Our Approach to Curriculum and Learning

Congregational Family and Sacred Community. We are a caring and supportive home where we connect with each other as friends and as relatives. Our learners and their families feel a sense of joy and belonging simply by being in the synagogue building, and strive to bring that joy and connectedness to their homes and the homes of their friends and family.

Love of Being Jewish. Our learners and their families feel a love for and special relationship with God, expressed through the rituals, practices and traditions of the Jewish people, including Tikkun Olam (repairing the world).  They take pride in their Jewish identity, embrace their heritage and demonstrate solidarity with Jews throughout the Detroit Jewish community, the United States of America, Israel and the world.

Our Mission: The Congregation Shaarey Zedek Religious School is committed to strengthening our congregational family and sacred community by deepening within its families a love of being Jewish, and by teaching children and parents alike the skills and knowledge necessary to live a meaningful Jewish life.

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Our Approach to Learning

In Tanach (the Hebrew Bible), we read: “Educate the youth according to his way; even when s/he grows old, s/he will not stray from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Explains Rabbi Meir Leibush Weiser, the nineteenth century sage popularly known as the Malbim: “It is a holy commandment to teach the child in the way that is suited for him/her, since each individual, by his very nature, has different capabilities.” The fulfillment of the Congregation Shaarey Zedek mission and vision is predicated on this fact: when each child learns in a way that is right for him/her, there is no limit to the information that can be learned; no end to what that child will be able to do Jewishly; and no border to the depth of love that child will feel toward all aspects of Jewish life.

As such, the Congregation Shaarey Zedek Religious School is committed to utilizing a variety of approaches to Jewish learning. The two primary modes of pedagogy are experiential learning and technology. Learners learn best by “doing.” Thus, throughout the learners’ time in Religious School they will not only learn about prayer, for example, but also engage in prayer. They will participate in the ancient but still extremely relevant form of partner and group learning known as chevruta. Learners will utilize Jewish ritual objects, will cook, will sing, will act, will play and will laugh–all as intentional forms of learning. They will be encouraged to get out of their seats, to explore the building (supervised, of course), and to truly “experience” the beauty that is Jewish thought and Jewish action.

Moreover, educators will utilize the most cutting edge techniques when it comes to technology. Whether learners take advantage of our fixed computer lab, our portable computer lab, our SMART boards, or even their own personal cell phones, laptops or tablets, technology is the language of 21st century learners and thus a vehicle for our Religious School to educate our learners.

In addition every student will be provided with the latest in textbooks, chosen both for the role they play as a resource in the classroom but also with the goal of building our learners’ personal Jewish libraries. It is our hope that learners and their families will return to these textbooks, as a resource for further learning and a memory aid for the incredible knowledge they will have gained as learners of Congregation Shaarey Zedek.

Yet, despite the extensive implementation of experiential, technological and traditional learning techniques, at the core of our program remains the relationship between our educators and our learners, our educators and our learners’ families, our families with each other, and our synagogue clergy and our congregational families. In that each person is created, as our Torah teaches, Betzelem Elokim, it is through these meaningful relationships that all of us may better encounter God in all aspects of our life.

 

Our Approach to Hebrew Language and Prayer Instruction

The primary goal of the Congregation Shaarey Zedek Religious School with regard to its Hebrew learning program and worship opportunities is to prepare our learners to be active and comfortable, as well as to find meaning, in the variety of prayer experiences offered at Congregation Shaarey Zedek: daily minyanim, Shabbat mornings and afternoons/evenings, and the Jewish holidays of Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. In addition, we seek to prepare our learners to become, as adults, Jewish leaders and Jewish educators in their own homes–able to observe Shabbat and the Jewish holidays with their own Jewish families.

Hebrew learning, then, takes aim at developing fluency in reading the Conservative prayer book (siddur) Hebrew, understanding the themes of the prayers that appear most often in the Conservative siddur, and gaining familiarity with the structure and layout of the Conservative prayer book. While, at times, some educators may utilize modern Hebrew in their classrooms, this is meant only to deepen the learners’ Ahavat Yisrael , love of Israel, by developing an appreciation for and love of Hebrew as the modern language with rich historical antecedents.

The worship experiences that occur throughout the Religious School year are meant both to reinforce the learners’ Hebrew education, and to provide a relevant, age-appropriate opportunity for our children to connect to God and Jewish life. Prayer services conducted during Religious School time, as well as those held on Shabbat and holidays but aimed at the Religious School population, are both learning labs and “real-time” connections with the Divine.

 Our Approach to Israel Learning

As the Congregation Shaarey Zedek Religious School Vision declares, the modern State of Israel–its land, culture, people and history–is a central part of the curriculum. We affirm the section of the Conservative Movement’s Emet Ve-Emunah as it comes to Israel. That is to say:

We rejoice in the existence of Medinat Israel (the State of Israel) in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) with its capital of Jerusalem, the Holy City, the City of Peace. We view this phenomenon not just in political or military terms; rather, we consider it to be a miracle, reflecting Divine Providence in human affairs. We glory in that miracle; we celebrate the rebirth of Zion.

The brit (covenant) between God and the Jewish people created an unbreakable bond between us and the geographic entity we call Eretz Yisrael.

We staunchly support the Zionist ideal and take pride in the achievement of the State of Israel in the gathering of our people from the lands of our dispersion and in rebuilding a nation.

Both the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry have roles to fill; each can and must aid and enrich the other in every possible way; each needs the other.

Partnerships

At Congregation Shaarey Zedek, we recognize that each learner comes to our synagogue family with different strengths and different growth areas. We seek, then, to help each child and each family grow on a personalized journey of Jewish learning.

In order to accomplish our goal of facilitating individualized family journeys, effective communication between each family and the synagogue’s educational and spiritual leadership will be essential.  Throughout the school year, the school faculty and administration will work at maintaining ongoing communication with parents regarding pertinent Religious School information as well as general Jewish topics through emails, flyers, class newsletters, synagogue bulletins and Facebook posts. We expect our families to utilize these communication tools to empower the synagogue to fulfill its role in the family journey.

We ask also that parents communicate with their child’s teacher and our educational leadership – sharing, first and foremost, techniques that will allow us to most successfully engage their child, along with any praise or concerns that may arise.  Parents are encouraged to let their child’s teacher know if s/he is having personal difficulties at home or at secular school that could affect schoolwork or behavior.

Furthermore, parents are encouraged to maintain an on-going conversation with our synagogue’s clergy team.  Our rabbis and cantors hope to build individual relationships with each of our Religious School families, so that they might serve as resources and spiritual guides along life’s paths, including but not limited to life cycle events.

Special Needs

In Proverbs (22:6), we read, “Educate a child according to his/her own way; even when he grows old he will not depart from it.” At Congregation Shaarey Zedek, we recognize that each learner comes to our synagogue family with different strengths and different growth areas. We seek, then, to help each child and each family grow on a personalized journey of Jewish learning.

We believe that all of our children have differentiated learning needs and so we seek to accommodate each of our learners in way that is appropriate to the child. Our Religious School practices the immersion philosophy, and we will do our best to provide individualized assistance for any child who needs. As such, we employ a special learning coordinator to work with individual learners, to coach educators and to mentor our madrichim (teenage teaching assistants) in educating each child according to his/her way.

Congregation Shaarey Zedek is proud to participate in the Opening the Doors Special Learning Partnership Program with the Federation’s Alliance for Jewish Education.  This program is designed to meet the special learning needs of the learners currently enrolled in our Religious School.  As a partnership school, we receive support services from Alliance and funds from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

We are proud of our partnership with the Alliance and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, which enables us to continue to provide a positive educational experience for all our learners.