Beth Chai: The Greater Washington Jewish Humanist CongregationBeth Chai: The Greater Washington Jewish Humanist Congregation

Sunday School Curriculum

Pre-K - Jewish Holidays

Goal - Students in the Pre-K class will become familiar with Jewish holidays, Mitzvot, Jewish symbols and their meaning, and selected Jewish stories

Enduring Understandings - The students in the Pre-K class will learn the basic stories of the Jewish holidays and their symbols and how to celebrate the holidays. They will also learn about the importance of Mitzvot.

Holidays - The holidays that will be learned about in class are the following: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Hanukah, MLK Day, Tu B'Shevat, Purim, Sabbath, Passover, Israeli Independence Day, and Shavuot.

Sample Stories

  • Creation
  • Noah's Ark
  • David and Goliath
  • Jonah and the Whale
  • Something for Nothing

Methods of Learning - All lessons use stories, games, crafts, dramatic play, music, picture books, and other age-appropriate learning tools. The pre-school program meets every Sunday.


Kindergarten - Jewish Values and Holidays

Goal - Kindergarten students will become more knowledgeable and comfortable with the holidays, Mitzvot, basic Jewish values, Jewish symbols and stories. They will also do many hands-on projects.

Enduring Understandings - The students in the Kindergarten class will learn the meaning that lies beyond the stories of the Jewish holidays and their symbols. They will also learn how to make the connection between those stories and our everyday life. For example: why do we dip apples in honey to wish our families and friends L'Shana Tovah (Happy New Year)? Hint: Apples symbolize good health and Honey is sweet.

Holidays - The holidays that will be studied in more depth in K class are: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Hanukah, MLK Day, Tu B'Shevat, Purim, Sabbath, Passover, Israeli Independence Day, and Shavuot.

Mitzvot - The students will also learn about important Jewish Mitzvot, their influence on our lives today and in the future, and their meaning. They will learn about Tzedakah, Mitzvah of Caring for Animals, Mitzvah of Honoring Parents and more. The students will also learn basic Jewish values embodied in the concept of Mitzvot (obligations).

Methods of Learning - Students in K class will learn through the use of books, stories, creative thinking and short discussions, art, music, dramatic play, visual and performing arts.


1st grade - Jewish calendar and seasons

Goal - Students in 1st grade will gain an understanding of the Jewish calendar and seasons, the Jewish life-cycle, and the Jewish holidays and symbols. They will also do many hands-on projects.

Enduring Understandings - The students in 1st grade will learn about cycles: cycles of year in nature (seasons), cycle of the Jewish calendar, and cycles of Jewish life events. They will learn to identify the cycles, their symbols and meaning.

Cycles of Jewish life events - New baby/naming ceremonies, coming of age, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, marriage, death and mourning in the Jewish community.

Cycle of the Jewish Calendar - The difference between the Jewish lunar calendar and the secular solar calendar, the names of the Hebrew months, which Jewish holiday pertains to which Hebrew month, the seasons, and how the holidays fit into the seasons.

Methods of Learning - Students in 1st grade will learn through the use of books, stories, creative thinking and short discussions, art, music, dramatic play, visual and performing arts.


2nd grade - Early Bible Stories

Goal - Students in 2nd grade will discover the early stories of our Jewish ancestors from Genesis through the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the receiving of the Ten Commandments. The students will use various stories from different text books and resources on a grade-appropriate level. The stories are taught for the moral lesson they may have to impart, as well as for an understanding of our ancestors.

Enduring Understandings - The students in 2nd grade will learn about the early Torah stories and how to make the stories and their characters an integral part of the students’ consciousness as these stories have been for generations of Jews. We will do our best to answer questions such as: what do these stories tell us about the life of our ancestors? Why do you think these stories were written? Etc.

The bible stories - Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac and Rebecca, Esau and Jacob, Rachel, Joseph and his Brothers, Joseph in Egypt, Moses and the Burning Bush, Moses and Pharaoh, The Plagues, The Crossing of the Red Sea, The Ten Commandments.

Methods of Learning - Students will learn through the use of books, stories, Jewish creative thinking and writing, short discussions, art, music, dramatic play, and age appropriate visual media in short movies and presentations.


3rd grade - Advanced Bible Stories

Goal - Students will explore the later/more advanced stories of the Bible. 3rd graders will extend the study of our ancestors to include life in ancient Israel under the monarchies, ‘shtetl’ life, and some contemporary issues.

Enduring Understandings - Through the use of stories, the students investigate themes of courage, friendship, the value of wisdom, the difference between cleverness and wisdom, and foundational myths of the Jewish people. Some of the stories they read will tie in with each of the Jewish holidays throughout the year.

Main Themes - Creation and other stories of the Jewish people, such as Friendship, Wisdom, the Value of Study, Bravery, Compassion. We will inspire the students to embrace Jewish values as their own; in addition, we will give the students a sense of how time is organized throughout the Jewish year and how the Jewish holidays tie into the seasons.

The bible stories - Creation, Jonah, The Seven Good Years by I.L Peretz, If Not Higher by I.L Peretz, King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba by Blu Greenburg and Linda Tarry, The Story of Chanukah by Marilyn Hirsch, Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco, Rosa by Nikki Giovanni, Queen Esther, David and Goliath, Saul Turns against David, David the Outlaw, The Story of Honi, The Tower of Babel.

