The Liberal Synagogue Elstree
Religion school overview
The Religion School at TLSE meets between 10.00 am and 12.30 pm on Sundays. Lessons are held for children from Year 1 to year 7. Normally, children graduate from the Sunday Religion School at the beginning of the term which is one year before they celebrate their bar- or bat-mitzvah ceremony and enter the Shabbat morning class. This arrangement is flexible and some children remain in the Sunday Religion School while studying in the bar-/bat-mitzvah class.
The overall aim of the Sunday Religion School is to introduce children to the history and teachings of Judaism. As they move further up the school, the specifically Liberal approach to Judaism is encouraged as children ask more questions about their heritage.
TLSE and Clore Shalom School
Many of the children of TLSE members attend Clore Shalom school, a local primary school whose ethos is pluralistic in its approach to Judaism. Clore Shalom parents (and children) often wonder why they need to attend the shul's Religion School if they already receive a full-time education at a Jewish school.
There are many answers to this question. As mentioned, the Liberal approach to Judaism is unique and needs to be fostered. Although Liberal Judaism is ostensibly a feature of Jewish education at Clore Shalom, it is not formally taught, nor is its approach genuinely presented. This can only happen in a Liberal synagogue.
The place of the synagogue as a central focal point for Jewish education cannot be overemphasised. For countless generations, the Jewish community has regarded the shul as a centre for the community, for prayer and for education (beit ha-k'nesset, beit ha-t'fillah and beit ha-midrash). These are inseparable elements of Judaism and there is little point in learning about Judaism if there is not a synagogue context in which it can be expressed.
The curriculum at TLSE's Religion School, is deliberately devised to appeal to children whether or not they attend Clore Shalom (or another Jewish primary school). What is on offer on a Sunday morning will be completely different to what the children have experienced during the school week. Its purpose is to educate, enrich and entertain. Most importantly its aim is to ensure that our children develop a positive association with their synagogue so that they will feel encouraged to remain attached to it and be a part of it in their adult lives.
Children are invited to commence the Sunday Religion School in the September after they have turned five years old. They remain in the school until a year before the agreed date for their bar- or bat-mitzvah ceremony. At this stage, those children celebrating a bar- or bat-mitzvah ceremony will join the Saturday morning class. Further Hebrew tuition, as preparation for the ceremony, is available on Sunday mornings but a long term commitment to this is necessary as special arrangements will be made in such cases.
Our teaching staff is drawn from members of the congregation whose devotion to their job far exceeds the modest amount they are paid by the shul for their efforts. Many of them have attended courses at the Centre for Jewish Education to improve their teaching skills.
Some of our post bar- or bat-mitzvah students are invited to assist in the Religion School. This occurs no less than 6 months after their bar- or bat-mitzvah ceremony and depends upon their Hebrew ability and their willingness to teach. It is not an automatic process. In their first year, teaching assistants do not get paid; they receive a small token of appreciation at the end of each term.
Broadly speaking, the Sunday Religion School is divided into two halves - those in school years 1-4 are the junior school and those in year 5 and above are the seniors (though this dividing line can occasionally be somewhat fluid to allow for friends to remain together!). Half the school will study Hebrew while the other half is working on Jewish Studies and vice versa.
|Juniors (1-4)||Assembly||Jewish Studies||Break||Hebrew||Service|
|Seniors (5+)||Assembly||Hebrew||Break||Jewish Studies||Service|
Details of the content and structure of the above sessions can be found in subsequent paragraphs.
Ideally, this should say that the Religion School will train a child in the reading of the Hebrew language so that s/he can be able to read from the Torah for a bar-/bat-mitzvah ceremony. Unfortunately, with the best will in the world, this is unlikely to be the case. Hebrew is a difficult language to learn in the best of circumstances; when it is being taught for 50 minutes a week for 36 weeks of the year (assuming 100% attendance at Religion School - a rare phenomenon) it is virtually impossible.
