Between Passover and Shavuot, some have the tradition of counting the omer (the 49-day period between these two holidays). This tradition has an agricultural basis in that the period marks the beginning of the barley harvest as well as a historical connection in the counting down to receiving the Torah. Because the omer is tied to receiving the Torah and building anticipation for Shavuot, it has also become a time for reflection, refinement, and growth. Between Passover and Shavuot, some have the tradition of counting the omer (the 49-day period between these two holidays). This tradition has an agricultural basis in that the period marks the beginning of the barley harvest as well as a historical connection in the counting down to receiving the Torah. Because the omer is tied to receiving the Torah and building anticipation for Shavuot, it has also become a time for reflection, refinement, and growth.
At Denver JDS, we embrace any opportunity for reflection, refinement, and growth. Our students set personal goals and develop plans to attain them. Our teachers regularly engage in professional development, and as a school, we are constantly evaluating our programs to ensure they provide the best possible environment for that student growth. As part of that commitment to ongoing improvement, we have begun the process of looking at our K-12 Judaic studies curriculum. In some ways, our Judaic studies program is one of the most important aspects of Denver JDS. It is a key part of our academic program. It is one of the main elements that differentiates us from other schools in Denver. It Is the soul of our school.
As a pluralistic Jewish day school, our Judaic studies program should infuse a multitude of perspectives. Yes, denominational perspectives such as Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox should be represented in the learning at Denver JDS, but so should Reconstructionist and secular Zionist and post-denominational modern thought as well as numerous other views. Exposing our students to different sources challenges their thinking and shows them the variety within Judaism, making it clear that no matter what they think or believe or practice, they have a home, and they belong. Ultimately, we as a school foster skills and content, which the students can then, with the support of their families, use to adopt the beliefs and practices which resonate with them.
Our goal for our Judaic studies program is for students to become Jewishly literate lifelong learners with a personal connection to Judaism and a strong sense of Jewish identity. As such, we are working to further refine our curriculum with a balance of skills and content as well as depth and breadth. In order to accomplish our goal, we have to carefully consider when students learn what. Just as students should have a solid understanding of algebra before moving into calculus or a grasp of basic phonics before moving into chapter books, Judaic studies has a logical scope and sequence.
Our students need to be familiar with the written Torah before studying the oral Torah. They need to ask and answer their own questions before they examine the questions of others. They need to be familiar with basic narratives before they can critically analyze and compare different texts. While some of this scope and sequence depends on a sequential order of teaching specific material, other pieces depend on the developmental stages of students, areas of student interest and the most effective way to engage students in learning at different stages in order to foster independent learning skills, all of which we take into account.
Additionally, we are also aware that we live in the 21st century and have an obligation to prepare our students for success in today’s world. So, along with the skills of decoding text and breaking down commentaries and understanding the deeper meaning of different narratives, we also emphasize critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration. These future-ready skills have been a focus and priority for our school over the last few years, but they have always been highly regarded in Jewish tradition, and they have always been integral to Jewish study, so Judaic studies is a natural place in which to highlight and emphasize these skills.
As we move forward on this path of reflection, refinement, and growth specifically tied to our Judaic studies program, we share many of the same feelings as the Israelites as they awaited the receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Just like them, we know that change is a process that cannot be taken lightly. Just like them, we are thoughtfully preparing for the future, and, just like them, we are excited about what comes next.
Avi Halzel Dr. Sarah Levy
CEO/Head of School Director of Jewish Life & Learning
Elana Shapiro Jason Snyder
Lower Division Principal Upper Division Principal