The goals of our education program for grades K-7 are the same as those for the entire congregation. We seek to construct powerful educational experiences that enable our students to become:
- Critical Readers
- Social Justice Activists
- Reflective Ritual Practitioners
- Zionists in America
Our focus on the development of identities provides touchstones for making pragmatic, curricular choices; enables us to chart our personal development throughout our lives; encourages opportunities for experiential learning; and guides us in integrating the study of Judaism with the lives that we lead.
Historically, Jews have conveyed their past through the telling and reading of stories. As a text-based religion, Jews perpetuate and renew Judaism through the act of reading and interpretation. Guided by the ideology of Reform Judaism, we seek to enable students to be thoughtful and competent readers of Jewish texts whose lives will be deeply informed by the central stories of Judaism, particularly those contained in the Torah. The 1976 Centenary Platform states, "Within each area of Jewish observance Reform Jews are called upon to confront the claims of Jewish tradition, however differently perceived, and to exercise their individual autonomy, choosing and creating on the basis of commitment and knowledge." 1 Through ongoing text study in Hebrew and English, we endeavor to instill in our students the capacity to make wise choices regarding their Jewish practice and to integrate Jewish values into the entirety of their lives.
As with all aspects of our program, the tenets of Life-Centered Jewish Education 2 direct us in making choices about our Hebrew curriculum. We do not live in a Hebrew speaking environment and the structure of our program does not support the acquisition of spoken language skills. However, becoming competent readers and interpreters of Biblical and liturgical Hebrew are very relevant educational goals for Reform Jews living in the United States.
There are three foci for our Hebrew program which is integrated into both Sunday and weekday school sessions:
- 12 Verses of Torah: For their B'nei Mitzvah, our students prepare approximately twelve verses of a weekly torah portion. We expect that our students will learn how to decode, translate, and interpret these twelve verses and that their B'nei Mitzvah will be milestone moments in our students' education, showcases for the development of their skills. Concurrently, through enabling our students to "make meaning" of twelve verses of Torah, they will develop basic skills for reading any verses of the Bible and become thoughtful interpreters of any text. Our Hebrew program in grades K-4 is designed to build the skills to prepare for this focus on 12 Verses of Torah that begins in the second half of 6th grade.
- Our Siddur: Generally, Jews encounter the siddur (prayer book) more than any other Jewish text. The siddur contains a shared story of Judaism's mythic past and is a reflection of a community's values and ideology. The core of the Reform siddur (Mishkan Tefilah) is common to siddurim (prayer books) used in synagogues throughout the world. By teaching our students to read and utilize the siddur, we will enable them to be comfortable in various Jewish communities during course of their lives.
- Cultural Literacy: Most Jews do not speak fluent Israeli Hebrew. Instead, many Jews speak "Judaism": a series of Hebrew (and Yiddish) terms that convey shared ideas and values. Some of these terms and aspects of their definitions are frequently utilized at Temple Israel (examples: Torah, Tzedakah, Tikkun Ha'olam). In the course of the school year, our students will build a vocabulary of Judaism, one that they will expand upon in subsequent years. By the time that they leave for college and encounter Jews from a variety of backgrounds, they will be competent Reform "speakers" of Judaism, and able to cogently define and utilize this language.
Social Justice Activists
Judaism is another word for activism. Reform Judaism embraces social justice as a key component of Jewish living in the modern world. There are many ways we understand and enact this pillar of Judaism in our religious school program at Temple Israel and in the larger Reform Movement. We transmit to our students the values of tzedekah (righteous living), rachamim (compassion), and tikkun ha'olam (repair of the world), and to facilitate opportunities for them to engage in this work. Each grade's curriculum focuses on aspects of our responsibility for repairing our world in an age appropriate manner, often including and relying upon parent participation and support. Kindergarten - 4th grade students focus on learning the basic vocabulary of social justice, and engage in a direct service activity on Tikkun Olam Day (the first Sunday in May). In preparation for their B'nei Mitzvah, 5th - 7th grade students, with guidance and support from their parents, will have opportunities to begin learning and practicing the skills of grassroots organizing while working towards systemic and long-term change on issues they find personally meaningful. As our students mature, their opportunities for serious social justice work will connect them to our larger Temple Israel community and the work of our social Justice initiative, Ohel Tzedek (Tent of Justice).
Reflective Ritual Practitioners
Through meaningful prayer experiences and an understanding of, and familiarity with, Jewish rituals of all types, we seek to imbue our students with a sense of their spiritual selves and competency in prayer and ritual. Our goals are for our students to utilize prayer and ritual as a way to center and nurture themselves; to connect to the larger Temple Israel community; and to become engaged with an entire people bound together in covenant.
We can only achieve these goals in partnership with parents and continued family participation at Shabbat and holiday services. Each student is required to attend at minimum, the number of services equal to the number of their grade level, e.g., Kindergarten and Grade 1, at least one service, 2nd grade, at least two services, 3rd grade, at least three services, and so on. In order to keep track of those who come, there will be a big jar at the front desk of the Temple and cards. The cards will read: "Religious School and Day School Student 'Welcome' cards". The children will fill them out and put them in the jar. Shabbat services are a wonderful experience here at Temple Israel. We recognize and cherish the fact that Shabbat is an opportunity for families to spend quality time together. We urge you to participate in Shabbat Mishpachah (Family Shabbat) a Shabbat experience for Religious School families in grades K-4 including a festive Shabbat community dinner.
Our services provide opportunities to join with the Temple Israel community as an extension of sacred family time. Additionally, students in our weekday program (Tuesday/Thursday) will participate in a weekly prayer experience led by the clergy and faculty. Through this experience, our students learn the rubrics of Shabbat services, delve into the meaning(s) of prayer and God, and begin to develop the skills to lead worship. We welcome you to join us for this exploration of prayer which typical takes place the last 25 minutes of our weekday, school sessions.
Zionists in America
The Jews of Israel and America are Bnei Pelugta (children of purposeful controversy): Well-matched partners in a great debate as to the meanings of Judaism and our purpose as Jews. Little else provokes us to broaden our tradition more powerfully than encountering the "Judaisms" of Israel. Little else moves us out of our Jewish comfort zones more than going to Israel. A relationship with Israel - both as people and place - is central to our evolution as American Jews. The goals of our Israel education program are as follows:
- For students to understand how they are part of Am Yisrael/the Jewish people.
- For students to experience the value of having two large centers of Jewish life - Israel and the U.S.
- For students to internalize the importance of liberal Judaism, both in the US and Israel.
- For students to be familiar with the "mythic geography" of Ancient Israel.
Music and the Arts
Creative arts are an integral part of our religious school curriculum. Our music specialist meets regularly with our students and our music curriculum is closely tied to our weekly Qabbalat Shabbat service and includes prayers and songs related to each holiday as well as contemporary Jewish and Israeli songs.
Youth Choir (Makela)
Students in grades 3 - 7 may audition for our Youth Choir, Makelah, which meets with Cantor Einhorn every Sunday from 10:45 - 11:15 AM. In Makelah students learn about Judaism through our rich musical tradition. The Makelah practices for performances and participates in our Qabbalat Shabbat Worship Services as well as Chanukkah, Shabbat Shirah and other holiday services.
Our multi-sensory, integrated approach to teaching and learning enhances our students' experiences and gives them the opportunity to create and express their Jewish identity in diverse ways.
1 Find the entire Centenary Platform here.
2 For a description of these tenets, click here.