influenced how many Jews relate to social justice issues.
    3. Point out the "What's Jewish about Justice" signs that are posted around the room. You may want to give your students some time to do a "gallery walk" around the room to read and reflect on the different signs.
    4. Have your students think about the different actions taken by Rabbi Nussbaum, Roberta Galler, and the rabbis who marched from Selma to Montgomery. (You may want to add other figures from the curriculum, if you already have done other lessons with the class.) Ask your students to choose one of those figures and then go and stand under the "What's Jewish About Justice" sign that represents the Jewish value that might have motivated their actions.
    5. Once all of your students are standing under a sign, go around the room and ask each group of students which historical figure they were thinking of and why they think this Jewish value shaped the person's actions.
    6. Repeat this activity, but this time have your students choose to stand under the sign that they feel most connected to and/or the value that they think would motivate them to act in the world.
    7. Once all of your students are standing under a sign, go around the room and ask each group of students to explain why they chose their sign and what kind of actions in support of social justice this value might motivate them to take in the world today.
    8. Ask your students what connections they see between their values and the values of the Jews they've studied today who took part in the Civil Rights Movement.
    9. Remind your students that no matter our identities, we probably hold Jewish values, American values, and some other values all at the same time. Some Jews are driven to work for justice by Jewish values; others are motivated by other values. Jews have a strong tradition of seeking justice, but do not have a monopoly on social justice values or activism.
    10. Distribute light colored paper and markers to your students. Have them come up with a value sign they would like to add to the ones posted around the room. The new value sign should reflect another value that would cause them to act to support social justice in the world today. It should also include an action that they would take based on this value.
    11. Once your students are done making their signs they can post it some place in the classroom.
    12. You may want to leave these signs up for future classes as a reminder of the class' values as you continue your studies of Jewish Social Justice and the Civil Rights Movement.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Living the Legacy - Lesson: How Does My Identity Inform My Actions?." (Viewed on April 23, 2014) <>.