Our Living Curriculum

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:

  1. What’s our story? – corresponding to Torah, Bible and History.
  2. 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?

Torah:

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.

Bible:

Prophets: Joshua, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremaiah, Jonah, Kings Saul, David and Solomon

Writings: Job, Song of Songs, Psalms, Ruth, Proverbs, Esther, Ecclesiastes

History:

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

Holidays:

Practice and stories of:

Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Channukah, Tu Bishvat, Purim, Passover, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israeli Independence Day, Shavuot.

Shabbat.

Prayer:

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.

September

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

Rosh Hashana – repenting (K-1), Rosh Hashanah – Tashlich – 4th, Rosh Hashanah – Tashlich, Rosh Hashanah – Tashlich, The Shofar, Tree of Wishes (Getting to know each other – K)

Yom Kippur: Scales of Justice / Jonah and the whale / Shofar, the power of sound / Tshuvah, repentance

Noah – our covenant with G-d, Our covenant with G-d, 3rd, Our Covenant with G-d – K, Noah and the Flood – 2nd

October

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

Simchat Torah – Intro to the Torah – K, Simchat Torah – Names, creations, Simchat Torah – the cycle, the Torah – 3rd,

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,

Tower of Babel – 2nd, Tower of Babel, Tower of Babel – 3rd, Tower of Babel – K

History: General scope / Spain / Israel / Rabin Yitzchak Rabin

November

Abraham/Sarah: Lech Lecha / Sodom and Gemorrah / Birth of Isaac / Binding of Isaac

Abram and Lot – Shalom Bayit – K, Abram and Lot – Shalom Bayit -3rd

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

Jacob and Esau, Jacob’s Ladder

Justice: Tsedakah / Isaiah / Dennis Goldberg / IfNotNow#

December

Hanukkah 1: Candles blessing / Miracles blessing / Shehecheyanu / Hillel vs. Shamai

Being Free to Believe – K, Being Free to Believe – 3rd, Miracles Still Happen – K, Miracles Still Happen – 3rd

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

January

Prayer: Gratitude / Request / Awareness / What is prayer

Modeh Ani – K, Modeh Ani – 3rd

Shabbat: Sabbath Spice / Sing a New Song / Havdalah / Temple in Time (Heschel)

Havdalah (Debbie Friendman), Shabbat – K, Shabbat – 3rd

Joseph: Dreams / Sibling Rivalry / Joseph in Egypt / Forgiveness

Joseph and his brothers, Shalom Bayit, Joseph and his dreams, Joseph and his brothers, Joseph and his coat of many colors – K

Ethics: Ethics of Our Fathers / Mishnah / Rabbi Akiva / Isaiah Berlin

Isaiah Berlin and his Two Concepts of Freedom, Rabbi Akiva and the Talmud

February

Tu Bishvat: Birthday of the Trees / Honi the Circler / Tu Bishvat Seder / From Seed to Plate

Honi the Circle Maker – 3rd, Honi the Circle Maker – K, Nature and Us, Tu B’Shvat – Planning Ahead, Tu B’Shvat Seder and the Ari – Rabbi Isaac Luria,  

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

March

Purim: Megillah general story / Upside Down / Megillah and gender / Revenge

Purim – Venahafoch hu

Ten Commandments: Two tablets / Make up your 10 commandments / Golden Calf / What is murder?

Ten Commandments – Good and Bad rules – 2nd, Ten Commandments – Yitro – 6th

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”

Mamonides

April

Passover: Four questions part 1 / Four questions part 2 / Four Children / Hannah Arendt “What is Freedom?”

Are we free? – K, Moshe in the Basket and Disobedience – K, What is home? – 3rd,  

Prophets: Joshua / Samuel / Isaiah / Jeremaiah,

Jewish identities: Jews of the World / Ashkenazi Sephardic / Jewish religion vs. Culture / Was Emma Goldman Jewish?

May

Holocaust Remembrance Day: Yiddish culture / “Love the Stranger.” / Hannah Senesh / The Eichmann Trial

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Israeli Independence Day: Snow in Jerusalem / Hertzl / Tel Aviv, a new Jewish city / 67’-today

Yom Haatzmaut – Israel – part 1 – 3rd, Yom Haatzmaut – Israel – Part 1 – K, Yom Haatzmaut – part 2 – 3rd, Yom Haatzmaut – part 2 – K

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.”

June

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