Methods of Learning - Students will learn through the use of books, stories, Jewish creative thinking and writing, short discussions, art, music, dramatic play, and age appropriate visual media in short movies and presentations.


4th grade - Community and Shtetl Life

Goal - Students will examine the concept of community as it relates to Jewish history, and discuss such topics as “What is Community?” Pale of Settlement - Shtetl Life, Immigration, the Union movement, Zionism and early settlement of Israel.

Enduring Understandings - Students will focus on history. We will encourage the student to think about the concept of community, to identify the various communities in which he/she is involved, and to be able to discuss the benefits that community life has to offer. Students will also learn about the geographic boundaries of the Pale; about the quality of life within it; and the reasons leading up to the period of mass immigration from the Pale./DIASPORA

Sample of questions for class discussions

  • Why do people form communities?
  • What do people sacrifice in order to be part of a community?
  • What laws defined Jewish life within the Pale?
  • What was the typical pattern of family emigration?

Methods of Learning - Students will learn through the use of books, stories, geographical maps (both current and historical), debates and small group discussions. Students will use Jewish creative writing methods, art, drama and age appropriate visual media in short movies and presentations.


5th grade - The State of Israel

Goal - Students will feel connected to Israel and understand the importance of the state of Israel to the Jewish community in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.

Enduring Understandings - Students will learn about the state of Israel. The students will learn about the History and geography of Israel, the early Zionist movements, Kibbutz life, daily life in Israel, and the current conflicts.

Methods of Learning - Students will learn through the use of current newspapers from Israel, books, geographical maps of Israel (both current and historical), debates and small group discussions and projects. Students will use Jewish creative writing methods, art, and simulation and age appropriate visual media in short movies and presentations. There will be a special guest speaker.


6th grade - Jewish American History

Goal - Students will gain an understanding and appreciation for the history of Jews in America. Lessons will foster a sense of connection to the Jewish people, a sense of appropriate pride in the accomplishments of the Jewish people, an understanding of the contribution that Jewish values have made to Jewish survival, and empathy for oppressed people, for minorities and for immigrants.

Enduring Understandings - Students will learn about anti-Semitism, assimilation, and the contribution of Jews to American society. This year also includes a unit on the Holocaust, focusing on resistance and heroic acts. Students will learn about the first Jews in America, Jews in the Colonies, Jews in the Civil War, the slavery question, mass immigration from Eastern Europe, Jews in the Civil Rights Movement and contributions of Jews to American Culture.

Sample of questions for class discussions

  • Are all Jews alike?
  • How did Judaism evolve in America?
  • What was different about the American - Jewish experience vs. the European Jewish experience?

Methods of Learning - Students in 6th grade will learn through the use of current newspapers in America, books, geographical maps, debates and small group discussions and projects. Students will use Jewish creative writing methods, art, plays and age appropriate visual media in short movies and presentations.


7th grade - Mitzvah Year

Goal - Students in the Mitzvah year will prepare to assume a responsible role in the Jewish community by exploring and discussing questions such as “What Does It Mean to Be Part of the Jewish People?” and through projects of Tikkun Olam (Mending the World).

Enduring Understandings - In the mitzvah year the curriculum is in two parts:

Topics in Part I

Overview of Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Jewish Foundational Myths, When Did the Jews Become a People?, the texts of the Jewish people (Torah and Talmud), overview of a traditional service, shared history, Jewish music, Jewish humor, and denominational definitions of who is a Jew.

Topics in Part II

Mitzvah (obligation), tzedek (justice), rachmanut (compassion), g’milut chasadim (acts of loving kindness), pikuach nefesh (saving a life), bal tashchit (do not destroy – protecting the environment), Tikkun Olam (Repair of the World).

Methods of Learning - Students in the Mitzvah class will use Talmud, Torah, newspaper articles, Torah Aura publications, books, geographical maps, debates and small group discussions and projects. Students will use Jewish creative writing methods, art, plays and age appropriate visual media in short movies and presentations.

Students will also be involved in Tikkun Olam projects in school and in the wider community.


8th grade (Post-Mitzvah Class) - Humanistic Judaism

Goal - The post Mitzvah class meets once a month. This class deals with some of the difficult and eternal questions of being a human and a Jew.

Enduring Understandings - Students in the post-Mitzvah class will form debates on essential Jewish questions and answers as: What is human nature? What are good and evil, and what role does each play in human life? What does it mean to be a good person? How should I live my life? Do Jewish tradition and culture have anything to teach?

Methods of Learning - Students in the post-Mitzvah class will use traditional and contemporary sources from both the Jewish and other traditions.


All-School Hebrew Instruction

The overall goal of the Hebrew curriculum is to introduce students to basic Modern Hebrew. Students will learn Hebrew vocabulary related to Jewish holidays and Mitzvoth, as well as vocabulary related to family, classroom, and every day settings. This includes basics such as days of the week, question words, numbers, and essential phrases. As students progress, they will build on the basics by learning numbers to 100, vocabulary related to weather and food, and the prepositions, pronouns, and verbs that make up basic Hebrew conversation. Primarily, Hebrew will be taught through activities and interactive games.

Our philosophy is that exposure to basic Modern Hebrew equips students with elemental Jewish knowledge. By becoming familiar with this vocabulary and with the structure of Hebrew, the students can feel more comfortable and knowledgeable in most Jewish settings. Through Hebrew exposure, we also strengthen the connection our students feel to Jewish culture—a key goal of our Sunday School program.