Jewish scripture instructs us that we should “chanoch l’na-ar ahl pi darco” or “teach each child according to his or her way.” When we lovingly and intentionally do so, we set our children up to grow into knowledgeable Jewish adults. It is our mission to engage our Touro Scholars with a variety of techniques, methodologies and practices that bring out the best in every learner.
We hope that any family who is considering Touro Synagogue as their spiritual home but is unsure about the Religious School program being the right fit for their learners will contact Rabbi Todd Silverman, Rabbinic Director of Lifelong Learning, to set up an in-person meeting.
Scroll down to see an overview of our Pre-K – 10th grade curriculum.
ABOUT OUR EARLY-LEARNER PROGRAM (Grades PK-2)
Our youngest learners hop out of the car each Sunday and bound their ways through our courtyard to the chapel and their classrooms. They are ready to sing, dance, pray, play and laugh. Our littlest ones use their hands and feet and arms and legs and mouths and ears and noses to learn about the world. Primary Jewish education at Touro Synagogue aims to capture those proclivities and teach through experience. . Each week, Touro Synagogue Religious School students in Pre-K through 2nd grades engage in a multitude of art projects and take-home crafts; they read books with pictures and descriptions of Jewish life and Jewish people; they sing their hearts out to songs new and old alike. Early childhood is a whirlwind of curiosity and energy, and our goal each week is to channel exactly those qualities into our classrooms. Find out a little more about each class below, and then join us for a year of fun and learning!
Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) Sundays
For all learners one year immediately preceding Kindergarten
Our Pre-K program focuses on teaching Jewish values and symbols through stories, art and songs. Each week students engage in hands-on projects which help them build their vocabulary of Jewish beliefs and practices, as well as being able to identify many of the symbols associated with Judaism. Pre-K participates in weekly t’filah prayer experiences with the cantor and the rabbis, where they celebrate, discuss and debate the sweet and joyous nature of Jewish life.
Pre-K at Touro is programmatically designed with family schedules and needs of all kinds in mind; we want everyone to feel as though they can make the best decisions regarding how they use their family time on Sundays. We love seeing students arrive for a day of friends, fun and learning each week just as much as we love hearing about how families spend time together outside our classrooms.
Kindergarten (K) Sundays
For all learners simultaneously beginning Kindergarten in their secular/weekday schools
Our Kindergarten year builds upon and reinforces the symbols, practices and holidays taught in the Pre-K year in a way that avoids direct repetition, but also allows new Sunday learners to join the class with ease and enjoyment. Students participate in art projects meant to make Jewish life tangible and fun. Their teachers bring Torah stories and cultural Jewish and Hebrew music to the classroom each week for learners to sing along with and dance to. Often joined for part of the morning by members of the clergy team, Kindergartners explore basic Jewish vocabulary and take part in the rituals and practices of Jewish family life and holidays.
First Grade Sundays
In first grade, students are introduced to a two-year loop in which they participate in activities based on the Hebrew Through Movement program. Imitating the way we first learn any language — through hearing and responding to questions and directives — Hebrew Through Movement removes the burden of learning phonics and decoding skills from the initial stages of Jewish/Hebrew vocabulary acquisition; in other words, kids start to learn Hebrew without worrying about seeing, remembering and constructing letters and words. Instead, they are introduced to a small number of Hebrew terms — action words, this that make them move! — and are asked to physicalize them through games and roleplay. Mid-way through first grade and continuing into second grade, students also begin to formally learn the letters of the alef-bet (Hebrew alphabet) in preparation for the formal Hebrew program which begins in third grade. Find out more about the Hebrew Through Movement program here.
First and second grade also simultaneously follow an exploration of rhythms and rituals of the Jewish calendar, from the High Holy Days through Shavuot. Each holiday and season is given its due time for information gathering, project-building and celebration through multimedia presentations, performance, and (of course) food.
Second Grade Sundays
Continuing into second grade, students acquire more Hebrew words each week through Hebrew Through Movement. In addition to the fun games and activities in which they participate as they expand their vocabulary list, those new language skills become even more important as they begin to explore the natural and cultural landscape of Israel! Using “The Great Israel Scavenger Hunt” as their guide, second grade learners about the physical features of the State of Israel,the life of an average kid their age living in Israel today, and all about Rosh HaAyin, the sister-city of New Orleans also known as Israel’s “Music City.” Through books, videos, food and technology, second grade learners will come away from their year with a sense of understanding the geography and day-to-day culture of life in Israel.
ABOUT OUR B’NAI MITZVAH TRACK (Grades 3-6)
Third Grade Sundays & Wednesdays
Beginning in third grade, Touro learners attend our program twice a week: Sundays from 9:00-11:30am, and Wednesdays from 4:00-5:30pm. It is important to note that unlike previous years, all Judaica and Hebrew topics will be covered on both days of the program.
Throughout third grade, Touro learners engage with Jewish foundational texts, starting with the first book of the Torah, Bereisheet (Genesis). Through the picturesque narrative of its stories, learners become familiar with the important characters and situations of the Torah, as well as engage in deep conversations and exploration of their underlying values. Each week they engage in investigative, hands-on projects which help them grasp, refine and retain Jewish ideas that are the foundational blocks of participation in Jewish life.
