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Educational and Religious

Policy Handbook


Table of Contents

OUR NAMESAKE: RABBI ABRAHAM JOSHUA HESCHEL

MISSION STATEMENT

HESED AND TZEDEK

THE EDUCATIONAL PROCESS

Educational Philosophy:

The Place of Arts in Education

THE  CURRICULUM

The Teaching of Language Arts

The Teaching of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education (STEM)

The Teaching of Social Studies

Talmud Torah

The Teaching of Holidays and Commemorations

The Teaching of Israel

The Teaching of Hebrew Language

Holocaust Education and Remembrance

RELIGIOUS PRACTICE AND OBSERVANCE

Religious Practice in a Pluralistic Community

Dietary Laws (Kashrut)

Kippot (head-coverings)

Prayer (Tefillah)

Bar/Bat Mitzvah

THE SCHOOL COMMUNITY

Admissions

Community

Communication Between Home and School

Gender Equality

OUR NAMESAKE:

RABBI ABRAHAM JOSHUA HESCHEL: זייל* 1907-1972

The Abraham Joshua Heschel School is named to honor the memory of one of the great rabbis of the twentieth century. Rabbi Heschel was born into a Hassidic dynasty, and spent his early years completely immersed in the texts, thought, and rhythms of traditional Eastern European Hassidic life. As a young man he studied in Berlin, receiving a Ph.D. in philosophy from Humboldt University while studying and teaching at both orthodox and reform rabbinical seminaries. His move from Eastern to Western Europe, from yeshiva to university, and within the different Jewish schools of thought reflected his belief in the critical importance of bridging disparate worlds. Once in America, Rabbi Heschel continued his work of bridging worlds, and of educating people to engage in a process of internalizing religious traditions in a meaningful way.

Witnessing the growing alienation of modern society, especially in the wake of World War II, Heschel came to see the internal and social imperatives of Jewish tradition as critical for world healing. He taught how Jewish observance nourishes the Jewish soul and creates a spiritual impulse toward social justice in all communities. Rabbi Heschel wrote:

Every human being has something to say, to think, or to do which is unprecedented. Being human is a novelty, not a mere repetition or extension of the past, but an anticipation of things to come...A person has the capacity to create events.

Rabbi Heschel taught by action as well as by text. He marched for civil rights alongside Dr. Martin Luther King. He initiated concern for Jews suffering in the Soviet Union. He petitioned the Pope personally, and successfully influenced the historic change in the Church’s teachings about Judaism and the Jewish people. He was a leader of the religious community’s protest against the War in Vietnam. For Rabbi Heschel, the classical texts of our tradition (halakhah) provide laws which structure behavior, and the interpretive writings of our tradition (midrash) provide poetry for reflection.

The Heschel School is dedicated to the principles that characterized Rabbi Heschel’s life. It regards the texts of Jewish tradition as the repository of behaviors and thought which sanctify these values, and through which our students will come to integrate these values as central Jewish concerns.

*(May his memory be a blessing)


THE ABRAHAM JOSHUA HESCHEL SCHOOL

MISSION STATEMENT

The Abraham Joshua Heschel School is an independent Jewish day school named in memory of one of the great Jewish leaders, teachers, and activists of the 20th century and dedicated to the values that characterized Rabbi Heschel’s life: intellectual exploration, integrity, love of the Jewish people and tradition, and a commitment to social justice. The Heschel School is a pluralistic, egalitarian community that includes families from a wide range of Jewish backgrounds, practices and beliefs. Boys and girls, men and women participate equally in all aspects of the school’s religious, intellectual, and communal life.


The Heschel School regards the texts of the Jewish tradition and the history of the Jewish people as fundamental resources for developing ideas, beliefs, behaviors and values to shape and inspire the lives of individuals in our time. In an open and engaging academic setting, the school’s curriculum interweaves the best of both Jewish and general knowledge and culture throughout the school day.

The school’s approach to education is governed by profound respect for students. It nurtures their curiosity, cultivates their imagination, encourages creative expression, values their initiative and engenders critical thinking skills. The school is committed to development of the whole child and supports each student’s intellectual, emotional, social, physical and spiritual growth. In addition, the school seeks to create an environment that encourages the professional and personal growth of teachers, administrators, and staff.

Among the central goals of the Abraham Joshua Heschel School are the following:

HESED AND TZEDEK

(Approved November 22, 2016)

A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.

Abraham Joshua Heschel

The Heschel School commits to the values and actions that defined Rabbi Heschel’s life.  As Jews, human beings, and members of a community that bears Rabbi Heschel’s name, we are called upon to bring into our world greater tzedek (צדק—justice) and hesed (חסד—kindness), core Jewish values that are inextricably linked.  Rabbi Heschel understood justice as a divine imperative emerging from God’s compassion for humanity.

Honoring Rabbi Heschel’s legacy, The Heschel School creates a community defined by the care and kindness that our students, families, faculty, and staff show one another, and by a shared sense of social responsibility to the greater communities in which we live.  We strive to teach and embody the values that are the bedrock of our tradition, and to heed the teaching of the prophet Micah who proclaimed that what is good for human beings is to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  Like Rabbi Heschel, our greatest passion is compassion.  We hope our students follow Rabbi Heschel’s example to become engaged and concerned members of the Jewish community and citizens of the world.

Overarching Goals:

We work to accomplish our goals through a curriculum that teaches Jewish values related to tzedek and hesed, and that educates our children about systemic issues in society that perpetuate injustice.  We strive to create a community that lives the values we study and teach.  At Heschel, our students learn to build caring, supportive, and respectful relationships with each other and, as they grow, with the broader communities in which they live.  We believe that the personal relationships developed at The Heschel School will strengthen our students’ abilities to relate to others more broadly and to take action on behalf of others.  

THE EDUCATIONAL PROCESS

Educational Philosophy:

The Educational Process and the Centrality of Values

Education in the Curriculum

The Heschel School’s mission is informed by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who personified in his writings, teachings, and deeds, the integration of Jewish values and social action. We hope that the students of this school, in their own lives, will also be able to integrate those values that emerge from traditional Jewish sources with their actions as members of their families, their local communities, and as concerned members of the world community. If  the educational experience that we provide is to achieve that major goal, then specific values must be central to everything we do. They must find meaningful expression in curricular goals and instructional methods of the program as well as characterize interactions between all members of the school’s community.

