Values make up the fabric of who we are and what we do.
At JCC Manhattan, we use religion as a tool through which to access values. So while our values are universal, we find connection to them through our identity as a Jewish community. This practice takes place daily in every classroom, as children and teachers relate their experiences to the ever-present backdrop of Judaism.
This is perhaps most visible every Friday, when our entire community pushes the “pause button” as we welcome Shabbat. Classes slow down, invite families to join them, turn the lights off, and light Shabbat candles. Under the flicker of two shining flames, the students, teachers, and parents say something they are grateful for. In any given classroom, you might hear, “My new baby brother”; “Jacob, because he helped me on the slide”; or “My stuffed animal!” We use the space of celebrating Shabbat not only to light candles and eat challah, to but to access the value of a peaceful break in the week and express gratitude to those around us. Shabbat is a magical time where tradition and ritual are used to explore and express some of our core values.
Shabbat is only one example of how this happens in our school. Chanukah connects us to the value of persevering against all odds; Purim to the value of being proud of who you are; Passover to the value of freedom and liberation; and so on. Our students learn about Jewish rituals and tradition, but more importantly, they learn to connect those elements to a deeply held system of values.
Stemming from our teachers’ work with the Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative, our school has developed a canon of Jewish values that we seek to embody.
Judaism encourages us to recognize that our personal journeys are reflected in and illuminated by the shared journey of the Jewish people. Through these journeys, we explore, discover, and change. As we reflect on random encounters, moments of wonder, unpredictable occurrences, times of fear and difficulty, and large and small adventures, we are able to make better sense of our own journey and of the journey of the Jewish people. For children, parents, and teachers, we continue to build on these experiences so that we can better gauge our next steps in venturing forward.
Sacred Space, Sacred Experiences
We experience sacred moments when we notice the subtle details of our surroundings. These moments may be spontaneous sparks or gestures, or they may result from the planned provocations of teachers. They may be quiet, gentle, self-reflective instances, or shared, wondrous encounters filled with the busyness of the school day, with light, sound, and movement. Stopping to notice our world, making distinctions between things, and experiencing life fully are core Jewish values.
Honoring Our Individuality
The Jewish value of Betzelem Elohim avows that we are all created in the image of God—infinitely valuable, competent, unique, and full of potential. Human relationships are best built when we recognize the innate potential of one another and ourselves. Our school community strives to be a place that celebrates and supports children as they are, honoring their unique strengths and wisdom.
Exploring, Interpreting + Reflecting
D’rash reflects the Jewish value of exploration, interpretation, and inquiry. It is the continual process through which we engage our students in deep examination of the world around them. It is what encourages us to honor and embrace differing perspectives and allows us to be more thoughtfully curious learners and educators.
Children carry with them an innate sense of wonder, which allows them to bring a fresh and unique perspective to our world. Moments of wonder can be intense, focused, fearful, open, or vulnerable. Wonder requires being open to our surroundings, whether they are mundane or extraordinary. In the ancient Torah study of Moses, who pauses to notice a strange bush burning in the desert, we see the transformative power of wonder. One spark of wonder can open up the world, for a child and a community.
Community + Responsibility
Judaism places an enormous emphasis on tikkun olam, or repairing the world. In our school, we incorporate the values of community and responsibility throughout our school day. Our children engage in acts of tikkun olam on a daily basis, by taking care of classroom pets, watering our plants, calling friends when they are home sick, and delivering mittens to a local shelter. Through these small but significant gestures, our children learn that what we do matters not only in our lives today, but in the future as well.
Promises + Partnerships
In our school, we refer to brit as the many relationships, promises, and partnerships formed in our community. These relationships are built around mutual agreements and obligations that incorporate Jewish values, trust, choice, commitment, and the feeling of belonging. Through our supporting relationships, we strive to bring out each other’s potential.