Religious School Handbook
MESSAGE FROM OUR RABBIS
Our congregation is named Etz Chaim which means “Tree of Life." Each Shabbat and festival when we return the Torah to the Ark we sing, "Etz Chaim He - It is a Tree of Life." This description of the Torah cannot be fully understood until we read the second line, "La machazikim bah - to those who hold it fast." The Torah can provide us with a sense of direction and meaning for our lives only when we take it firmly in our arms and hold it close to our hearts. Our task as parents and teachers is to bring our children to the point where they are prepared to take the Torah into their own arms. We are fortunate to have had those who taught us Torah either when we were children or as adults. Our responsibility is to pass this Torah on to the next generation.
The process of preparing our children to take Torah into their own arms and to hold it close to their hearts has several aspects. The children need a firm identity as Jews. This identity is strengthened by the intense Jewish camping experiences offered at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute. To this firm foundation of Jewish identity we can then add the structure of Jewish knowledge. Through the classes of our religious school we can help our students develop a mastery of Jewish tradition, history, Hebrew language, Bible and Jewish thought.
The Jewish young person who knows that he/she is Jewish, and knows what that means, is prepared to take the Torah and hold it close. For this individual the Torah can be, truly, a tree of life.
Rabbi Andrea CosnowskySenior Rabbi
Rabbi Frederick KamilAssociate Rabbi
MESSAGE FROM OUR EDUCATOR
At Congregation Etz Chaim we strive to provide a meaningful Jewish education for all of our children. We are committed to fostering, within our students, an abiding commitment to and a love for Judaism. Our future lies in the hands of our youth; therefore, it is most important we give our children a positive feeling about their heritage. Our curriculum has been developed to help achieve this goal.
Our curriculum is a spiral curriculum, which means we provide our students with the enduring understandings that meet their educational levels as they grow. For example, Jewish holidays are taught in the early primary grades and then again in third grade in more depth. Torah stories are the focus of our second- grade curriculum and a deeper understanding of Torah is taught in seventh grade. A unit on Israel is taught in kindergarten and then studied more in depth in fifth grade and again in ninth grade. Prophets and Writings are studied in fourth grade and again, on a different level, in tenth grade. History is easier to understand in the older grades; therefore, history is a part of the eighth grade curriculum.
Being a knowledgeable Jew is important to us. Reform Judaism sees itself as a tripod of study, worship and gemilut chasadim. Through our curriculum we give our children the foundation for understanding the meaning and significance of these concepts including the participation in a special grade level mitzvah project. Our teachers work very hard to achieve this goal.
We have learned throughout the years that the partnership between the school and the home is essential. Therefore, we have made family learning a priority in our school. Each year we have a variety of programs involving parents and students together. It is important for our children to see their parents involved in education, to convey the message that a Jewish education is important and that it is a lifetime.
GOALS OF REFORM JEWISH EDUCATION
The goal of Jewish education within the Reform Movement is the deepening of Jewish experience and knowledge for all liberal Jews in order to strengthen faith in God, love of Torah, and identification with the Jewish people through involvement in the synagogue and participation in Jewish Life. We believe that Judaism contains answers to the challenges and questions confronting the human spirit, and that only a knowledgeable Jew can successfully discover these answers. The Commission on Jewish Education, therefore, calls upon every synagogue to provide a program of Jewish education which will enable children, youth and adults to become:
- Jews who affirm their Jewish identity and bind themselves inseparably to their people by word and deed.
- Jews who bear witness to the brit (covenant between God and the Jewish people) by embracing the Torah through the study and observances of mitzvot (commandments) as interpreted in the light of historic development and contemporary liberal thought.
- Jews who affirm their historic bond to Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel.
- Jews who cherish and study Hebrew, the language of the Jewish people.
- Jews who value and practice tefillah (prayer).
- Jews who further the cause of justice, freedom, and peace by pursuing tzedek (righteousness), mishpat (justice) and chesed (loving deeds).
Jews who celebrate Shabbat and the festivals and observe the Jewish ceremonies marking the significant occasions in their lives.
- Jews who esteem their own person and the person of others, their own family and the family of others, their own community and the community of others.
- Jews who express their kinship with K'lal Yisrael by actively seeking the welfare of Jews throughout the world.
- Jews who support and participate in the life of the synagogue.
Such Jews will strengthen the fabric of Jewish life, ensure the future of Judaism and the Jewish people and approach the realization of their divine potential.