“Ben Zoma taught: who is dignified? One who dignifies other human beings.” Avot 4

The school is committed to identifying, teaching and applying a full range of standards that have found expression in Jewish tradition and which, as encapsulated by Ben Zoma, promote the development of our students into civically responsible and spiritually sensitive human beings.

The educational philosophy of The Abraham Joshua Heschel School is grounded in a strong curriculum which requires each student to seek personal meaning in that curriculum. Our concern for the whole child is reflected in attention to and the balance between intellectual and emotional growth. We emphasize values and moral education. We view concern for the child’s emotional development, the quality of relationships among students and staff, and reaching out to others as critical components of such an education.

Our educational program is designed to develop skills of inquiry and expression, and to foster understanding of the self and others. We provide models of excellence in our staff and program and emphasize the importance of hard work in the pursuit of achievement. Goals for each school year are viewed in the context of our longer range vision of education as a developmental process.

Teaching at Heschel is guided by the principle that children learn by doing. We believe that acquiring knowledge through experience enhances the student’s understanding of life in school as well as outside of it and enables him/her to better understand his or her world. We are mindful that exploratory learning requires structure and that spontaneity coexists with, and indeed may be cultivated through, a skillfully ordered environment. Reliable routines facilitate purposeful investigation. We seek a balance of freedom and boundaries which together cultivate inner discipline.

Our expectations of the students shift as they grow. In the very youngest years we are concerned with providing an inviting atmosphere in which each child explores and adjusts to the environment; as the child moves into the elementary grades the emphasis shifts to providing the foundations in the specific linguistic, mathematical and critical thinking skills essential to academic mastery and intellectual growth in later years. The specific academic demands increase in steps that are appropriate to the age of the child and to the developmental stage of that child.

We seek to educate our students to function competently in and contribute to the world, as Americans and Jews. Integration is the term we select to describe the task of balancing various aspects of life, a task for which we prepare our students. Teachers model this commitment by working together in equal partnership throughout the Lower School. Each grade is taught by a team consisting of a general and Judaic studies teacher who together plan, support, and participate in the life of their classroom. General and Judaic topics are integrated throughout the day. Integration is a way of understanding the world to take in multiple viewpoints and perspectives. Rather than expecting our students to seek one right answer we teach them to ask questions and become learners together with their classmates and teachers. This is both a cognitive goal of the school’s program and a basic value implicit in our view of Judaism and the world. We feel that the ability to value multiple viewpoints will equip our students for the realities of an increasingly complex world.

In order to attend to the individual growth of each student we have a high teacher-student ratio and the presence of at least two teachers in each classroom. The team teaching arrangement exposes each teacher to a peer’s view about each child, with more time and attention devoted to each student. We seek to maintain a balance between attention to the individual, concern for the class as a group, and the school as a community.

Our ultimate goal is to develop individuals who are seekers and learners, to educate people who integrate Jewish values in all areas of their lives, and who feel a deep responsibility to the larger world within which they live.


The Place of Arts in Education

As a child plays and explores in order to learn and make meaning of his or her life at home and at school, s/he uses sound, language, textures, form and drama. We approach learning as sensory experience and honor the role of the imagination. Therefore, we see the arts—drama, music, fine arts, movement/dance—as an integral part of the child’s life at the Heschel School, which must be included as part of the thematic curriculum of the classroom.

Rather than viewing each art as a separate curricular area and setting aside separate time for it in the younger grades, we use the arts as ways to study and express ideas about history, Torah, holidays, culture, and other curricular areas. By the fourth grade when children’s cognitive abilities and technical skills emerge more fully, we also provide specific instruction about each major art discipline—its forms and history, and opportunities for students interested and talented in a particular art to study it more intensively. Heschel students learn about such traditional Jewish arts as storytelling, paper- cutting, and scribal arts, and about the diverse artistic traditions of peoples and cultures around the world.

We seek to ensure that an aesthetic sensitivity permeates the physical environs of the school as well as the curriculum. Through the production of artistic work, the students contribute tangibly to enhance the classroom and school environments for the entire community.

The school provides the resources and coordination necessary to facilitate the collaboration between arts specialists and teachers in the classrooms. The specialists must be willing and able to work cooperatively with all classroom teachers and to help them to make the arts part of their class curriculum. They must be knowledgeable about the school curriculum in both the Jewish and general studies areas and about what children can do, understand, and appreciate at each age level. They must be committed to teaching their craft as part of the ongoing process of enhancing students’ knowledge of the world and fostering their creativity and expressive abilities.

Similarly, all classroom teachers are expected to work collaboratively with arts specialists in making the arts part of their ongoing classroom programs. We encourage teachers with particular artistic interests and abilities to use them fully in designing and implementing their curriculum. Teachers without experience or confidence in these areas receive the training and assistance needed to allow them, too, to integrate artistic expression into their class program.


THE  CURRICULUM

The Teaching of Language Arts

(revised Spring, 2005)

The central goal of our English language arts curriculum is the comprehension and communication of meaning. We encourage students to develop their imaginations and teach them to express themselves clearly, both orally and in writing. Through the study of language, students come to intuit the power of words to express ideas, to increase understanding of their inner worlds and to gain insights into the outer world and its various cultures. We design activities to help students acquire and develop skills in English both as part of the English language arts curriculum and in other disciplines as well.

The Heschel School encourages a particularly active exchange of ideas and reactions to both personal and class assigned reading. Because reading and writing are linked throughout the grades, students come to appreciate the importance of writing in a way that communicates meaning to the reader. The writing program at each level is based upon the belief that producing polished, proficient written work is a multi-step process which includes the formal study of spelling, grammar, and syntax. Students, with appropriate guidance and support, are the authors and editors for their own work and editors of the work of their peers.

The language arts program of the School encourages each student to develop his or her individual voice and creativity. Younger children tell stories and read and write poetry and prose, stretching their imaginations, and sharing their ideas with one another. To foster active language usage, students often work in small groups in order to provide numerous opportunities for discussion, experimentation, and feedback. In the upper elementary grades and middle school, we expect students to acquire the language skills necessary to investigate topics and communicate information, ideas, and feelings with depth and sensitivity. We strive as well for an aesthetic appreciation of fine language.