Also in third grade, Touro learners begin their formal Hebrew education. Twice a week, they engage in activities to build their skills of recognizing and reciting Hebrew consonants and vowels, as well as refining their basic ability to form single-syllable letter-vowel combinations. By the end of their first year of Hebrew scholarship, all students will have a working knowledge of the alef-bet, which will allow them to utilize liturgical (prayer) texts to continuously refine their skills in the coming years as they work toward B’nai Mitzvah.
Fourth Grade Sundays and Wednesdays
In fourth grade, Touro learners begin the year by studying and examining Shemot (Exodus), the second book of the Torah. Through its stories and the values-rich lessons contained within them, students grapple with moral decisions that they may encounter, just as their religious forebearers did. In the second half of the year, they begin to map out and explore the historical and contemporary boundaries of the region/modern state of Israel, as well as its leaders and achievements over the last one hundred years. Students work together to create and maintain various platforms by which they can spread their newly-acquired knowledge to the wider Touro Synagogue community: photo albums, art projects, podcasts, etc.
Fourth graders also continue building and practicing their Hebrew reading skills on Sundays and Wednesday. With the alef-bet and basic decoding abilities solidified in third grade, fourth graders continue refining their skills by learning to recognize and adjust to Hebrew reading rules, as well as demonstrating fluid decoding skills of siddur (prayer book) and other texts.
Fifth Grade Sundays and Wednesdays
In fifth grade, Touro learners examine the process of fulfilling mitzvot (commandments) through the enactment of Jewish lifecycle events. These sacred moments in Jewish time include beginning-of-life rituals, wedding ceremonies, b’nai mitzvah and Confirmation, funerals, and memorial ceremonies. With each of these specific lifecycle events, fifth grade learners engage in a three-prong investigation of them: a) Where does this specific life-cycle event originate in our tradition and how has it traditionally been enacted? b) How does Reform/Progressive Judaism handle this life-cycle event in contemporary life? c) How might this life-cycle event be further reconsidered to allow for all Jews to participate in them?
On the Hebrew front, fifth graders continue their journey toward Hebrew mastery by solidifying their understanding of reading rules, culminating in their fluid decoding and recitation of a checklist of liturgical texts which they will be expected to help lead during their B’nai Mitzvah ceremony. At the beginning of the year, each student also receives their own copy of the CCAR’s Mishkan T’fillah Journal Edition prayer book — a special edition of the siddur used each Shabbat at Touro Synagogue, which helps learners explore the breadth and depth of information pertaining to the history and thematic thrust of Jewish prayer.
Sixth Grade Sundays and Wednesdays
Sixth grade learners spend their year mastering the themes and flow of the Shabbat service, as well as the various services found within the Mishkan T’fillah prayer book. With synagogue clergy as their weekly instructor, they fuse together their years of Hebrew and Judaica information gathering, and begin to position themselves as both participants and leaders in the Shabbat worship experience and the Jewish community. This becomes more important as the year progresses and each student is provided with their B’nai Mitzvah materials in preparation for their own individual coming-of-age service and celebration. As the year progresses, students also delve into Torah and Haftarah trope — cantillation marks which guide students in learning to chant their B’nai Mitzvah portions — which they build upon in their individual B’nai Mitzvah learning sessions with clergy as well. By the end of sixth grade, all students will be able to read a previously unseen Hebrew text with fluency and accuracy.
ABOUT OUR CONFIRMATION/COLLEGE TRACK (Grades 7-10)
Classroom-based and Local Learning
Fully ensconced in their B’nai Mitzvah preparations as well as middle/high school life, seventh through tenth grade learners at Touro Synagogue experience a different frequency and style of learning as they enter Jewish adulthood. Unlike their previous four years of religious school, our oldest students attend our program only once every-other week (with seventh graders shifting to a clergy-taught, one-on-one Hebrew learning model), and the various focuses of their time learning together point to the opportunities and challenges that modern society presents to all of us, and how their Jewish heritage speaks to them. Citizenship, affiliation and identity become the key goals of their time together. With teachers and clergy as their guides, they are asked to consider — and ultimately share publicly — their religious beliefs, personal convictions, and how those understandings affect the way they navigate their lives and the world around them.
Two weekend-long trips are offered throughout our Confirmation and College track, one for 7th/8th graders and the other for 9th/10th graders.
- In either 7th or 8th grade, students travel with Rabbi Silverman and other chaperones to Birmingham, Alabama for a weekend dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement and the sea change of justice and healing that it has left in its wake. Throughout the weekend, students stand in churches once blown apart by bombs, visit museums dedicated to ensuring institutionalized racism and hatred never gain traction again, and get to know and exchange stories with local Jewish teens.
- In either 9th or 10th grade, Confirmation students travel with Rabbi Silverman to Washington, D.C. to take part in the Religious Action Center’s (RAC) L’Taken Social Justice Seminar. