As a teacher at the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester Rabbi Yael Buechler started an unlikely club: a "Midrash Manicures" club for girls in 7th and 8th grade. Every week members study the appropriate Torah portion, then transform what they have learned into creative designs on their nails. When the club met with mixed reactions (the girls love it, while some educators think it an inappropriate way to study Torah) we asked Rabbi Buechler to tell us a bit more about her innovative approach to Jewish education.
About Judaism: How did you come up with the concept of Midrash Manicures?
Rabbi Buechler: Midrash Manicures had its genesis in linking my two passions: Judaism and creativity. While I had been painting weekly manicures for years, it was not until I was in college that it dawned on me how each manicured fingernail could serve as a canvas for Jewish creativity. I began to paint each week's manicure according to the Torah portion or holiday of that week. For example, I depicted the splitting of the Red Sea on my nails when that passage from Exodus was read from the Torah, and on the holiday of Passover, I portrayed each of the ten plagues on my fingernails, one for every finger. As the word Midrash refers to a creative rabbinic interpretation, my manicures became known as "Midrash Manicures," as they are hand painted reflections on the Torah. This past summer, I founded MidrashManicures.com, hoping that this educational website would serve as a launching pad for sparkling and innovative religious expression. The response to MidrashManicures.com has been overwhelming and individuals from all over the world, reflecting a mosaic of religious backgrounds, have contacted me to say that these biblical, Jewish-themed and stirring manicures have inspired them on their own religious journeys.
About Judaism: A recent post on The Sisterhood questioned whether manicures are an effective way for girls to engage with Torah. How do you respond to critics of the Midrash Manicures club?
Rabbi Buechler: I appreciate that the topic of Midrash Manicures has been discussed in Jewish educational arenas - the more experiential Jewish education, the better! For me and for my students, Midrash Manicures is not about having the most beautiful manicure as much as it is about having the most meaningful manicure. As a rabbi with a passion for informal education, Midrash Manicures is one creative method with which I can enhance Torah learning for students of all ages. Last week, a teacher approached me saying that she had told a student of hers (who happened to be in Midrash Manicures club) that she liked her nails. The student replied not only with a "thank you" but also with an explanation of that week's Torah portion and how her nails expressed the theme of Sarah's laughter. The teacher said to me, "Now this [Midrash Manicures] is a force of good! We've got kids talking Torah!" A father of a student in my Midrash Manicures club also recently commented that while he would personally not paint his nails, he shares much joy in learning from his daughter about her Torah studies and how she depicts Torah in art form on her fingernails. Midrash Manicures is "hands-on" Judaism at its finest. I invite any educators to come see Midrash Manicures in action!
About Judaism: Can you describe the midrash + manicure process? How do girls generate the images for their manicures?
Rabbi Buechler: Each week, I intensively study the entire Torah portion, as well as several Midrashim (plural for Midrash) on the Torah portion, before designing themes for that week's Midrash Manicures. At the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, a weekly Midrash Manicures club has become part of our cutting edge experiential education. Each week, I begin the class by reviewing a few tips in nail polish application and nail art design. I then introduce a Midrash passage about the upcoming week’s Torah portion, and the students study the texts in "Chevrutah," Hebrew for "learning partners." A class discussion on the Torah portion then ensues with an engaging classroom conversation about symbols that arise in the Torah portion. The forum then shifts from the text to the context: how to design and translate those symbols into Midrash Manicures. After we have discussed and sketched out a few designs, the students are ready to begin painting their own Midrash Manicures. They rush to find colors that would work well with that week's Torah portion, and are guided to their designer tools, toothpicks, which will serve as mini paintbrushes. For the students that only write with one hand, their study partners help to paint the fingernails on their dominant hand. It is so gratifying to witness the progress these middle school students have made in just a few weeks. They have gone from struggling to do a base coat, to now being able to craft detail designs, and their Midrash IQs have increased exponentially!
About Judaism: What is the most creative/thoughtful design a student has come up with?
Rabbi Buechler: It is difficult to choose which Midrash Manicures I admire the most. Each week, students have come up with many creative designs for the Parsha, and it is impossible not to adore each Midrash Manicure motif! In the past few weeks, highlights from the Midrash Manicures club have included a manicure where each fingernail had a road running through it to symbolize Abraham's journey to the land that God would show him, as well as a manicure where each finger was a different type of animal print, to represent the animals that entered Noah's ark. There are fifty-four Torah portions read each year, and I look forward to many more of my students’ Midrash Manicures in the future.