Jewish heritage and the spirit of Jewish community come together at Bernard Zell. Jewish learning begins in Early Childhood, and invites the student’s entire family to take part, welcoming everyone with a “come as you are” attitude. We create a nurturing Jewish cultural environment in which students engage in a comprehensive program that includes Hebrew language, Israel studies, classic texts, and Jewish history, along with appreciation for Jewish values, prayer and Shabbat.
Children in our Early Childhood program are introduced to spoken Hebrew in a natural, organic way, through games and songs, laying the foundation for daily Hebrew classes in later years. Learning about Jewish holidays is an immersive experience, including the long-standing tradition of Fridays' Likrat Shabbat lunch, and, for fifth- and eighth-grade students, a Shabbaton—an off-site, camp-like experience where they celebrate Shabbat from start to finish.
From the youngest ages, students learn the Shema and blessings for meal times as well as those that are specific to Shabbat and holidays. Lower School students begin to build a repertoire of core prayers that are integral to all denominations of Judaism. Torah study begins in fourth grade. In Middle School, students conduct their own prayer services each Friday, and begin to learn new melodies to add to familiar prayers, as well as to help prepare them for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Students engage in learning Hebrew in fresh ways with online Hebrew language programs, while innovative experiences such as “Break Out” Escape Rooms add to the fun of Jewish learning.
Israel education incorporates a combination of experiential and academic learning. Our Israel Independence Day celebration includes a reenactment of Ben Gurion's reading of the Declaration of the State of Israel; singing Hatikva, the Israeli national anthem; sampling Israeli foods, and even visiting a model of the Western Wall where students can place notes.
The invitation to explore their Jewish identity that begins in Early Childhood culminates in eighth grade with the Tiyul (journey), a two-week experience in Israel that one student described as “making aliyah for two weeks!” Students further expand their connection with Israel through the annual mifgash (encounter), when our 8th-grade students host Israeli 8th-grade students for a unique week of shared learning and activities. This connection is strengthened when our 8th grade class reconnects with their 8th-grade peers during Tiyul.
With every step they take throughout their education at Bernard Zell, students come to recognize essential Mitzvot, the guidelines that shape a Jewish life, as they learn to take care of the earth, honor their parents, observe Shabbat, and maintain an honest and just community.
Jewish Life at BZ
Join us on Thursday, May 25 (5 Sivan) as we officially welcome the Torah, Survivor #1089, to Bernard Zell. The foundation for this year’s 8th grade Interdisciplinary Project, this Torah is one of only 1,564 Czech Torah scrolls to survive the Shoah (the Holocaust). This past November, we welcomed the Torah—on permanent loan—and introduced it to its proud, new guardians, the Class of 2023.
Please join us in saying todah (thank you) and goodbye to our wonderful Shinshinim, Lihi and Eitam, whose last day at school was yesterday. These two wonderful Israelis left their families and homes to spend the year with us. We are so thankful for all their contributions this year, as they aided in enriching the BZ experience for our students in contemporary Israeli culture, holidays and Hebrew language. Their beaming smiles and unmatched ruach (spirit), will be greatly missed!
The holiday of Shavuot—the celebration of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai—begins this Thursday evening at sundown. Our BZ celebration of Shavuot exemplifies how we celebrate Jewish traditions in a way that is both meaningful and joyful. Throughout the year, we invite our students to see Torah as part of a toolbox for living well and as a way to use tradition to add meaning to their lives. Below are a few highlights of our special Shavuot celebrations!
Yesterday, our Early Childhood students (N, JK and SK) celebrated Lag Ba'Omer, which marks the 33rd day of the Omer (the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot). Lag Baomer is celebrated with picnics, playing outdoor games and spending time together around bonfires. We created our own school-friendly "bonfire" with translucent papers and logs, and invited all Early Childhood students to gather around to start our day with lots of ruach (spirit).
We honored a milestone in the lives of our 2nd grade students this morning as they celebrated with their families and teachers at the Second Grade Siddur Celebration. During the ceremony, the students received their first siddur, which is a prayer book containing the prayers or tefillot students study throughout their time at Bernard Zell.
In Senior Kindergarten, we are looking forward to our Bikkurim celebration next week! Bikkurim is a ceremony that celebrates the Jewish learning that takes place in Early Childhood at Bernard Zell. To prepare for Bikkurim, each student is interviewed and asked to tell their thoughts about G-d, what they know about Israel, why the Torah is special, what mitzvot they like to do and what their favorite Jewish holiday is and why.
Yesterday we observed יום הזיכרון (Yom HaZikaron), a day to honor and memorialize Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. Our Middle School students and families gathered for a student-led ceremony in partnership with our Shinshinim. As they do in Israel, we sounded the alarm for one minute while everyone stood for a moment of silence, lit candles, lowered the Israeli flag and told stories of those who have fallen and sang songs to commemorate them.
This morning, our entire school celebrated Israel’s 75th birthday with a Yom HaAtzmaut assembly. We welcomed the Deputy Consul General of Israel to Chicago, Dr. Daniel Aschheim and his family, and were then led by our 7th graders with the raising of the Israeli flag.
Throughout the second grade social studies curriculum there is an emphasis on the grade’s Jewish value, T’Shuva, which includes saying sorry for mistakes we make, working to make our community a better place and thinking about our actions and how they affect others. The second graders have continuously brainstormed how to be kind citizens to friends, family, teachers and peers. They made Kindness Hopes and Dreams that are hung in the second floor hallway to remind anyone passing by how to participate in T’Shuva.