In a rapidly changing world, where we are all exposed daily to endless stimuli and modes of entertainment, one might ask: What is exactly the purpose of Judaic studies? What is vital about antient Torah stories? What can be relevant about prayer sessions? And how many years can you learn about the same holidays in a meaningful way?
In the beginning of the 20th century, IQ became the focus in educational discourses. The Intellectual or rational Intelligence is what we use to solve logical problems. In mid 1990s, the term EQ was introduced, making the case that Emotional Intelligence is of equal importance. EQ includes empathy, motivation, and basically helps us become aware of our own and other people’s feelings. Now, at the end of the century, research is promoting a third essential ‘Q’. The picture of human intelligence can become whole with the addition of SQ: Spiritual Intelligence. This intelligence gives us the ability to solve problems of meaning and value. SQ puts our lives in a wider and richer context, giving our actions meaning and purpose.
At IRDS we strive towards academic excellence (IQ), and we incorporate social-emotional learning into the daily routine (EQ). However, in order to complete the full intelligence triangle, integrated into our culture of behavior, our thought process, and our general studies, is Judaica learning (SQ). Why Torah stories? Because they give our students roots, values and heritage. What is it about prayer sessions? They develop a sense of belonging and help form meaningful relationships. And holidays? They create memorable and joyful moments for life. Judaic studies is our Spiritual Intelligence, which nurtures our innate feeling of longing towards self-worth and connection to something much bigger than us. Judaic studies at our school is designed intentionally in a way that completes the full picture of the human intelligence, molding children into young teens with a strong sense of self, confidence and clarity about their well-developed American-Jewish identity. In a rapidly changing world like ours, we truly believe that a grounded identity surrounded by meaning will lead to a happy childhood, and a successful future.
IRDS’s Judaic curriculum is mostly developed here at school with original materials and value based units of study. The philosophy behind designing the programs is driven by three basic principles: Judaic learning should be (1) Experiential (2) Spiral, and (3) Integrated. Experiential learning means that students learn by doing. The Jewish heritage, traditions and liturgy transition from the textbook pages and classroom walls to hands-on experiences involving various senses, relevant personal connections, and real-life explorations.
5th graders don’t just read about the differences between the 3 main sects of Judaism, they participate in a panel of representatives from the 3 sects, and go on a synagogue field trip to observe the differences in action. 4th graders learn about Israeli pioneers and how they founded Kibbutzim in Israel, which is why their Passover class seder is a kibbutz seder. Students enjoy the challenge of making “Shmurah Matzah” in less than 18 minutes on an outdoor oven they made from mud, and Israeli culture with its language comes to life each month when students K-5 buy in Hebrew at our school shuk.
A spiral curriculum means that pivotal Jewish texts and rituals are purposefully chosen and learned in all grades, however in each grade, according to the cognitive and emotional abilities, students widen their knowledge through a different lense, opening a whole new world and meaning to the same holiday ritual or Torah story. 2nd graders will learn about the 3 Patriarchs’ Torah stories, while 3rd graders will deepen their understanding about Avraham through a new skill: Reading midrashim and eliciting Jewish values from the stories. 4th graders will then spiral even deeper and learn about the Patriarchs and Matriarchs from a new angle: Why do people make sacrifices? What kind of sacrifices did our Avat and Imahot make? Whereas in 5th grade, students will tackle the challenge of creating their own D’rash commentary on the same Torah stories after adding a new layer and researching the famous commentator, Rashi.
Finally, an integrated curriculum brings together the American and Jewish parts of a child’s full identity, insuring that Jewish living is taught in relevance to the world around us. Making these strong connections will promote a sense of belonging to a community bigger than my family and school, which leads to a strong sense of self when a child matures and tries to find his/her place in a world filled with limitless options. Other than the core Judaic subjects that are taught in each grade: Torah, Prayer, Holidays, Weekly Torah Portions, Connection to Israel and Hebrew, each curriculum has additional units of study that were chosen because they integrate with the grade’s social studies curriculum.
K: The theme of: “Hebrew names carry meaning, and Jews around the word have them,” integrates with the general studies learning of “Children around the world.”
1st: The synagogue as a communal place of gathering, and the meaning of all items/symbols in it, integrates with the general studies learning of “Community” and “American symbols.”
2nd: Kashrut laws integrate with a “Nutrition” unit, and “Goods and services in the Jewish community” integrates with a “Producer/Consumer” unit.
3rd: Learning about “The Jewish Tribe” from past years (The 12 Tribes) to present (Jewish roles: Rabbi, Chazan, Mashgi’ach etc.), integrates with the study of Native Americans tribes’ values and rituals.
4th: The Israeli state, past and present is compared to California’s origins and current characteristics.
5th: Jewish life in the early American colonies is presented during this social studies unit. Students are involved in a Mitzvah project outside of school, which highlights the notion of giving back to the larger community as part of their culmination of Judaic learning at school, and in preparation for the bigger real world of middle school after graduation.