One of the most important elements of our congregation is our Beth Israel Religious School.
The goal of our religious school (grades kindergarten to sixth) is to provide a meaningful, lasting Jewish education to children and their families. Central to meeting that goal are both a compassionate, experienced faculty and a flexible curriculum designed to accommodate students from varying backgrounds.
We believe a Jewish religious education should provide a positive learning environment that will leave students with a basic body of Jewish learning and proud of their Jewish heritage. Our school combines experiential learning about the basic prayer service, Hebrew language instruction, and units about Jewish life, history, and ethics.
Woven into our school's collective consciousness are important Jewish values of tikun olam (repairing the world), tzedakah (righteousness), ahavat Yisrael (love of the land and people Israel) and avodat Hashem (service to G-d).
The school meets at the Minnie Brown Center, 906 Washington Street in Bath on Thursday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:00 pm during the school year.
We also hold a Tot Shabbat monthly on (mostly) the first Saturday of the month for children aged 2 to 4 which emphasizes Jewish songs, games, and craft activities appropriate for preschoolers. Check the home page for the exact dates of the Tot Shabbat program.
Seventh grade is usually spent preparing for Bat/Bar Mitzvah. After Bat/Bar Mitzvah we can pair students with students and teachers at other synagogues around the state for some additional learning opportunities.
Successes of Our Program
Our enrollment is up 10% this year (15 students vs. 13), and we expect further growth because Rachel Connelly's Tot Shabbat program is attracting preschool families. The congregation recently made the decision to affiliate Reform, which will be welcoming and attractive to young families.
We have a strong Hebrew curriculum written and taught by Alina Shumsky that is integrated in other areas of our school day (tefillot, school programming, and Judaic studies). The curriculum includes not only tefillot but also blessings, common Hebrew phrases, and Modern Hebrew vocabulary.
We end every day by singing together, which accomplishes several goals: It reinforces vocabulary, it creates emotional connections among the students, it gives them an emotional connection to Judaism, and it endures in students' long-term memory.
In the past year we have begun to implement project-based learning in the Judaic studies classroom. Last year's projects included making a Jewish calendar wheel, writing your own Torah commentary, using Maimonides' ladder of tzedakah as the basis for choosing charitable organizations, and writing an interpretive model seder.
Twice a year our students lead the entire Friday night service. Our turnout among the families is very high (about 80%) as the students feel a sense of responsibility in leading their parts and ownership of the service. Sometimes families have other commitments, but we very rarely have no-shows.
Beth Israel Congregation recently made the decision to affiliate Reform. The new direction of the congregation matches the school's emphasis on social justice and the role of individual choice that our families feel in connecting to the Jewish tradition. The Jewish perspectives on social justice integrate seamlessly with what students are learning in their secular classrooms, and the 5th-6th graders especially notice the Jewish roots of American values.
Our students are happy to come to Hebrew school and enjoy learning about their tradition while having fun and making friends. We hope to build on our successes and continue to grow the school while maintaining the sense of family that we have built.
We gratefully acknowledge that the Beth Israel Congregation Hebrew School is financially supported by the Jewish Community Alliance (JCA) of Southern Maine's Annual Campaign. For more information about the JCA go to their website (www.mainejewish.org) or call them at (207) 772-1959.
Hebrew School Forms