Middle School Jewish Studies

Mrs. Michal Smart has been named Director of Judaic Studies at Bi-Cultural Day School. Photo by Kenneth Appelbaum

Mrs. Michal Smart
Photo by Kenneth Appelbaum

The Judaic Studies Program at Bi-Cultural Day School celebrates Jewish tradition and life.  Our school provides pathways for children from all Jewish families into knowledge of Jewish tradition, Hebrew language, ethical values and in-depth study of text.  Through Judaic Studies, students gain lifelong skills in textual interpretation and analysis, debate and logical thinking, empathy and conflict resolution.  Our program produces graduates with a depth of Torah knowledge, proud of who they are, enriched by Jewish values and personally connected to Israel.

Bi-Cultural teaches each child to value him or herself as a unique individual, to respect others, and to “be a mensch.”  We are concerned not only with what students learn but how they behave and who they become.  BCDS children learn mitzvot and appreciate how Torah guides us in making the right decisions and in dealing respectfully with each other, our teachers, our parents and our environment.

At Bi-Cultural, each morning starts with tefillah (prayer), so students begin their day feeling grounded, thinking about what lies ahead and what matters most, and integrating spirituality into their life and daily routine.  As a school community, we also recite blessings before and after eating, teaching children to be mindful and grateful for what they have.  Jewish holidays are celebrated in the classroom and at school-wide events, including Yom haShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day for fallen Israeli soldiers) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day).

In our Middle School (grades 5-8), students continue to develop their skills and to explore traditional texts while making powerful connections to their modern lives.  Hebrew language instruction continues each day, with each student placed at the appropriate level for continued progress.  All 6th, 7th and 8th grade students also choose three elective courses during the year.  Offerings include Jewish cooking, choir, Israeli dance, creative writing, contemporary Halakhah (Jewish law) and more.

Bi-Cultural is proud to offer two distinct Judaic Studies tracks in our Middle School, so each family can choose the program that best matches their priorities for their children’s education. Our Matmid Track offers a text-based course of study that provides students with the linguistic and analytical skills necessary to be independent learners of traditional texts.  Navi (Prophetic writings), Mishna (grades 5-6) and Talmud (grades 7-8) form a core part of the curriculum, and Chumash studies continue with the books of Shemot (Exodus), Bamidbar (Numbers), and Devarim (Deuteronomy).  Classroom instruction is in Hebrew and students explore not only the original text but also traditional and modern commentaries.  Matmid Torah study is rigorous while also enjoyable, personally relevant and engaging.  Our Masora Track offers an inter-disciplinary course of study based on “Big Ideas,” employing an Understanding By Design pedagogical approach.  Masora learning integrates text study, experiential projects, and topics in Jewish history, tradition and ethics with an emphasis on personal relevance.   It is designed to engage students and provide a foundation for life-long Jewish learning, growth and involvement.  The Masora track also features an additional program in conversational Hebrew, where students master practical vocabulary and gain experience and confidence for functional fluency.  In both tracks, we prepare all students to enter the high school of their choice.

In Middle School, adolescents find themselves confronting a whole set of new ethical challenges and social pressures.  Bi-Cultural provides students with the values and guidance for good decision-making.  Real life dilemmas are analyzed: if you find a lost iphone, can you keep it? Why is it wrong to say something negative about a classmate even if it’s true, yet in what circumstances might it be appropriate?  What happens when a person feels isolated from his or her peers and what is our social responsibility?  What is our obligation to care for our bodies?  How does our clothing and how we present ourselves on the outside reflect who we are on the inside?  In a Jewish school, values can be discussed because here there is no debate over whose values to teach.  We have the opportunity and the tools to address topics with children that they deeply need to explore, along with the values to guide them to make good choices.

At Bi-Cultural, the Holocaust is addressed through age-appropriate reading in each grade, that gently expose students to the topic while also imparting important lessons, such as not ostracizing any particular group of people, loyalty to friends, and seeing every human being as being in the image of G-d.  In 7th grade, it is studied both as part of a Social Studies unit on World War II and through leadership of the Middle School’s Yom Hashoah commemoration.

Bi-Cultural proudly stands with Israel.  Pride in Israel and knowledge of its history, geography, and people is integrated into our Judaic Studies program from beginning to end. Bi-Cultural was the first day school in America to take 8th grade students on an educational trip to Israel, a great tradition that today is emulated by leading Jewish schools nationwide.  For our students, the month-long Bi-Cultural Israel Experience culminates their studies and is a spiritual high point in their personal development.

Bi-Cultural welcomes families from all backgrounds and levels of observance.  Throughout their years here, students learn to respect Jews who practice differently than they do and most importantly to see themselves as part of Klal Yisrael, one united Jewish people, each of whom is responsible for the other.   All of our graduates are empowered with knowledge of Jewish tradition and Hebrew language, with a strong and positive Jewish identity, and with the ability to join Jewish communal observance and feel a sense of belonging and comfort.  They graduate with the ability to make thoughtful and educated decisions about who they want to be as individuals and as Jews, and inspired to make the world a better place.

Contact:  Mrs. Michal Smart, Associate Principal, Judaic Studies