In the Heschel High School the curriculum is designed to hone the students’ analytic writing skills. At the same time the School aims to instill in students an ongoing love of literature through deep reading and active discussion of both classics and contemporary literature. The goal is for students to learn that how they read is as important as what they read. Students are encouraged to look for points of contact among texts and between the text and their own experiences. In this way they can come to see how various writers have influenced—and been influenced—by the Western literary tradition.


The Teaching of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education (STEM)

(Approved May 29, 2014)

Science extends rather than limits the scope of the ineffable, and our radical amazement is enhanced rather than reduced by the advancement of knowledge….Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement ....[to]get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted.

             Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

The Heschel School’s STEM curriculum seeks to build upon and inspire students’ innate curiosity and wonder about the natural world, while developing in students an understanding of science and mathematics as unique means of acquiring and advancing knowledge. As the sciences are an important way of observing and understanding the world around us, mathematics, an elegant form of abstract thinking, can be used to express observations about the relationships between objects, their attributes and their position in time and space. Heschel is committed to the study of the STEM subjects to nurture in students a practical understanding of the physical world as well as an appreciation of its beauty.

Our understanding of the natural world is continually expanding. The goal of the Heschel science curriculum is to develop in students the tools for observation grounded in scientific methodology. In order to be informed global citizens, Heschel graduates must be scientifically literate in the essential concepts of biology, chemistry, and physics that are the cornerstones for more advanced study, and equipped with the skills to adapt and contribute to the evolving methods and discoveries of these fields.

Beginning in the Lower School, students are taught the skills of observation and inquiry; in the Middle School, their exposure to scientific methodology is formalized and includes increasingly complex practice with observation, measurement, controlled experimentation, data analysis, and scientific writing. The High School builds upon these skills in its core science classes, and more intensively in advanced electives. The Science Scholars Program offers interested students the opportunity to spend two summers working in laboratory settings with mentors at cutting-edge research institutions.

The Heschel mathematics curriculum aims to help all students become mathematically confident and powerful, to help them learn to value mathematical thinking and problem solving, and to learn to communicate, reason, and solve increasingly complex problems. Beginning in the Lower School, the study of mathematics is designed to develop mastery of fundamental skills in order to facilitate the growth and development of the individual learner. Continuing in the Middle School, the curriculum ensures that students understand the importance and practical use of mathematical skills and concepts by spending time applying those skills to real-life situations and also equips them for further study. Students in the High School are prepared for the varied applications of mathematics in the years ahead. They develop mathematical skills numerically, analytically, graphically, and verbally with the support of appropriate technology. Throughout the curriculum, students whose inclinations and talents draw them towards the study of mathematics are offered additional learning opportunities, including advanced study at the high school level.

At all levels, the Heschel School incorporates technology to enhance learning in the STEM subjects and to develop in students the skills to use technological tools as appropriate in other areas of the curriculum. Heschel offers courses in computer programming, an introduction to engineering, and opportunities for students to explore robotics. In addition to developing the requisite skill set to be effective users and consumers of technology, the curriculum offers opportunities for our students to also become designers and producers.

The Heschel STEM program excites students through intellectually-engaging and age-appropriate activities. It also engages questions of ethics and applications that arise within a Jewish learning context. We ask our students to consider the ethical dimensions of scientific advancements as they integrate them into their Jewish lives. Whether studying astronomy and rockets through the fourth grade “Mars Landing” project, experimenting with acids and bases in a seventh grade lab, or exploring the properties of light waves in a twelfth grade optics elective, courses are designed to inspire and stimulate what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called “radical amazement.” We hope that our students graduate wanting to know more about the natural world, eager to read about scientific discoveries, to conduct their own research, to engineer solutions to global challenges, to use technology to solve problems, and to see the beauty and elegance in higher-order mathematics.

Learning from one another is a valuable tool in both fostering and strengthening the growth of a learner. The math department makes it a priority to encourage both individualized learning as well as group work. Assignments and investigations are created that require students to work together, teaching their peers as well as learning from them. The School believes that a way to determine a student’s understanding or mastery of material is reflected in his or her ability to communicate it to another. Additionally, peer-to-peer teaching and learning promotes positive intellectual relationships.


The Teaching of Social Studies

(revised Spring, 2005)

The aim of the social studies program is to provide students with an understanding of the geography, histories, cultures, structure and functioning of human societies around the world. The curriculum offers opportunities to foster those skills and values that will allow the students to emerge as informed and responsible citizens of their school, and ultimately as citizens of their American and Jewish communities. We expect our students to be able to translate the lessons learned about empathic understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures into a potential for future leadership in the vital arenas of coexistence and outreach all over the world. The emphasis and units of study for particular grade levels represent an age- appropriate increase in complexity, and they are designed to foster specific skills while developing a coherent set of themes. The following skills are those whose mastery is fundamental to the goals of the social studies curriculum:

Because it is impossible to explore every interesting civilization across all times and all continents, particular examples are chosen to promote an understanding of those common elements that shape social structure and function around the world and across time. Students learn the ways in which cultures differ, learning enough detail about every-day life to imagine what it would have been like to be part of various other groups and civilizations. There is also an ongoing introduction of current events into classroom discussions in social studies.

From a historical perspective, we want our students to understand that the historical record includes many perspectives on the past, that all historical records are incomplete reflections of events as they actually transpired, and that no single perspective can be all encompassing. We want our students to understand the difference between primary sources (documents, texts, artifacts, etc.) and secondary sources, and to be aware that even original documents are shaped by the ideals and value systems of their authors. We also teach our students the importance of evaluating evidence and sources, carefully examining books, articles and digital information.

At the same time we want our students to understand that learning about the past is not merely an academic pursuit. We want them to experience an investigation of the past which helps transmit the great narratives of Americans, Jews, and other peoples in ways that make the past an important aspect of the students’ present lives.

