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Books Through the Ages
By ISJL Education Fellow Josh Altshuler
The ISJL educational curriculum promotes youth engagement with Judaism through thoughtfully-constructed book lists. While activities shape the core format of ISJL lessons, texts advance early childhood programming all the way to high school learning. A Jewish education can lack meaning without the aid of books. Bright colors, humorous characters, images of culture, and reflective morals affirm the power of Jewish literature. For centuries of Jewish history, secular and religious scholars passionately studied the Torah and its commentaries. The ISJL celebrates the centrality of books to the Jewish experience by reinforcing literacy and critical analysis as principal tenets. This guide can connect teachers and parents to the textual framework of the organization.
The Early Childhood program allocates time for a story in each class session. The first pages of the Early Childhood curriculum include a long list of recommended books that correspond to the Jewish holidays. These books offer an excellent illustrated introduction to Jewish topics and festivals with familiar characters like the inquisitive Sammy Spider. The Kindergarten and First Grade curriculum spirals also make use of storybooks. Both grades list three literature options for each class lesson; the first book listed represents the most revered. These books are considered non-consumables as they can be revisited every religious school year and can be transferred between teachers.
The First and Second Grade curricula additionally incorporate consumable workbooks. The “Let’s Discover” series by Behrman House allows children to write in their own packets while responding to questions, discussions, and stories about the holidays and Jewish values. Before beginning a lesson, teachers prepare the consumables for each student. First and second graders will have multiple personalized booklets that they can take home at the end of the religious school year and share knowledge with their families.
The subsequent elementary and middle school curriculum mainly consult textbooks rather than fiction or nonfiction pieces. These textbooks help students as they closely explore the Torah, Haftarah, and Jewish values and prepare for their b’nei mitz’vah. However, teachers and mad’richim (counselors/teacher’s aides) can supplement lessons with applicable stories from previous book lists or based on recommendations from people like the ISJL Education Fellows. The Eighth Grade curriculum references a few specific literary works for student engagement such as Elie Wiesel’s Night. The inclusion of these influential Jewish books assists teenagers as they study the complexities of Jewish history and culture. Finally, many ISJL High School lessons refine skills of argumentation and assessment using world newspapers and explicitly Jewish periodicals.
The ISJL admires the significance of books for children throughout their education. Using the curriculum book lists, instructors can empower a love for reading, language, and perspective for students at an early age. Moreover, the ISJL looks forward to connecting southern communities with alternative texts, heightening Jewish relationships to heritage, holiness, and home.