School for Creative Judaism
A Living Curriculum
Questions are at the core of our teaching at SCJ. We therefore divided our curriculum
into three main questions:
- What’s our story? – corresponding to Torah, Bible and History.
- What do we do? – corresponding to Holidays and prayers.
III. What guides us?- corresponding to Ideas and ideals.
Every year, each of the three sections has elements of repetition along with new knowledge. Holidays are studied each year as they come up in the calendar, each time focusing on a different aspect of the holiday. The weekly Torah portion guides the stories the kids learn, with different stories or ideas from each Torah portion chosen each year. This way kids get a sense of the development of the Torah’s arch, while still learning new material. While many of the “ideas and ideals,” which make up the third guiding question are taught through lessons in the other sections, some are taught separately, to highlight their centrality, and to connect contemporary issues to the ancient tradition.
In addition, SCJ follows a seven-year cycle of annual themes, which give a different focus to each year’s classes. Many of the classes are taught through the lens of the annual theme, while other classes stray from the curriculum to focus specifically on things related to the annual them. The annual theme cycle is designed to nurture an understanding and appreciation of Judaism’s DNA, or main driving forces as we see them, and the way each manifests in the world. The seven annual themes are:
Year of the Philosophers; meant to nurture a Judaism of curiosity and intellect.
Year of the Peacemakers; meant to nurture a Judaism of action and care.
Year of the Storytellers; meant to nurture a Judaism of playfulness and positive identity.
Year of the Singer-Songwriters; meant to nurture a Judaism of music and spirit.
Year of the Gardeners; meant to nurture a Judaism of awareness and connection to nature.
Year of the Artists; meant to nurture a Judaism of abstraction and creativity.
Year of Shabbat; meant to nurture a Judaism of tradition and community.
In each of the themes, we showcase a host of Jews and characters and their ideas from biblical times to today, who are pertinent to the year’s theme. By seeing examples from across history we provide the kids with role models to follow, and hope to empower them to see themselves as philosophers, peacemakers, storytellers, singer-songwriters, gardeners and artists.
Four stages of study:
We have divided our curriculum into four stages of development. Usually (though this can vary) these stages correspond to the following grades: Stage 1: K-1, Stage 2: 2-3, Stage 3: 4-5 and Stage 4: 6-7. Each stage of study can be seen through the classic Hebrew acronym פרדס, (Pardes) which is the way the rabbis explained the different layers of depth in Torah study. Below are the four stages of study, using the example of Rosh Hashanah to show how the holiday might be approached in the School in each stage.
The Four Stages are:
Grades K-1, Pshat – The simple meaning: Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, on which we eat apples and honey. (Why do we eat apples and honey on RH?)
Grades 2-3 Remez – The hinted meaning: Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the world, on which we eat a round Challah to mark our place in the history of the universe, just like we mark the beginning of an eternal cycle. (Does a circle have a beginning and an end?)
Grades 4-5, Drash: The studied meaning: On Rosh Hashanah we read the story of the Binding of Isaac. (What was Sarah doing while Abraham and Isaac were on the mountain?)
Grades 6-7 Sod: The secret meaning: On Rosh Hashanah we begin the process of Tshuvah, repentance. (What is the difference between thinking and praying, between talking to yourself and talking to God?)
Through the four stages of study students will learn the following:
Section 1: What’s our story?
Early Genesis: Creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Tower of Babel, Noah’s Ark
Patriarchs and Matriarchs: Abraham and Sarah, Rebecca and Isaac, Jacob, Rachel and Leah.
Joseph: from dreams to Prime Minister of Egypt.
Moses: From his birth to his death, the exodus story, the Ten Commandments, 40 years of wandering the desert.
Prophets: Joshua, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremaiah, Jonah, Kings Saul, David and Solomon
Writings: Job, Song of Songs, Psalms, Ruth, Proverbs, Esther, Ecclesiastes
General arc: from Abraham to 2017
Ancient: Joshua-Roman empire
Medieval: Post Temple-1492, including Jewish life in those times in Israel, the Middle East, North Africa and Spain.
Pre-Modern: Post expulsion from Spain-19th century, including sephardic migration, Ashkenazi culture, Hassidism, beginnings of Jewish life in America.
Modern: 20th Century, including Jewish immigration to the US, Holocaust, Zionism, Israel, Jewish life in New York, and a contemporary picture of Judaism.
?Section 2: What do we do
Practice and stories of:
Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Channukah, Tu Bishvat, Purim, Passover, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israeli Independence Day, Shavuot.
What is prayer?
The three pillars of Jewish prayer, and prayers that accompany them:
Gratitude: Modeh Ani, Hallelujah, Mi Khamocha, Hineh Ma Tov, Ilu Finu,
Awareness: Shma Yisrael, Ve’ahavta, Shehecheyanu, Blessings over different foods.
Request: Amidah, Mi Sheberakh, Forever Young, Oseh Shalom
Bnai Mitzvah prayers:
Ve’ahavta, Torah Trop, Torah blessings, Haftarah blessings, Talit blessing
Section 3: What guides us?
