Curriculum Overview


To incorporate the “formal” educational component of our program with its “informal” counterpart, our curriculum includes “hands-on” opportunities for our children to learn Jewish values through the practice of tzedakah, mitzvot, and gemilut chasadim (acts of loving-kindness). Children are encouraged to make weekly contributions of tzedakah and canned goods to our food pantry, all of which are then distributed to worthy causes chosen by the children. Over the Chanukah season, our children contribute the funds that would have been spent on parties to organizations serving the less fortunate, such as Downtown Daily Bread (a soup kitchen) and the Jewish Family Service Holiday Emergency Fund.

Each age group (pre-K-3; 4-7) participates in Family Education workshops in addition to joint community-wide programming held at the JCC for school-aged children and their families, such as the Purim Carnival, Mitzvah Day,
Tu B’Shvat, Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut
(Israel Independence Day). Each class participates in the conduct of a Shabbat Service. Art and music are incorporated into the program through regular curriculum, tefillah (prayer), special events and other means.

An overview of the academic curriculum of our Religious School:

In this very special weekly program, children receive a very gentle and loving introduction to Jewish life. Through the use of crafts, songs, stories, and playtime, the children take their first steps in their lifelong journey into Jewish learning. Children are introduced to the concept of the Jewish people. They will learn about mitzvot (commandments) as the link between God and the Jewish people by studying the Bible characters and stories, tzedakah and tikkun olam. The children will celebrate the major Jewish holidays and Shabbat through art, music, food and stories. Family Education program centers on Jewish bedtime rituals and children create their own “Shma Yisrael” pillow covers.

The origins, symbols and customs of the holidays highlight the first grade. This class will have a tikkun olam project, enjoy holiday celebrations, learn and review Bible stories. Resource materials include learning about the synagogue and the land of Israel. Family Education program centers on rituals of mezuzah and children create their own mezuzot for their bedrooms.

A major emphasis in the Jewish studies curriculum is the weekly Sidra (Torah portion) and Shabbat home and Temple observances. Jewish holidays, Torah, mitzvot, tzedakah and Jewish rituals are used as means to incorporate the values of our tradition into their budding sense of morality. Family Education programming centers on learning about their Jewish names and children create kippot, picture frames and bake cookies using the letters of their Hebrew name.

The study of Torah, tikkun olam, tzedakah and mitzvot continue in the third grade. The students will develop an understanding of the history of the holidays as well as learning additional prayers and blessings. The values learned in the Torah are stressed through stories, including those on the Hebrew prophets. The study of Israel is also included in this curriculum. NOTE: Midweek classes begin in the third grade. Family Education programming centers on tzedakah. Children act in a play describing Maimonedes levels of tzedakah and create their own tzedakah boxes.

The fourth grade begins the year with Bible study using the text Torah: The Growing Gift. Included in this excellent curriculum are Living as Partners with God, as well as My Jewish World, which provides an overview on important Jewish people, professions and organizations within the Jewish community. Students are introduced to Holocaust studies through the reading of Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry. Family Education programming centers on Passover and children create a seder plate for use at family seders.

A major emphasis of the fifth grade is the study of Jewish lifecycle events, including birth, bar/bat mitzvah, and weddings. Basic Jewish concepts, Jewish history, Bible, and Holocaust round out this significant year. Family Education programming centers on b’nai mitzvah and children create their own yad for use during b’nai mitzvah training.

Sixth graders take a serious look at their emerging Jewish identities. Students study immigration to America to discover their Jewish roots. Jewish History, Israel, Jewish heroes and values, and ethical and moral dilemmas serve to provide a foundation for their upcoming b’nai mitzvah studies. Rabbi Kessler will conduct that Family Education programming which centers on many aspects of b’nai mitzvah preparation.

The Seventh Grade curriculum, entitled “Community as a Classroom” is an exciting program which provides meaningful, hands-on-experiences to expose the students to local Jewish life, personalities, organizations, ethics and values. Students volunteer at the Jewish home; culminate a unit on the Holocaust with a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C; learn about Jewish death rituals through a visit to the Hetrick Funeral Home; explore conversion and family purity laws by visiting the mikvah; bake Chanukah cookies for residents of the Jewish Group Homes; compare the different streams of Judaism by spending Shabbat at an Orthodox synagogue; maintain the Holocaust monument on Front Street; feed the homeless at a local soup kitchen and more.

ALL students, in 8th through 12th grades, are strongly encouraged to continue their Jewish education at the Harrisburg Hebrew High School, which meets on Sunday evenings at the Jewish Community Center. Most Confirmation requirements are met through Hebrew High attendance and students are confirmed at the end of the 10th grade. Hebrew High graduation occurs at the end of the 12th grade. After Confirmation, travel to Israel and Poland, via the March of the Living, is encouraged. For more information on Hebrew High, please contact Rabbi Kessler or
Mrs. Rappaport.


The focus of the Hebrew program is overall proficiency in Hebrew reading, knowledge of basic Hebrew terms and themes of the prayers, as well as familiarity and comfort with the Reform liturgy. All students in the Religious School work, with varying degrees of intensity and enrichment, toward achieving these goals.

In order for your child to read Hebrew, and feel a sense of belonging while at services, s/he needs to practice reading for a short period each week at home. By listening and being supportive, you are showing your child that you value what they are learning. A sure way to demonstrate the importance of Jewish learning and to reinforce Hebrew skills is though participation in Friday evening or Shabbat morning services.

The Hebrew alphabet is introduced in the pre-K level and it is reinforced in kindergarten and first grade through songs, games, art projects, etc. In grade two, the recognition of the consonants is mastered and vowels are introduced. By the third grade students begin decoding Hebrew words. In fourth grade, students will continue to study the various brachot (blessings) and begin working on basic prayers, while learning to find the Hebrew roots of the key words in blessings.

The fifth and sixth graders continue to work on their literacy and vocabulary skills while pursuing in depth studies of the Friday night and Shabbat morning prayer services. The prayer book Hebrew which they study is approached with greater sophistication, intensification and enrichment. The ultimate goal of teaching tefilah to these students is to enable them to not only participate in but to conduct a service. In the 7th grade, Hebrew is taught within the context of bar/bat mitzvah training.


ATTENDANCE: Regular attendance is expected at Religious School, and at all B’nai Mitzvah lessons. Half-hour lessons will be scheduled with the tutor beginning three months prior to the bar or bat mitzvah. If a student must be absent for any reason, the tutor must be notified in advance by telephone. Attendance at synagogue services at least twice a month for the year leading up to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, as stated in the Bar/Bat Mitzvah packet, is required. It is up to the student and parents to make sure this requirement is met sufficiently prior to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

STUDY HABITS AND PERFORMANCE: The tutor will provide each student with instruction on how to effectively learn their Torah and Haftarah portions. This involves regular, consistent study. The most effective way to learn these skills is through memorization, drilling and repetition. It is strongly recommended that, at the beginning of Bar/Bat mitzvah preparation, each student spend at least 20 minutes 5 days per week practicing. The tutor will then evaluate how much time each student needs to spend to accomplish the necessary tasks. As time progresses, more daily practice time may be needed, depending on the work ethic and abilities of the student. Schedule a specific time each day that will not interfere with other activities. Post the schedule in easily noticed places, so that the student and parents can be reminded of the practice times.

Though everyone has busy schedules, it is crucial that parents make Bar/Bat Mitzvah study a priority. It is imperative that parents make sure that their child is spending practice time effectively, both reading the Hebrew and using the provided recordings to learn phrasing and melodies. In planning events and extra-curricular activities for the half year before the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, keep in mind that your child will need the time to do the necessary work.

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