The aim is for our children to be familiar with the language, particularly its use in prayer. We recognise that children progress at different speeds, also that those at Jewish Primary schools are at a very different level to those who are not. Hebrew teaching takes place in small, ability-centred groups within the Junior/Senior divide outlined above. The Hebrew scheme used at TLSE is the Hebrew and Heritage scheme, which focuses on Hebrew in prayer and each child has its own workbook. In an ideal world, follow-up work could be carried out at home; in practice this is highly unlikely to happen and we are grateful for the opportunity to teach Hebrew for 50 minutes per week and try to make the most of that opportunity. Our intention is to provide an environment where Hebrew can be taught so that, by the age of 12, children are ready to prepare for a bar- or bat-mitzvah ceremony. As mentioned above, further tuition is available on Sunday mornings in the preparation year but children wishing to take advantage of this must make a regular commitment to attend on Sunday mornings.
The aim of our Jewish Studies programme is to entertain and to educate in roughly equal proportions. The same topic is covered by all the children in the school, though the Juniors and Seniors approach the subject material from a different perspective. The curriculum content is spread over a four year period meaning that the children will encounter each topic twice - the second encounter being four years after the first. Broadly speaking, topics in the Junior school present Bible stories, festivals, Jewish history and theology from the perspective of 'this is what traditional Judaism tells us.' When a topic is encountered for the second time in the Senior School, the Liberal perspective is emphasised and attitudes towards Bible and Jewish tradition are discussed and alternative interpretations are considered. Topics are covered from a variety of different educational perspectives: drama, written work, discussion and art are some of the approaches used. At the end of each weekly session, a brief review - usually requiring a written summary of the morning's work - is expected from each child.
Sometimes the Jewish festivals are covered at the appropriate time of the year; on other occasions we will pay only passing attention to them as this tends to be somewhat repetitive. The major festivals are, in any event, covered by synagogue services to mark their occurrence. Many such services are specifically geared towards younger children - please see below for details.
proposed topic areas for the four year cycle are as follows:
Year 1 - Stories from the Torah - from Adam to Moses (3 terms)
Year 2 - Stories from the later Hebrew Bible, (2 terms) How Jews pray (summer term)
Year 3 - Mishnah and Talmud (1 term) The Jews of Spain (1 term) The synagogue and Jewish symbols (1 term)
Year 4 - Jerusalem and Israel (1 term), The Jewish Life Cycle (1 term), The Jews of Eastern Europe, (1 term),
These topics may be altered but, in general. What is important here is not so much the subject material, rather that it encourages the children to feel positive about their Jewish identity, to feel comfortable with the concept of challenging traditions (in the later years) and, most important, that they leave the class with a sense of joy with regard to their Jewish heritage and a yearning to discover more about it.
For the year 2005/6 we are on year 2 of the cycle.
Each Sunday morning begins promptly at 10.00 am. All children should give their names to the person at the door with the register and then make their way to the synagogue hall. An opening assembly takes place between 10.00 and 10.15 am. This is an opportunity for the children to be introduced to the topic being covered that day and also for new songs to be taught.
Every Sunday Religion School session concludes with a service. The expectation is that parents will arrive promptly for this at 12.15 pm and will sit with their children for its duration. This service is an important element of the Religion School education as it allows the children to experience a relatively formal service as a community and, hopefully, with their parents. Unfortunately, many parents tend to arrive nearer 12.30 pm and stand at the back of the shul conversing. This is highly regrettable and completely undermines the experience. Parents' co-operation is greatly appreciated.
There is a 20-minute break built in to the Religion School morning. We provide squash and biscuits for the children so it is not necessary to send them with additional snacks. No charge is made for these refreshments. If your child has special dietary requirements and needs to bring an individual snack for break, please let us know.
In recent years, it has been our experience that children are showing less and less respect for teachers and their fellow pupils. This is a very regrettable development. It may be that the children resent having to engage in educational activities for a 6th day of the week but this is no excuse for the level of insolence and disruptive behaviour which has been witnessed. Our policy is to keep a written record of serious instances of indiscipline and, should this behaviour persist, parents will be contacted when a third report of bad behaviour is recorded. At any time, we reserve the right to contact a parent and ask for a child to be collected if that child's behaviour is unacceptable.
Clearly it is important that our children are properly protected while they are at Religion School. Parents are asked to play a role in this by being part of the Sunday morning security rota. A meeting to explain how this operates is usually held at the beginning of each academic year - please make every effort to attend this meeting and to carry out your duty as assigned.