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.