The fourth grade Shalom School class is following the Union for Reform Judaism’s CHAI curriculum. A major feature of the CHAI is that it asks students to examine their lives and situations they encounter every day to find how they set them apart to be Jewish. It then goes one step further, and asks them to behave in ways that are characteristically “Jewish”, and to define what that means.
The cores of CHAI are the sections Torah, Avodah (prayer), and G’milut Chasadim (acts of loving-kindness). In the Torah section, we are learning how to find and read specific texts by book, chapter and verse so the Torah becomes accessible to the children. In such manner, the children gain the knowledge that the answers to the questions they will be asking about being Jewish can be found in the words of the Torah.
Specifically, we will be focusing on the books Deuteronomy (D’varim) and Numbers (Ba’Midbar), and the concepts of Am Yisrael (the Jewish people), Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), and the B’rit (Covenant). Whithin this framework, the children will confront difficult and real-world questions like what is required to qualify as a member of Am Yisrael, and literal questions such as why the Land of Israel is important, which are explained by our study, and in the scriptures. The students will be getting a hands-on approach to interpreting these challenges in discussions, by creating art projects, as well as adding to notebooks where they can reflect on their progress, and keep a tally on what they’ve learned.
The Avodah section tackles the questions that revolve around prayer. To help explain the concepts involved in praying, such as connecting with God, with themselves, and the Jewish community, CHAI consists of two major topics: Kavanah, the intention, mental, and emotional focus of praying that enables connections with open hearts and minds; and Kevah, the fixed order of the service, the words in the prayers themselves, and the formal aspects of practicing prayer. The children will learn that both of these elements are equally important, and that they only help to achieve effective prayer when implemented together. Activities that help the students understand and learn how to reach the mindset we are asked to experience when praying as Jews, include listening to prayers, creating projects, both individually and in the group, such as a mural that reflects their personalizing of the experience. Finally, G’milut Chasadim relates to the students’ own friends and family, and the overall theme of community. The children will learn how we as Jews can help achieve Shalom Bayit (peace in the home), including the theme of honoring one’s parents. Also, we’ll discuss the Jewish responsibility of reaching out to neighbors, and the Jewish value of befriending the lonely, and being compassionate to the elderly. Lessons explore how differences between people are to be embraced, as reinforced by the Scripture in which we will learn about the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and how they all had to be different to succeed and create a complete community. Students will be asked to apply these values to their own lives, via a variety of exercises covering things to which youngsters can relate, like bullying, and how l’shon hara (malicious speech) can damage relationships and people.
In addition, the fourth grade is studying the ancient history of the Jewish people. This will emphasize the link between our history and our heritage in a spiritual sense. The lessons include how unique Judaism is in that it was the genesis of Monotheism in the world. The history curriculum moves through the age of Hellenism, times of persecution under the Romans, and the Diaspora in Babylonia. Where the lesson ends will be the point of pickup for the children in fifth grade.