Throughout their studies students are challenged to look at the interaction between events, values and ideas in the Jewish community and those in the general world. They learn to integrate what they have learned in Jewish history with what they have learned in general studies. They explore the ways that Jews have been influenced by the world in which they lived and they look at the ways that Jews have remained separate. They study the contributions of Jews to general culture, to the arts, to science. They see how Jews in different times and places have negotiated their relationship with the non-Jewish world and they explore the implications of these dynamics for our lives today.


Talmud Torah

(Approved June 8, 2018)

The word was given once; the effort to understand it must go on forever. It is not enough to accept or even to carry out the commandments. To study, to examine, to explore the Torah is a form of worship, a supreme duty. For the Torah is an invitation to perceptivity, a call for continuous understanding.  

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man:  A Philosophy of Judaism

מקרא משנה תלמוד ואגדה כבר נאמר למשה בסיני אפילו מה שתלמיד ותיק עתיד להורות לפני רבו נאמר למשה בסיני

R. Yehoshua ben Levi said…Torah, Mishna, the Talmud’s laws and stories, and even what a faithful student will one day innovate before their teacher, were already given to Moshe at Sinai.    

Yerushalmi Peah 2.4

 

ותורתך שעשעי

Your Torah is my delight.

Psalm 119:174

 

Judaism is rich with holy texts that tell the story of the Jewish people, that shape Jewish practice and belief, and that sustain the precious dialogue between God and the Jewish people.  Like the Rabbis, the Heschel School recognizes that the measure of Torah “is longer than the earth and broader than the sea [Midrash Tanchuma Noah 3:1].”  Torah at Heschel encompasses the foundational classic sources of Jewish tradition, such as the Bible and its rabbinic commentaries, the Talmud and the medieval law codes, as well as other ancient and contemporary expressions of faith and practice.  It also includes the innovative voices of our students as they study, examine, and explore Torah.  

As Rabbi Heschel observes, Torah study, Talmud Torah [תלמוד תורה], is an essential Jewish value, practice, and a form of worship.  At the Heschel School, our students engage in Talmud Torah and participate in the timeless Jewish activity of understanding and interpreting Torah.  They work to decipher our holy texts while they seek to draw meanings from them that will direct and enhance their Jewish lives, and that will help them develop a spiritual language and forge their own relationships with God and tradition.

At Heschel, we want Talmud Torah to be a source of ethical, intellectual, and religious inspiration for our students, as well as to be a delight for them.  We want Torah to provide our students with a shared identity, while empowering each one to find personal direction and voice in our tradition. Talmud Torah at the Heschel School should be a supreme duty that penetrates the hearts and minds of our students.  Compelled by and committed to Talmud Torah, we hope our students will live joy-filled and meaningful Jewish lives of study and service.

Our overarching goals for our students are:

We work to accomplish our goals through a curriculum that introduces our children to traditional texts and that teaches the skills necessary for understanding them.  We strive to create a community for our students, parents, and faculty that values Talmud Torah for its own sake as an essential Jewish practice.  We also work to create a community that engages in Talmud Torah as a means to enhance Heschel’s commitment to the values and actions of tzedek (צדק—justice) and hesed (חסד—kindness).

At Heschel, we want our children to know that the texts of our tradition, whether ancient or contemporary, are not too distant or too wondrous for them.  Above all, we want our students to love Torah, to feel its relevance, and to take delight in it.


The Teaching of Holidays and Commemorations

(revised Spring, 2000)

Observance of holidays at the Heschel School reflects our larger goal of integrating the experiences and concerns of being Jews, Americans and twentieth and twenty-first-century human beings.

A major aim in teaching about, and actively observing Jewish holidays is to instill a knowledge of and pride in the Jewish tradition. A valued part of that tradition is the marking of time in specific ways, remembering historical events and affirming our commitment to certain ideals through our holidays. The texts, music, decorative arts, foods, and customs associated with our holidays provide tangible manifestations of Jewish culture. Thus, holiday observances at the Heschel School will provide students with an extensive knowledge and much concrete Experience of Jewish identity. As the religious and cultural holidays of others are part of our experience as Americans, we respond to students’ questions by discussing these holidays, their histories and celebrations.

We approach American holidays as meaningful ways of marking time and affirming historic and civic values. We create appropriate celebrations or commemorations for school-wide assemblies on Thanksgiving and during American Heritage month, which begins with an assembly on Martin Luther King’s birthday and ends with one for the presidents’ birthdays. The school pays special attention to Martin Luther King Day as a way of marking and teaching the achievements of the civil rights movement, the values of social justice and social action, and the special relationship between Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Reverend King.

The School marks Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, in a sensitive and inspirational way. The entire community memorializes family members who perished during the Holocaust. Students of third grade and up view a poignant slide program composed of photographs of Jewish family life taken before World War II. This slide library has been created from loaned family archival photographs belonging to members of the Heschel School Community. Visits by family members who survived the Holocaust complete the experience for our Middle School students. An adult community event has become a standard part of the School’s annual calendar. In addition, an archive of family members’ memoirs has been created and continues to be expanded.

For Columbus Day, Veterans Day, and Memorial Day, we create age-appropriate discussions or activities to give meaning to the historic and symbolic values associated with these days. Earth Day has become a focus for school activities dealing with the environment. The Board and/or staff sometimes may decide that other dates or events (such as Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral or Inauguration Day) are so meaningful to us as Jews, Americans, or citizens of the world that they deserve recognition, marking, and examination at school.


The Teaching of Israel

(Approved April 18, 2013)

From the time of the Bible until today Israel has been a fundamental element of the life of the Jewish people and a central touchstone in the lives of Jews across time and space. The land of Israel is bound up in the consciousness of the Jewish people. Our history, our shared memory, our aspirations for the future all touch upon Israel. The vision of Zionism, our right to self-determination in a Jewish homeland, and the heroic efforts of thousands of men and women to realize that dream, found completion in the creation of the State of Israel. We have rejoiced in Israel’s triumphs, suffered through its tragic events, and connected ourselves to Israel through its history and through the people who live there today. We celebrate those who choose to make their homes in Israel and we are proud of the growing network of Heschel alumni in Israel. We direct tzedakah to Israel to support important initiatives as well as to help those in need. We connect to Israel through our prayers and rituals and we celebrate the potential of Israel to help the betterment of all humanity.

Israel is a land of promise and powerful dreams, some unfulfilled, some realized in remarkable ways. The ingathering of the Jewish people has given an opportunity for service to the world unparalleled in the entire history of the Jewish people. We deeply admire Israel’s democratic values, technological ingenuity, business acumen, advances in medical science, and cultural achievements in art, music, cinema, and literature. All these can serve as a model to other nations.

Our goal at the Heschel School is to build a relationship between our students and Israel and to create the sensibility within our students that Israel figures centrally in their Jewish identity and their future lives as Jews.

We are committed to enabling our students to engage with Israel beyond any specific struggles and challenges it may face and to prepare students to be lifelong advocates and supporters of Israel in a variety of ways. We believe that giving students a combination of knowledge, openness to diverse opinions, and deep commitment to Israel is the best way to meet any challenges they may find after they graduate.

We aim to accomplish our goal through a carefully designed curriculum both within the classroom and in co-curricular experiences. A program that

Throughout the curriculum we provide numerous opportunities for students to learn about and engage with contemporary Israel. Much of this happens within the classroom. In addition we offer many opportunities for programs, activities, and ceremonies that mark and celebrate our connections with Israel. Students learn Israeli music, study Israeli literature, watch Israeli films, read Israeli newspapers, and learn about many aspects of life in Israel in a variety of different ways.

To enhance this learning the school has developed an eighth grade trip to Israel that is supported by the curriculum. This trip is an integral component of the Israel curriculum and is a powerful experience that is one of the hallmarks of a Heschel education.

In the Early Childhood and the Lower School programs, we begin by developing an emotional connection to Israel. In the Middle School, we focus on deepening our understanding of Israeli history and geography, particularly in anticipation of the 8th grade trip. In the High School, we engage with issues related to politics and explore a range of perspectives that represent thinking about Israel today. We actively encourage students to spend significant time studying or living in Israel either in the year after they graduate, during their college years, or following their university studies.

Recognizing that there is a diversity of opinion about Israel among our students, parents, and faculty, we believe that our discourse about Israel should be characterized by the same openness and respect for one another that characterizes all learning and discussion in the Heschel community.

In the long run we hope that our graduates come to see the fundamental importance of Israel in their own Jewish identity. As our namesake Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote:

When I go to Israel every stone and every tree is a reminder of hard labor and glory, of prophets and psalmists, of loyalty and holiness. The Jews go to Israel not only for physical security for themselves and their children; they go to Israel for renewal, for the experience of resurrection.

At the heart of a Heschel education is a sense that our relationship with Israel is tied to our continuing renewal, both as individuals and as a people.


The Teaching of Hebrew Language

(revised Spring, 2005)

The power of language can scarcely be gauged. Language is more than language. Within language lie concealed magic forces of nature and history, lees of instinct and culture, a heritage of emotions, habits of thoughts, traditions of taste, inheritances of will-the imperative of the past. It is impossible to measure the power and influence of all this upon the soul, upon its consciousness and upon its subterranean strata.

Shalom Spiegel Hebrew Reborn 1930

Hebrew culture and its continuity from biblical times to today is one of the wonders of world history. Hebrew language is an essential vehicle for building and transmitting Jewish culture and identity, providing the means for authentic and lasting Jewish self-expression for the future.

Hebrew language is fundamental to our Judaic Studies program, affording students access to the texts of our tradition. We seek to create an environment that promotes the active, living use of Hebrew as a central cultural value of the school enabling students to read, speak and write the language.

Students learn to be comfortable with a wide range of Hebrew styles and vocabularies. These include the Hebrew of the Bible, the prayer book and contemporary literature and newspapers. As students progress through the grades of the school, they continue to acquire expressive language skills both oral and written and to read different genres of texts, ranging from the classics of the past through the poetry and prose of contemporary Israel.

With a faculty fluent in Hebrew language, students are encouraged to converse with each other and with teachers in Hebrew. Through the curriculum and through the annual 8th grade trip to Israel Heschel students learn that Hebrew is a living language that links Jews around the world, to each other and to the State of Israel.


Holocaust Education and Remembrance

(approved: June 11, 2003)

“Forgetfulness leads to exile, while remembrance is the secret of redemption”       The Baal Shem Tov

We live in a post-Holocaust era. This means that our thoughts and deeds are colored by this particularly devastating experience of the Jewish people, in both its implications for all of humanity and, most deeply, in its effect upon Judaism and the Jewish people.

At the same time that we embrace the unique character of the Holocaust as a genocide aimed at and perpetrated against the Jewish people, we recognize the importance and the power of the universal message contained within it. We seek to allow students to recognize and be challenged by the continual propensity of human beings to use racial or religious hatred to destroy each other. The education of all children should include age and developmentally appropriate exposure to the history of this period through the exploration of relevant primary sources, the reading and analysis of holocaust-related fiction and nonfiction, encounters with survivors, the visiting of several of the Holocaust Museums both in the United States and in Israel, and through personal creative self-expression and reflection. Knowledge of the events of the Holocaust has the potential to protect the future by ensuring an accurate understanding of the past.

The recognition that the de-humanization made real by the Holocaust continues into the 21st Century, provides for an education which forges links between the past, the present, and the future. Shoah education should be directed towards activism and the pursuit of social justice all over the world. We believe that it is possible to emerge from study of the Jewish experience of the Holocaust with both a very particular and a universal worldview. Without a call to conscience, remembrance is incomplete. Memory, reflection, and tzedek (acts of justice-seeking) are values at the apex of Jewish tradition. While never diminishing the appreciation of our own people’s—and in the case of many Heschel students, our own families’—horrific experiences, we, at the same time, expand our awareness of the ongoing necessity of actively preventing their reoccurrence anywhere, at any time.

Our namesake, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote: “History may be described as an attempt to overcome the dividing line between past and present, as an attempt to see the past in the present tense. The Lord of history has always placed us in predicaments, and this seems to be part of our destiny, never to relax in complacency, but to face difficult tasks, to live by the challenge.”

