Dear Religious School Families,
My favorite Torah reading moment comes five times per Torah reading cycle. It is the moment when we move from one book to the next. When we finish Genesis and move on to Exodus, or Exodus to Leviticus, and so on, we sing the words “חזק חזק ונתחזק” – “Hazak Hazak V’Nithazek” – “From strength to strength, we will become stronger.” We show that in moving from one book to the next, we strengthen our love of Torah and our excitement to return again to the stories.
The arrival of the 5778 school year, for all of the teachers and parents and community members who worked tirelessly over the summer, is one of these “hazak hazak v’nitzhazek” moments. I am so excited about all of the projects that we undertook this summer and what it will mean for our students!
Our Temple Emanuel Religious School Siddur:
Every student in our school is going to receive a special siddur this year. The siddur is going to be very basic at first. It will be 99% in Hebrew. It will be black and white. It will have odd looking squares in the corners of many pages. The siddur will look foreign. And it should. Because prayer is difficult and foreign and alien to many of us. I think that in some way, we are all trying to figure out prayer.
Each year, our students are going to breathe life into these siddurim. As they encounter the prayers, our teachers will invite them to color, translate, define, and engage with the words on the page. We will ask them to examine and read the words. We might ask them to paste photographs next to the writing. Through all of this, we are going to invite our students to develop a meaningful relationship with prayer.
Oh, and what about those funny looking squares? Well, thanks to a brilliant idea from our Religious School co-chair Edward Goldstein, gone are the days of saying “I wish I could help my student study, but I don’t know Hebrew.” The squares are QR codes. I invite all of you to download a QR code scanner. Then, place your phone over the square, let the reader scan it, and you’ll be immediately linked to our website where Emily Kaye will sing the prayer for you! You can sing along with her and practice any time you’d like! With this innovation, we are truly bringing the siddur into the 21st Century!
What if my child loses their siddur? Fear not. The siddur will be in PDF form on our website and you can reprint it. Each student will receive one copy. We recommend that you print out a home copy for practice and leave the school copy with us.
Our New Hebrew Standards
Over the last two years here, I heard a very common concern amongst parents and teachers. “We don’t have enough time!” This concern is completely valid. We ARE crunched for time, and we have a full language and about 3,500 years of Jewish History to cover! How can we get it all done? The answer is, we can’t. Instead of racing to cover too much, this year we are going to look at the essentials and learn the essentials deeply. This summer, our teachers met seven times for extended curriculum planning sessions. They are ready to focus on depth of knowledge rather than breadth of knowledge. A student that completes this program will know 25 prayers deeply. They will have a solid base of Hebrew vocabulary that mixes ancient and modern words. They will know the meanings of prayers and they will sing songs. They will develop a deep love and understanding of Judaism and the Hebrew language. We will assess our students to make sure they are achieving their goals, and we have discussed how we can make these assessments fun. I am so excited to see our students excel in their Hebrew studies in a fun environment.
Wednesday Evening 7th– 9th Grade Curriculum
Last year was the pilot year. This year is “Wednesday Evening 2.0” and I can’t wait to see what the students think. And I don’t mean what they think about the curriculum design. I mean, I can’t wait to hear what they think about all of the big questions that the Jewish People face today. Our students will learn about Israel and they will debate about Israel’s existence as a democratic and Jewish state. They will learn stories of Talmud and Midrash and modern tales. They will not only study what our tradition has to say about tikkun olam but they will debate which ways are the best ways to fix our world. They will learn theology, and they will learn about the different Jewish movements.
Oh, and that’s just in the last hour! Students will be doing electives. They will be learning modern Hebrew. Our 7th graders will be taking a class that will further and more deeply prepare them for becoming a bat or bar mitzvah. We’ll celebrate together and sing together. We’ll eat pizza too. Wednesday nights are going to be a blast, and they will be challenging too. I can’t wait. I hope you’re excited as well.
The curricula is set. The hard work is done, and is just beginning, all at once. I’m looking forward to a fantastic year and I know we will go from strength to strength. Welcome back to Religious School! Hazak Hazak V’Nithazek! חזק חזק ונתחזק!