Justice (Tzedakah, social action)
Truth (Talmud, debate, philosophical inquiry)
Ethics (Mishnah, Ethics of our Fathers)
Identities – various ways to construct our Jewish identities
Gender (the quest and practice of gender equality in Judaism)
Language, (Hebrew as our cultural signpost, its history and beauty)
God (various ways Jews over the century have struggled with this concept)
Additional Special Units:
In addition, each of the stages has a special unit, which is used for students with whom we have more years than four. Other units are created to cater to the needs, interests and personalities of different groups.
Stage 1: Jewish heroes and heroines
Stage 2: Tsedakah
Stage 3: Judaism and immigration
Stage 4: 20th century Jewish history
Annual Progression of Curriculum Month by Month:
A living curriculum: Our curriculum is not fixed but fluid, to suit the needs and interests of each class, and the educational instincts of each teacher. Our experience shows that teachers with a greater degree of freedom bring more of themselves and their interests into the classroom, which amounts to more exciting classes. Therefore, the following is not a precise map of the school year, but the teachers will follow much of it.
Introduction: Hebrew; Ancient or Modern? / Creation through language / Emmanuel Amiran and the first modern Hebrew kids’ songs / Beshevis Singer
Rosh Hashanah: Apples and honey / Does a circle have a beginning and an end? / Sarah and the Binding of Isaac / The difference between thinking and praying
Yom Kippur: Scales of Justice / Jonah and the whale / Shofar, the power of sound / Tshuvah, repentance
Sukkot: Joy / Harvest / Impermanence / Homelessness
Sukkot – Hiking in the Desert for 40 years – 2nd, Sukkot – Hiking in the Desert for 40 years – 2nd, Sukkot – House in the Desert – 3rd, Sukkot – House in the Desert – K, Sukkot – Hiking in the Desert for 40 years – 2nd,
Bereshit/Simchat Torah: Horah / Seven days of creation / Why read the Torah AGAIN? / Moses’ Death to Creation and back
Early Genesis: Noah / Adam and Eve / Cain and Abel / Tower of Babel
Adam and Eve – 3rd, Adam and Eve – Resisting Temptation – K, Cain and Able – 2nd, Cain and Able – 3rd, Creation – 2nd, Creation – why life is blessed – 3rd, Creation – why life is blessed – K, Creation – why life is blessed – K, Bereishit – Disobedience – 3rd-6th, Bereishit – In the Garden of Eden – 2nd,
History: General scope / Spain / Israel / Rabin Yitzchak Rabin
Abraham/Sarah: Lech Lecha / Sodom and Gemorrah / Birth of Isaac / Binding of Isaac
Isaac/Rebecca: Meeting at the well / Two nations in your belly / Rebecca’s decision to marry Isaac/ Afternoon prayer
Jacob/Leah/Rachel: Jacob’s dream / Jacob and Esau / Jacob marries Leah and Rachel / Wrestling the angel
Justice: Tsedakah / Isaiah / Dennis Goldberg / IfNotNow#
Hanukkah 1: Candles blessing / Miracles blessing / Shehecheyanu / Hillel vs. Shamai
Hanukkah 2: Miracle of the oil / Macabees / Religious freedom / Assimilation
Gender: Sitting together / The first Bat Mitzvah / Women of the Wall / Ashkenazi Women’s Prayer Books
Prayer: Gratitude / Request / Awareness / What is prayer
Shabbat: Sabbath Spice / Sing a New Song / Havdalah / Temple in Time (Heschel)
Joseph: Dreams / Sibling Rivalry / Joseph in Egypt / Forgiveness
Ethics: Ethics of Our Fathers / Mishnah / Rabbi Akiva / Isaiah Berlin
Tu Bishvat: Birthday of the Trees / Honi the Circler / Tu Bishvat Seder / From Seed to Plate
Jewish Law: What’s a Mitzvah? / Who needs laws? / Torah-Talmud-Law / Is Kosher Relevant?
Moses: Story of a leader / Story of a justice fighter / Burning Bush / Killing the Egyptian
Purim: Megillah general story / Upside Down / Megillah and gender / Revenge
Ten Commandments: Two tablets / Make up your 10 commandments / Golden Calf / What is murder?
Moses 2: the Angel saves Moses / Hitting the Rock / Miriam and the Song of the Sea / Moses’ Death
Notions of God: God is everything (Spinoza) / One God or Many? / Einstein’s belief in God / Maimonides on “the image of God”
Passover: Four questions part 1 / Four questions part 2 / Four Children / Hannah Arendt “What is Freedom?”
Prophets: Joshua / Samuel / Isaiah / Jeremaiah,
Jewish identities: Jews of the World / Ashkenazi Sephardic / Jewish religion vs. Culture / Was Emma Goldman Jewish?
Holocaust Remembrance Day: Yiddish culture / “Love the Stranger.” / Hannah Senesh / The Eichmann Trial
Israeli Independence Day: Snow in Jerusalem / Hertzl / Tel Aviv, a new Jewish city / 67’-today
Last three Torah books: Leviticus; “Love your neighbor as yourself” / Leviticus; “A Sabbath for the Land” / Numbers; the twelve spies / Deuteronomy: Ve’ahavta (Love God)
Talmud: Bruriah / Food blessings / Achnai’s oven / “Your brother lives with you.”
Shavuot: Torah is a Tree of Life / Mount Sinai / Ruth / Torat Emet – a Torah of Truth? Shavuot and the essential things in our lives – 3rd, Shavuot and the essential things in our lives – K, Shavuot and who wrote the Torah