Foremost is coming to know about the spectrum of historical events alongside and magnified by the deepest cherishing of the individual lives that were ultimately stolen. As educators, we recognize the inherent tension between knowing evil in this empathic way and the difficulty in both absorbing and sustaining such knowledge. Seeking developmentally sensitive approaches, teachers at the Heschel School endeavor to balance our need to actively “remember” with our students’ needs to approach these issues with caution and as they are ready for them.

Our faculty work together to cultivate multiple student-responsive approaches to the Holocaust: consciousness, remembrance, ritual, commemoration and  study.

The creation and observance of Yom Hashoah rituals invites Lower School children to encounter the gravity and magnitude of the Holocaust while simultaneously protecting them from the frightening details of death and genocide. Over time, we endeavor to enlarge our students’ capacities to attain states of commemorative awe and to achieve the ability to empathize with, and ultimately memorialize those who perished.

Formal study of the Holocaust begins in the 4th grade in the season of Yom Hashoah with books about individual children’s lives. In Middle School, the curriculum encompasses additional facets of the era: the roots of European anti- Semitism in Nazi ideology; the years between World Wars I and II; the rich and varied Jewish culture that existed before the War; the tragic destruction of European Jewry; the heroism of the resistance and the partisans, the quiet struggle for life and dignity of those in hiding and flight; the achievements of survivors to rebuild, and the birth of the State of Israel.

Middle and High School students are able to understand not only the specific historical events, but also their implications and consequences: the long period of chaos following the war; fragmentation; the element of chance; the status of being a refugee; the refusal to help by world leaders; the element of will; the emergence of vision and the development of the State of Israel. Understanding the Holocaust also requires examination of the will to live as manifested in resistance movements. It demands recognition of the heroism implicit in the very act of survival under extraordinary circumstances, and of the quest for human dignity and meaning as survivors mobilized their energies to build new lives, often with new names and new loved ones, both in the young State of Israel and throughout the world. In high school, we will encourage our students to see the Holocaust from many perspectives and to deepen their appreciation of the complex factors that helped Jews to survive. Documentary and creative film, graphic arts and creative musical interpretation of the Shoah experience will help deepen their understanding.

The study of the Holocaust opens the most fundamental questions that emerge for the first time in recorded history in the Bible itself. Why do people hate? Why do terrible things happen to innocent people? How do we confront evil and not succumb to silence? In what medium may we discover seeds of renewal? Can we improve the world? “What does it mean to be human? What does it take to be a human being?” asked Rabbi Heschel.

As Jews, we hope that our empathy with other persecuted peoples—and other victims of genocide—may emerge in part from our own knowledge of suffering. We discern a pattern of historical social tragedy within the Holocaust narrative: ideological extremism, (leading to) racial prejudice and hatred and (concluding ultimately in) mass violence. These connections impel us to engage in tikkun olam (the repair of the world). Ethics and morality together with memory are the attributes necessary to create a world that values difference and in which all peoples may live together in peace and coexistence.

Recognition of our personal connection to the Shoah has impelled us to create the Heschel School Holocaust Archives, collected and preserved from our immediate family members who survived the Holocaust. Dozens of Heschel families have delved into often painful and ever searing memories in order to share with coming generations their individual, human stories.

Our annual commemorations in which these people bear personal witness, telling us how they survived, whom they lost, and what they discovered, are an indelible part of our school’s history and identity.

As a community, and for our children, we of the Abraham Joshua Heschel School affirm and reaffirm the choice to know. Even as the passage of time limits our encounter with direct witnesses, we sit together on the sturdy rock of collective memory. In a world of violence and war, our Holocaust curriculum and commemoration is a transcendent prayer for peace.

Rabbi Heschel:

“The essential predicament of man has assumed a peculiar urgency in our time, living as we do in a civilization where factories were established in order to exterminate millions of men, women, and children; where soap was made of human flesh. What have we done to make such crimes possible? What are we doing to make such crimes impossible? God is trying us very seriously. I wonder if we will pass the test. I am not a pessimist, because I believe that God loves us. But I also believe that we should not rely on God alone; we have to respond. Good and evil, which were once as distinguishable as night and day, have become a blurred mist. But that mist is manmade. God is not silent. [God] has been silenced.”

“If I should go to Poland or Germany, every store, every tree would remind me of contempt, murder of children killed, of mothers burned alive, of human beings asphyxiated.” Heschel responded to his own anger with the following words. He wrote, “Because of memory, there is a slow and silent stream, a stream not of oblivion, but of memory. To believe is to remember. The substance of our very being is memory, our way of living is retaining the reminder, articulating memory. Jewish memory, far from turning into a collection of stale reminiscences, was kept alive by the power of hope and imagination, transcending the limits of believing.”

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel lost his mother, six sisters, and numerous members of his extended family and communities in the Holocaust.


RELIGIOUS PRACTICE AND OBSERVANCE

Religious Practice in a Pluralistic Community

The Abraham Joshua Heschel School has been organized to meet a need for a school which is intensely committed to Jewish learning and experiences while respectful of the diversity that exists within the Jewish community. We seek families who want to explore Jewish issues and who want to grow spiritually and intellectually.

We are a place where people of diverse background and practice can be comfortable, where learning about diversity is a norm, and where children’s awareness of differences among families or between family and school is met with sensitivity.

We believe that the Jewish value concepts which are embodied in Jewish ritual/ethical patterns called mitzvot are significant and meaningful. We recognize that there are a variety of rationales for the observance of mitzvot. These include mitzvot as ordained by God; mitzvot as a means of being involved in the life of the Jewish community; mitzvot as a way of sanctification; mitzvot as folkway. Our approach to mitzvot is that the School is not based on a commitment to any single rationale. Rather we aim to encourage students to explore the range of possible meanings or values the mitzvot embody. We also expect to provide students with rich experiences in the observance of mitzvot for we believe that in order for mitzvot to be fully understood they must be experienced. We hope that the students will understand that mitzvot present opportunities for individuals and families to make choices about how to relate to the Jewish tradition.

While accepting of diversity of practice we recognize that within our own boundaries there must be a clear standard of observance. We expect that within the school the standards adopted will be respected.


Dietary Laws (Kashrut)

The Heschel School is committed to both appreciation of diversity within Jewish tradition and our own community, and observance of certain mitzvot and halakhot (Jewish Laws). Our observance of kashrut and the following specifics thereof are guided by the concerns that all members of our community feel comfortable eating at school functions, and that no one be in the position of judging another’s level of kashrut observance, or of being so judged.

