CEC Religious School Handbook

Community, Spirituality, and YOU

Congregation Etz Chaim Religious School Mission Statement

Congregation Etz Chaim's religious school prepares students to be knowledgeable, active and competent members of the Jewish community. Jewish education is the shared responsibility of the family, the school and our congregation.

We strive to achieve our mission through:

  • Teaching Judaica, Prayer and Hebrew
  • Creating an environment for family involvement and participation
  • Fostering Jewish family living
  • Providing creative and innovative programs
  • Building Jewish self-esteem
  • Expressing warmth, respect and concern towards all members of our school community
  • Helping the children feel at home in the synagogue and making it a key part of their lives
  • Imparting a positive connection to the land of Israel
  • Developing within our students an abiding commitment to and love for Judaism
  • Connecting our children to Israel so they have an understanding of and feel a relationship to the land and its people

Primary Grades

Pre K

Preschool

Our 4 year old program is an opportunity to have our youngest students become familiar with their Synagogue. The curriculum will serve as an informal, learn-by-play introduction to the religious school and synagogue environment through music, games, storytelling, role-playing, and hands-on materials. The guidelines for the preschool program will help the children experience their Judaism through the use of their body parts, senses and feelings. The children will also be introduced to the synagogue through tours of the building, art projects, listening to and singing songs and making Jewish symbols. They will begin to experience Jewish holidays through celebrations and an introduction to Torah stories will also be included. Our students will hear and learn basic Shabbat blessings as well as the Shema. They will begin to learn basic Hebrew vocabulary and common greetings.

Kindergarten

Our kindergarten program focuses on Holidays and the synagogue, which serve as the main components of the curriculum. Our kindergarteners are consecrated and officially welcomed as Jewish learners during our Simchat Torah celebration. We particularly emphasize Shabbat and its blessings along with other holiday celebrations by having our students take special roles in these events. We also learn about Israel through role playing and other experiential activities. The students will also learn about the synagogue, its function and its ritual objects. A basic vocabulary of Hebrew words, such as aba (father), ima (mother), shalom and ani po (I am here) will be introduced. Special family programs will also be part of the years’ study. You will received detailed information about those programs.

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1st grade

First Grade

Our first grade students begin to connect how we create our Jewish identity through Jewish symbols. Students will make a variety of Jewish symbols which can be used in their home. This will not be a new experience in that if they were part of our Kindergarten program they will have already learned and created some Jewish symbols. However, in first grade we want our students to understand that those symbols bring meaning and purpose to them as Jews. Along with special projects and music, students will also be introduced to Hebrew through Movement. This creative program introduces our students to Hebrew in a special way. Students will also begin to learn their Hebrew letters as part of our first grade program. Special family programs will also be part of the years’ study. You will receive detailed information about those programs.

Second Grade

Knowing that our students each received their own little Torah when they were consecrated, it is now time to dig in and learn the stories and lessons. Our students will be introduced to the book of Genesis, its characters who form the basis of our tradition culminating with the Ten Commandments. We will use text study along with special art projects, music and Hebrew Through Movements to reinforce these lessons. Special family programs will also be part of the years’ study. You will receive detailed information about those programs.

2nd Grade

Intermediate Grades

Third Grade

Judaica

Our third grade Judaica students learn how holiday celebrations can create traditions in a family. Knowing our student have already studied about all the Jewish holidays, we now move forward into creating meaning of those experiences in a personal way. In addition to books and special content materials, we use quotes, journaling and a unique yearlong project. In addition, special family programs will also be part of the years’ study. You will receive detailed information about those programs.

Hebrew

Our third grade students begin their official Hebrew studies by learning all their decoding skills this year. They conclude the year with the learning of the special blessing formula and all the blessings that begin with it. Third grade students will participate in a Friday evening service. Details will be sent to you and the date of the service is on the Religious School calendar.

Fourth Grade

Judaica

Our fourth grade focuses on our students learning the Jewish life cycle. Although this was discussed in Kindergarten, our students are now ready for a higher level of discussion and details. The events of birth, consecration, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Confirmation, marriage and death have special Jewish observances and meanings attached to them. Students will learn the significance of these events in creative and interesting ways. Our students will also study about our Prophets. In Jewish tradition the Prophets represent the conscience of our society. Through the reading of a variety of stories about many of the prophets in our history, our students will learn the moral and spiritual truths for our times and apply them to their own personal concerns. In addition, special family programs will also be part of the years’ study. You will receive detailed information about those programs.

Hebrew

This year we will begin with a review of the blessings learned the year before and introduce prayers through individual content prayer packets. Students should be able to read the the prayers and blessings introduced during the year. Fourth grade students will participate in a Friday evening service. Details will be sent to you and the date of the service is on the Religious School calendar.

Fifth Grade

Judaica

As part of the Fifth Grade curriculum our students will study about The State of Israel. This will include learning about the history of the country as well as life in Israel today. Students will explore holidays, foods, kibbutzim/moshavim, education, government, wars, major cities, the people, religions and the economy of Israel. They will also have pen pals from a school in Israel. They will have the opportunity to actually meet their pen pals via skype at a special overnight at the Synagogue. In addition students will be introduced to the Jewish concepts of God and holiness. Our goal is to provide them with a Jewish vocabulary for thinking and talking about God.

Hebrew

Students will continue to become familiar with the prayers and blessings recited during Shabbat services. They will continue to use individual content prayer packets to enhance their knowledge of what the prayers and blessings mean and from where they come. Students will create yearbooks in the computer lab, writing information about themselves in English and Hebrew.

