Winston Churchill once said, “Some people like the Jews, and some do not. But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has appeared in the world.” The Jewish people have had a long, challenging, and inspiring history, including overcoming obstacles (Jerusalem alone has been captured and recaptured 44 times), bringing new ideas to the world (Jews represent less than 0.20% of the world’s population, but they have won 170 Nobel Prizes), and bringing an entrepreneurial spirit (Israel has the largest number of start-ups per capita in the world).
When designing Einstein Academy, it made sense, then, to infuse Judaism into our school. As such, our mission statement discusses integrating the “universal values of Judaism,” but what does that mean?
At Einstein Academy, we balance the explicit infusion of Judaism into different aspects of our day and learning, combined with the more subtle constant infusion of these Jewish values.
Each morning we start with a time called Kadosh. This Hebrew word is sometimes translated to mean “holy,” but we are choosing to translate it as “separate.” This is a time for our community to come together to practice mindfulness and to use traditional Jewish prayers as a basis for cultivating emotional dispositions such as gratitude and awe. Mindfulness, which is the practice of bringing one’s awareness to the present while acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts, and other sensations, has been increasingly built into schools, having great impact on lowering behavioral challenges, increasing student ability to focus, and building community. By focusing our practice on Jewish prayers, we have the added benefit of giving students space to explore these ancient words and find meaning and connection between them and today’s world, fostering both a level of fluency and literacy as well as personalizing the prayer experience.
As part of our morning schedule, then, we have a language block during which Hebrew will be offered. Our goal is to offer Spanish as an option and to also provide this time for students who need extra support with their English language learning, but Hebrew will be taught every day. We follow the proficiency approach to foreign language instruction and use the standards outlined by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language (ACTFL) in order to guide instruction and foster proficiency in the areas of reading, writing, speaking, and listening comprehension.
During our afternoon interdisciplinary block, content from social studies, science, and Judaics will be infused together with math and literacy skills while the students work to solve problems. During this time, students will learn valuable content and skills related to Judaic studies including background literacy (such as what are the different writings of Jewish tradition, how to break down and understand a verse from the bible, who are different commentators and how can their writings enhance meaning) while using the relevant content in their problem solving. For example, if the problem we are examining is related to natural disasters, sections from the biblical portions Noah (which includes the flood) or Korach (where the world opens up and swallows people) might be used in addition to pieces from rabbinic literature.
Also, the Jewish holidays will be a focus of our learning, focusing on the themes and lessons and their relevance today in inspiring our actions. For example, in addition to learning the basics of what a seder are and the symbols of the seder plate, we will focus on the themes and lessons such as why it is that we are supposed to see ourselves in the Exodus narrative as if we, personally, left Egypt (which is mentioned in the Hagadah, the guiding book used during the seder/ritual meal). Together we will consider questions such as: How can we do this? What does it mean? Why is this asked of us? How does this impact our action today and into the future?
Additionally, Jewish values and their basis are infused throughout all that we do. Acting with kindness and compassion, considering everyone as if they were created in the image of God, repairing the world, and pursuing justice are all important to how we build our school culture and guide our actions towards each other, towards the environment, and towards ourselves.
Einstein Academy has been built as an intentional community aimed at making students the best version of themselves. We take inspiration from Jewish values and tradition to do so, focusing on the lessons, ethics, and dispositions it fosters. We also prioritize being a welcoming community; as such, all families are welcome, regardless of background (socio-economic, racial, religious or otherwise). We are looking for families to partner with us in our quest to use these timeless and universal teachings to make our world a better place.