On occasions when food is not provided in the dining halls, cold non-meat foods may be brought to school as long as there are no non-kosher ingredients in them.

Individuals are asked to bring only pareve (non-meat or dairy) or dairy products into the school in order to avoid mixing meat and milk. If a meat meal is served for a special occasion at school, all meat will come from a kosher butcher or supplier, and separate dishes will be used.

Any food cooked or baked uncovered in a non-kosher oven is halakhically not kosher, and therefore inedible to a segment of the Heschel community. In order to avoid judging the details of kashrut practice in individual homes or preventing anyone from eating communal food, no home-cooked or baked goods should be brought to school for communal meals. Food prepared by kosher bakeries is permitted, and the list of kosher baked goods and bakeries is included in the Parent Handbook.

All school kitchen appliances and utensils are kosher according to halakhah, and people may use these facilities and utensils to prepare food for school occasions.


Kippot (head-coverings)

School policy with regard to the wearing of kippot (head-coverings) is designed to reflect the school’s respect for diversity as well as tradition, and the range of practice found in the Heschel community. Students will learn why kippot are worn and why some Jews, including members of the Heschel staff and parent community, cover their heads throughout the day. They will learn why girls and women have not traditionally worn kippot, but that as we question the exclusion of women from other observances and opportunities, we encourage our female students to give the same consideration to the observance of this mitzvah as do their male peers.

Boys will be required, and girls encouraged, to cover their heads during times explicitly set aside for eating, praying, or studying religious texts. Most likely, boys who are used to wearing kippot at home will continue to do so throughout the school day, as will some staff members and other students who wish to observe this mitzvah.


Prayer (Tefillah)

To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, Quest for God

The Abraham Joshua Heschel School is dedicated to taking up one of the greatest challenges confronting Jewish education today: how to instruct and inspire young people to pray. Teaching Tefillah, the classic Hebrew term for prayer, is particularly complex in a school that embraces the values of both tradition and modern culture. As members of the Jewish people we are nourished by a commitment to communal life, to our sacred texts, and to the authority of a sacred tradition. At the same time, as moderns we support the individual, cherish autonomy, and seek personal meaning.

We have three educational goals at Heschel in regard to Tefillah. First, we are committed to helping our students discover their own access to prayer in a variety of ways. Second, our commitment to prayer challenges us to develop ways of teaching that inspire students with a sense of wonder and an appreciation of the power of religious experience. Finally, we aim to help students acquire and use the skills necessary to be fluent in our liturgical tradition.

There are many reasons that draw people to Tefillah—such as a respect and commitment to tradition, a desire for community and companionship, and the love of music and song. At the heart of our school’s dedication to prayer is facilitating students’ ability to develop, struggle with, and respond to their relationship with God in developmentally appropriate ways. We recognize that different people have different views about God—some more literal, some more metaphoric—and that the Jewish tradition has within it a wide range of views that have been expressed by rabbis, scholars, and theologians over the centuries and down to our own time.

The diversity of views about God begins with The Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh, itself: The God of Abraham suggests a Deity of intimacy and covenant. The God of Esther suggests a hidden yet powerful God; and the God of Moses is filled with both rage and compassion. The Talmud records numerous and often contradictory conceptions of God held by the ancient rabbis. The philosophers of the Middle Ages like Maimonides offer views about God rooted in reason; while works of the same period like the Zohar express a very different conception of God linked to the mystical experience. The great thinkers of the 20th Century—such as Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan—have similarly diverse positions on the nature of God. And this range of views continues into our times today as well.

At the Heschel School we are cognizant that our students come from a diversity of backgrounds and religious perspectives and we understand that they will be drawn to a variety of ways of relating to God. In all cases we aim to look seriously at educating towards an awareness of God’s presence in our lives and to explore the many ways in which our liturgical traditions enable our students and our faculty to inspire, nourish and express their spiritual needs as human beings.

Most of the disciplines taught at the school assume an explicit, didactic field of inquiry and domain of knowledge. Tefillah, in addition, requires intuitive sensitivity and the ability of the individual as well as the group to tap into deep feelings and an unspoken sense of a reality that is hard to express in words. The consciousness that we live in God’s continual presence, and have multiple ways of accessing that awareness requires encouragement from teachers as well as opportunities for student exploration, discussion, and illumination.

In school students benefit from experiencing teachers as people who pray, as role models for a life that includes prayer and spiritual commitment. Those Heschel teachers who are involved with students in Tefillah engage the Siddur (prayer book) in the moments of prayer, and see themselves as people who pray. The school does not require teachers or students to adhere to a specific standard of religious belief and practice; it does, however, encourage all members of the school community to be reflective, engaged, and non-judgmental in thinking about the place of God in their lives.

Making sense of different theological perspectives will call upon multiple pedagogies. Teachers invite our youngest children to express wonder at almost anything touching their lives: the first snowflakes of the season, the growth of a bean plant in the classroom terrarium, or the birth of a sibling. Our oldest students might well be empowered by community-building opportunities embodied by a variety of minyanim, reflecting different points of view and orientations toward prayer.

Finally, learning to pray requires skill. Students have to be taught to read aloud accurately and easily from an early age. Students need to be familiar with the correct “choreographies” of prayer services. They need to be comfortable with the physical objects associated with Tefillah—the Siddur, the Torah scrolls, tallit and tefillin. In the context of prayer services in school we hope to bring to life classic liturgical concepts such as tefillah b’tzibbur (communal prayer), qeva (fixed liturgy) and kavannah (spiritual concentration). In that context, the halakhic norms and the matbeah shel Tefillah (mandatory portions of the prayer service) will serve both to structure and direct prayer, as well as provide opportunities for spontaneity with prayer itself. At the same time we wish our students to become familiar with approaches to Tefillah associated with different denominational movements within contemporary Judaism and with the variety of traditions of prayer practiced by the different geographical communities in which Jewish culture has flourished for thousands of years.

The poetry and narratives of our liturgy reflect the collective spirit of our people. Prayer should evoke at once the majestic manifestation of God’s presence and power in nature, as well as divine connection to the meaning of human events. The structure, language and sequences of the morning service present a type of meditation in which one locates oneself in cosmic dramas of our people. This awareness centers a person daily and locates him or her on a metaphysical map. Prayer orients us by placing us on a grid of reality in which we connect to our people’s past and infuse our own life with ultimate meaning and purpose.

Bar/Bat Mitzvah

While The Abraham Joshua Heschel School helps families mark the momentous significance of Bar/Bat Mitzvah in the life of their children, it acknowledges the institutional parameters which properly define the limits of the school’s capabilities and responsibilities. The School includes units of study on the significance of Bar/Bat Mitzvah for students in the Middle School in order to relate concepts of human growth, development and responsibility to Jewish texts, and to create an esprit de corps among the students. Students are encouraged to lead a part of the Middle School tefillah (prayers) during the week of their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. This is part of the School’s program, and it provides an opportunity for a celebration within the school day.

The senior educational staff organizes a program for families who would like to receive information, including referrals for instruction in cantillation, and addresses concerns about the wide range of issues which emerge in relation to planning a Bar/Bat Mitzvah event. Since the majority of students celebrate their Bar/Bat Mitzvah event in a synagogue or other setting, the school does not train students in reading or chanting their Bar/Bat Mitzvah portions.

The Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony becomes a milestone in the life of our students through the meaningful involvement of parents, school and community. Because Jewish religious and communal life can be perpetuated only by supporting the many organizations and institutions that form our community, we encourage families to explore the rich synagogue life of New York City, and to affiliate with a synagogue or other prayer community. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony can then become an organic part of such affiliation. Nevertheless, we also recognize that some Heschel families will be more comfortable creating a more independent worship setting for themselves, their families and friends. The Heschel School will cooperate in the use of its facilities and resources for such families.

Whenever a celebration takes place in the building with the participation of a congregational rabbi, his or her customary practice should prevail. In the absence of such a rabbi, a committee convened by the Director will use its discretion in ensuring that the celebration is consistent with the school’s philosophy. The operative sentiment is that the Heschel School respects the practices of all Jewish clergy.


THE SCHOOL COMMUNITY

Admissions

The admissions process at The Abraham Joshua Heschel School reflects a vision of the School as not only an educator of children, but a community of families. It reflects a commitment to provide an excellent education that

As a pluralistic community, the School seeks a balance within the school, and preferably within each class, of families of varying religious orientations, financial resources and needs, national backgrounds, parental employment, and community involvement. It seeks students with a range of artistic, athletic, linguistic, mathematical, social, and other talents. The School aims to have an approximately equal number of boys and girls in each class.

The School seeks families who are comfortable with diversity, egalitarianism, change, and questioning; who have a commitment to Jewish life and to social responsibility. The School is particularly receptive to families who wish to become actively involved in the life of the school community and the education of their children.

In evaluating children for admission to a particular class, the School considers the child’s strengths, needs, personality, and learning style in light of the needs and functioning of the class as a whole. The decision to admit children with learning or other problems is informed by our sense of whether we can provide the help the child needs to succeed without diminishing the quality of the educational program or the classroom interaction for the other children. A family’s recognition of problems and willingness to work with the school toward their resolution are critical factors in the admissions decision for all children.

Evaluation and admissions decisions are based on interviews with the child and family, and interpretation of the child’s behavior during an informal meeting and performance on psychological and achievement tests.


Community

The Heschel School seeks to serve as a center for the families of its students, providing educational, religious, and social experiences for children, parents, and other adults. We believe that in order to educate children effectively, the School must create links between the children’s educational experiences in school and their lives at home.

Because the family and school are the primary influences on the child’s emotional, social, intellectual and  moral development, it is critical that we establish meaningful relationships between school and home, among child, family, and teachers, and provide intellectually and socially satisfying experiences for parents. These experiences help adults and children face the difficulties and limitations of modern family life.

The School, through its scholarship policy takes on the responsibility of enabling families who would not otherwise be able to participate in the School community to do so. In order for the School to fulfill this major commitment together with all its other goals, we expect each member of the School community, in diverse ways, to contribute to the financial well being of the institution.


Communication Between Home and School

We view ongoing communication between family and school is essential to educating students and building the Heschel community. Therefore, the school provides opportunities and makes efforts to develop communication throughout the school year. This communication occurs in two directions: from home to school and from school to home. Communication focuses on both the educational purposes and activities of the entire school community, and on individual children, their accomplishments and development.


Gender Equality

We are committed to providing equal opportunities for boys and girls to develop their strengths and skills in all areas of academic, artistic, athletic, and social endeavor without regard to traditional gender-based distinctions. Yet, our school does not exist in a cultural or historical vacuum, nor should it. We recognize, and so will our students, the history and continuation of sexual differentiation in America and other societies, and in Jewish tradition, and the role that gender continues to play in all our lives.

Nevertheless, in the Heschel School no activity or opportunity will be closed to members of one gender. Students will learn why Orthodox and some Conservative congregations segregate men and women during prayer, but there will be no mehitzah (separation in seating during prayer) at the Heschel School. They will learn why Jewish women traditionally have not read from the Torah or prayed before a mixed congregation, but girls and boys will participate in leading prayer, prepare for Bat and Bar Mitzvah, and observe male and female teachers and parents reading and teaching Torah, leading prayer, etc.

Our students will learn about individual women whose names and deeds are recorded, and they will also learn why most of the names in their books are male. They will learn about the daily lives of anonymous women as well as anonymous men. They will learn about those elements of Judaism and Jewish culture that distinguish between the sexes, the historical and current reason for those distinctions, and the possibilities for, and actualities of, modification and change.

While we are quick to reject any gender-based distinctions in most areas of school-life, we cannot resolve now all the complex questions with which we will have to grapple as we attempt to translate the idea of gender equality into areas of Jewish religious practice in particular. We recognize that mitzvot are considered obligations, not rights, which complicates the attempt to extend “equal opportunity” to fulfill and observe them, just as it raises questions about the tolerance for diversity and encouragement of autonomous decision-making by male and female students on questions of religious practice. As equal opportunities are extended to girls, the issue of obligation will be confronted and concretized.