I still have the taste of Chanukah celebration in my mouth: our children standing on different stages in town, and proudly and comfortably singing Hebrew, English and even Ladino Chanukah songs! During the BJDS Chanukah celebration, we witnessed the amazing ability of our children to share the stories of Chanukah in Hebrew with their parents and friends. I know many of you did not understand every word that was said; however, I’m sure that you all understood the spirit and the main idea of each story.
As I reflect on our children’s performances in multiple languages, it brings to mind a question posed by many parents regarding Jewish education, especially those new to Day Schools: Can we do it all? I think it’s a fair question, and as educators with such a determined agenda, we’re constantly checking to see if we are building a strong foundation in all areas. Chanukah celebrations are one of those moments where the obvious response to the question is “Yes, we CAN!”
Watching kindergartners dramatize humorous Chanukah poems in Hebrew & English as the older children laughed with them, is an experience to be appreciated. Only four months ago, these same students needed hand-holding as they entered the school! The personal narratives that our fourth and fifth graders read demonstrated the results of the work we have done in strengthening our writing program. Second and third graders shared with us in Hebrew the argument between Hillel and Shammai as to why we add one more candle to the Chanukiyah on each of the eight nights of Chanukah. The story is based on our study of the rabbinic argument in the Talmud. Mrs. Lynne, and our visiting creative writing teacher, Henry, combine Language Arts and Judaics in a special enrichment program every Thursday. In doing so, our students have become a part of the long Jewish tradition of writing midrashim (commentary through stories). In this class and others, parents can see evidence of how capable our students are of thinking deeply about spiritual issues.
In an early childhood class, I listened as students described what they had been researching and observing with their teachers about nature. It was amazing to watch the students make the connection that everything that we have on our earth has been touched by God, including our own selves. I have long believed that young children are capable of thinking more deeply about spiritual issues than “experts” sometimes acknowledge.
At BJDS, we have worked to find a balance between providing rigorous academic classes, including the development of research skills; art, music and physical education; and the “down” time to be with one another at recess and weekly circle groups. Academic excellence is one obvious reward of the education the students receive at BJDS. But there are other just as important rewards. I have seen two students worried about a friend, and because of their expressed concern, a caring teacher intervened. That is a reward. I see the students’ commitment to Tikkun Olam, as evidenced by their excitement to support the “Light Up Literacy Project: Supporting the Guatemalan Children Open Their World to Books.” That is a reward.
I know that older children often think that there will be a greater opportunity for self-exploration in larger settings. Yet, I am struck by the range of choices available to our students in the somewhat smaller environment of BJDS. Students can lead services or sing in the choir or have a leading role in a play, or do all these things. Perhaps more important, our school is a place where children feel safe pushing their limits. I was reminded of this during the choir performance at the community celebration at Har HaShem. How often do kindergarteners choose to sing in a public setting, let alone sing Hebrew Chanukah songs? Yet, that is exactly what our children did. The enthusiastic support of the Boulder Jewish community reminded our children that this is a safe place to take such risks.
Our goal is to continue to find ways to enrich and expand BJDS’ programs. At the end of January, Eti Gal, our beloved Hebrew/ Judaics teacher, will attend a workshop in Los Angeles with Tal Am. This is a program based on years of research on the principles of language development and learning patterns. Tal Am has been nurturing a generation of Jewish children around the world, teaching literacy in the Hebrew language, as well as the knowledge, skills and commitment needed to live vibrant, Jewish lives. Tal Am and the Avi Chai Institute awarded us a generous scholarship that will provide enriching material for our students and professional development for Eti, with a focus on the methodology of Communicative and Heritage Language and Literacy Development. This is quite an opportunity for all of us at BJDS!
I encourage you to visit our classes and witness first-hand the unique opportunity that your children experience in our small, safe school. And, of course, please invite others to explore this prospect for themselves and their children!