Our youngest students will be immersed in the basics of Jewish knowledge. This Judaism 101a for Kids introduces them to the fundamentals of Jewish learning: Torah, celebrations, ethics and symbols. In the Torah unit we hear the stories of Joseph through the Exodus from Egypt and the entry into Canaan. Each week the children will add to their ever-expanding Wall Torah and will discuss the themes of the stories as they relate to their everyday life. We will use the Torah stories as the vehicle for introducing the mitzvot that guide our conduct. As each holiday approaches, the children will learn the story, vocabulary and rituals related to the holiday and complete a variety of projects designed to reinforce their learning. Along with a little basic Hebrew vocabulary, we will also be introducing them to the symbols that have been hallmarks of Jewish identity through the generations.
This year our second and third graders explore identity through the image of our Jewish homes. Their study will take them through a “tour” of the rooms of a Jewish house, searching for Jewish objects, understanding the role of heritage and memory, learning about Jewish practices, and expanding their understanding of core Jewish values. Once we finish our unit on the home and the family, we will turn to our larger Jewish home: the synagogue and its members. We will learn about the parts of a sanctuary, the Torah and its ornaments, the roles of those who work for and in the synagogue and the activities the synagogue houses to provide for its members and to contribute to the betterment of the world. In addition, our students will be learning Hebrew vocabulary related to their studies (did you know that the Hebrew word for “fish” sounds exactly like our English word “dog”?), and will be working on recognizing the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
Torah scholars in the making—that’s what our fourth and fifth graders are this year. As younger students, they heard versions of the Torah stories; this year they not only study the actual Torah text, they learn how to study a Torah text. Our students will learn how to look for repetition of language, alliteration, and decode structure as they learn the traditional Jewish methods of interpretation. We will be encouraging them to wrestle with the meaning and real-life application of the text by studying ancient and contemporary commentary and by developing their own skills as Torah commentators. Just as this year’s Torah study builds upon and deepens a more sophisticated understanding of the familiar Torah stories, this year we build upon their prior knowledge of the holidays. We will be studying several of the holidays in depth to learn about their roots, their significance, and their theological and ethical underpinning.
Our sixth graders are approaching their bar and bat mitzvah year, and what better time to study the Judaism’s celebration of the life cycle? We start with the Jewish rituals for welcoming a new life through both birth and adoption and get a parents-eyed view of what it’s really like to be responsible for this new and utterly unique person. We do an in-depth cross-cultural study of rites of passage into adulthood, exploring the themes of rights and responsibility, and the history, rituals and significance of becoming a bar/bat mitzvah. Then it’s on to establishing a Jewish home—what makes a home Jewish—objects, rituals, values? We continue with marriage and talk about not only the transformation of the wedding rituals from a man’s purchase of a woman from her father to a ritual of sanctification, but also what makes the marriage relationship sacred. After a brief look at both conversion and divorce, we finish with the difficult topics of death, burial and mourning in which we learn Jewish beliefs about the afterlife as well as how we care for the dead and for the bereaved.
By the time our students reach this point in their Jewish education they are ready for something completely different. This year they are using a program, based on the Storyline method, which comes out of the national education system of Scotland. Rather than presenting to students the information they are to master, they are presented with key questions that prompt them to create their version of a familiar world with the characters, the setting, and the plot of a content-based narrative that develops in response to their decisions. Storyline is not a simulation game. It is an entry into an entire world of their own creation in which they must plan, prioritize, negotiate, construct, make tough decisions, face moral issues, and garner information to make intelligent decisions for the world they are creating in the classroom. While Storyline was developed for use in secular academic settings with specific skill mastery goals, it promises to be ideal in our synagogue setting. (And we may be the first synagogue ever to use this method!) In the course of the year’s activities our students will be studying the history of the synagogue, the role of leadership, the significance of symbol, and Jewish values and ethics. Along the way, they will test their strengths, enhance their teamwork, and learn to value each other’s contributions.