Sixth Grade

Judaica

As our students begin to prepare to become adults in our community through Bar/Bat Mitzvah, we take this year to investigate what it means to be an adult in our society. We look at ourselves, the way in which we treat others, how we can make the world better, doing the right thing when no one is looking and everything the Judaism has to say about all of this. In addition, special family programs will also be part of the years’ study. You will receive detailed information about those programs.

Hebrew

Students will continue to learn the rest of the Shabbat service, reviewing what they have learned in previous years and taking a comprehensive look at the structure of the worship service. They will also learn to research a Torah portion and the corresponding Haftarah portion as they begin their personal study to become Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Students will also lead a Shabbat morning service for the congregation. Details will be sent to you and the date of the service is on the Religious School calendar..

Seventh Grade

Judaica

The focus of the seventh grade is study of Torah and its meaning to us today. Since this is the bar/bat mitzvah year, it is appropriate for the students to study Torah “beyond the Bible stories. This class will study Torah with the Rabbis. They will learn how to study Torah and about the commentators.

Hebrew

This year the Hebrew studies will focus on Hebrew as a modern and spoken language, as well as a biblical language. Students will learn grammatical formations and will read stories. Some conversational Hebrew will be integrated into the program. Seventh grade students will participate in a Friday evening service. Details will be sent to you and the date of the service is on the Religious School calendar.

Upper School & Youth Groups

Eight Grade

“Now that I’m an adult in the eyes of the Jewish community, what is the Jewish community?” Through a variety of subjects the students will hopefully come to realize who they are and how events and people in our past have meaning in their lives today. We will be having several special activities during the year for this class. The year will be divided into several mini courses.

HOLOCAUST

Through this course the students will be given an overview of the Holocaust, learning how it came to be, what happened and what impact this tragedy has on our lives today.

ETHICS

The students will study various modern-day scenarios and discuss the moral dilemmas related to each, as well as the Judaic sources on each subject.

ILLINOIS HOLOCAUST MUSEUM VISIT

As an extension of their in class study, students have the opportunity to experience the Hologram exhibit, an interactive survivor experience, in addition to the museum’s other exhibitions and galleries.

TIKKUN OLAM

In this unit the students will study Judaism and the Poor. During the unit students will do a grocery shopping activity and will prepare a meal for PADS.

CONVERSATIONAL HEBREW

In this unit, students learn basic conversational grammar and vocabulary. Students will learn how to greet people, ask questions, and pick up everyday Hebrew as it is spoken on the streets of Israel.

PADS

The class shops for the ingredients and prepares dinner for our PADS guests. In addition, many of the students help serve dinner and visit with the PADS guests.

Ninth Grade

Through a variety of subjects, the students will come to realize who they are and how events and people in our past have meaning in their lives today. The morning is divided into three periods. During the course of the year, each student will spend one semester helping in the younger grades.

MADRIKHIM

During one semester the students will have the opportunity to help teach in the primary department, help with Hebrew or with music or art. This will be during the first period of the day.

CURRENT EVENTS

In this semester long course, students will have the opportunity to analyze the news and think about it from different perspectives. Using a discussion based format, students will be challenged to think critically and engage in thoughtful conversations with their peers.

ISRAEL

Students will learn the history, significance and importance of the State of Israel. Current issues will be discussed. Students will also study how their Jewish identity is part of their connection to the State of Israel. This is a year long course.

JEWISH ETHICS

This is a yearlong course which investigates and challenges our students to look at Jewish ethics through biblical text, philosophers and other content materials.

Tenth Grade

The confirmation class is concerned with the application of Jewish beliefs in the world in which confirmands live. All of their studies will have an intellectual and social dimension. Accordingly, scheduling will be flexible to allow for special projects and field trips. Students will learn, experience, and reflect during all aspects of the program. We hope this approach will prepare confirmands to take their place in the Jewish community as active, committed adults.

THE JEWISH COMMUNITY AND ITS RESPONSE TO SOCIAL PROBLEMS

This course is an introduction to Jewish philanthropy and social action.


THEOLOGY

This will provide an opportunity to explore the “Big Questions.” Why are we here? What do we mean when we say “God”? Why do people suffer? What is our relationship to the Jewish People? How do we understand the Mitzvot contained in the Torah and Rabbinic literature?

IDENTITY, FAITH AND ISRAEL IN AMERICA

This course will offer our students the opportunity to investigate their views of what it means to be a Jew in America, how our Jewish identify is affected by faith and The State of Israel. Text, content materials, technology and speakers will all be used to during this course.

Confirmation

The Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration marks a child's coming of age for responsibility. His or her Confirmation marks an achievement in religious school education. It means completion of a course of studies to which students are able to bring the concerns and maturity of their fifteenth and sixteenth years. Confirmation is achieved upon the full and satisfactory completion of the 10th grade, which includes a class with Rabbi Bob.

REQUIREMENTS FOR STUDENTS

Students will be expected to have completed five years of Religious School studies, which will include the 9th and 10th grades.

During the confirmation year, the students will be required to attend a minimum of ten (10) Shabbat services and participate fully in school programs. Students will complete homework assignments conscientiously.

REQUIREMENTS FOR PARENTS

  1. Be a member in good standing of Congregation Etz Chaim.
  2. Attend a meeting to make arrangements for the Confirmation ceremony and accept a portion of the responsibility in preparing for the celebration.
  3. Participate jointly with the parents of other confirmands in the Oneg Shabbat following the service for Confirmation.

THE CEREMONY

The Confirmands lead the congregation in worship for a Kabbalat Shabbat service.