by Francie Nobleman and Debby Waldman
(Edmonton) – Since opening its doors more than five years ago, Or Shalom has welcomed students from a range of backgrounds. The Jewish school meets at Temple Beth Ora in Edmonton.
The curriculum integrates three areas of study: Torah and ethics, holidays and customs, and Hebrew. The teachers each have rich and diverse Jewish experiences. What they share is a love of Judaism, and enthusiasm about sharing that love. Music is a key part of the curriculum, with the students learning songs in English and Hebrew. Song sessions are always held at the end of the day, so parents can join in before heading home.
Or Shalom is dedicated to fostering a sense of community amongst not just the students, but the families. Several times during the year the school hosts a family education day in which students are encouraged to come with their families – parents, siblings, grandparents and others – to learn as a group.
Other special events include interactions with Jewish seniors at Our Parents Home, and celebrations of Jewish holidays. Last year the students wrote and put on a Purim play. They worked on the program for weeks, including making papier mache puppets for the production.
“We are going to try to create more events like this where they have longer, more in depth projects which they work on,” Rabbi Caine says. “This allows them to create something and have an opportunity to present it. It gives the kids opportunities to be creative and take leadership roles. They still have their teachers to guide them, but they are doing more of the creation.”
The teachers have been busy this summer planning the 2019-20 school year. Preparation has included a study session during which Rabbi Gila Caine provided an introduction to Mussar, a Jewish practice of virtue-based ethics; and middot, which are character traits.
Each month the curriculum will focus on one or more character traits, including empathy, perseverance, enthusiasm, responsibility, patience, generosity, joy, respect, honesty, trustworthiness, and integrity. In Nissan, which corresponds with Pesach, the trait will be fairness. As such, the students will learn about Pesach through that lens.
“We will build the conversation around Pesach, about how we behave, how do we make a world that is fair for everybody,” Rabbi Caine says. “It is not just the story of Pesach, it’s a story that is relevant to much more.”
One of Rabbi Caine’s goals for this year is that students will start to develop what she calls “an inner Jewish language.” In the following Q&A, the Rabbi explains a little more about what that means.
Q: Why is it important to have a “Jewish language” for our everyday experience?
I want the children, and I think also our teachers want the children, to have a wholistic Jewish identity, so it doesn’t just fit in these highlight moments. You don’t just turn into being Jewish on Friday when the sun goes down, for instance. You are still Jewish on Monday morning or on Tuesday at school.
I would like the students to be able to approach anything from a Jewish perspective. Kids are very good at taking these things and translating them into their lives. We want to give them tools to make a “Jewish language” relevant for their everyday life.
Q: Why is it so important for them to have an inner Jewish language?
Because it ties us immediately to things that I think are important: it allows each of the children to be able to mine their own culture in a more complex and creative way. It will give them another layer of Jewish identity. And I’m hoping it will make their Jewish education more interesting.
Q: Why make this a priority at Or Shalom?
First of all we want the kids to take whatever they study at the school into their daily life. We don’t want Or Shalom and their Judaism to be something that just happens at Or Shalom school, we want it to be something that happens every day. They need these ethics every day.
Q: What are the advantages of having this inner Jewish language?
It allows you to communicate with other Jews – not just the Jews that sit in your own synagogue, but the wider Jewish world. It opens up another door to Jewish civilization. Shabbat is a door, the high holidays are a door, and having this Jewish language will open another door. Even if you do not celebrate Shabbat in the same way, or the holidays or festivals in the same way, this will give you the tools to understand how things are similar in our culture.
Or Shalom School is currently taking registrations for the fall. For information call Temple Beth Ora at 780-487-4817 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.