The Jewish Day School Difference

Amira Soleimani February 5, 2023

When I was five, my parents gave me a gift that would nourish me throughout my life: a Hillel education.  At the time, I was too young to comprehend the value of a Jewish day school.  Three decades later, the internal yield of this investment only continues to grow. Each day when I bring my own two daughters to our campus, I know that the sum total of Hillel’s dual curriculum carries a greater value than the quantified hours in an academic day. 

 

As parents, we all strive to achieve the same outcome: provide our children with the best foundation for a fulfilling life. We want them to grow friendships, think critically, develop identity, amass content knowledge, and learn resiliency in order to gracefully face life’s unknown challenges. Fortunately for us, these are the precise goals of our Judaics program, which is acquired through content-specific learning targets.

 

At Hillel, we aspire for students to gain a broad range of particularly Judaic skills through their Jewish studies courses. In line with our Mission and Portrait of a Graduate, students learn to chant the tefillot, participate in chagim rituals, study the Written and Oral Torahs, gain knowledge of Jewish history, and, of course, build proficiency in Modern Ivrit. The importance of this learning cannot be overstated; it creates lifelong Jewish muscle memory and lays the foundation for identity development, all while nourishing each child’s neshama, or soul.  Students at Hillel learn to answer the question “Who Am I?” by looking across time and space, cultivating a relationship with historical personas from centuries ago and contemporary Jews living thousands of miles away.  

 

Alongside my ardent passion for content-specific Judaics, I deeply believe one of the most overlooked beauties of a dual curriculum education is that most academic skills are, in fact, universal. Though we tend to associate these learning targets with a General Studies curriculum, such an outlook is increasingly antiquated. Reading and analyzing a biblical text pulls on the same critical thinking skills as those utilized in a Language Arts class. In a similar vein, writing a well-organized paragraph follows certain structural and syntactical guidelines, whether the words are composed in English or Hebrew. For this reason, we are very intentional about our use of integrated skills at Hillel. We have an aligned scope and sequence for our writing non-negotiables that transcend subject matter. Our third and fourth-grade Torah curriculum is designed to work hand in hand with our Language Arts Readers’ Workshop. In middle school, the partnership between General and Judaic Studies is further strengthened with integrated PBLs (project-based learning units), shared academic rubrics, and enthusiastic conversations in the teacher workrooms. All throughout the school, our educators lean on each other so that our learning inspires the Jews of tomorrow.

 

This year, the slogan for Hillel’s Annual Campaign is Beyachad Kadima: Forward Together.  Many wise Jewish thinkers before me have noticed that the word kadima (forward) shares a Hebrew root with the word kodem (before). This beautiful connection is a profound reminder that our road ahead as Jews is intrinsically connected to the path from which we came.  

 

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Picture of Amira Soleimani

Amira Soleimani

Amira Soleimani is the Director of Judaic Studies Curriculum and Instruction at Hillel Day School.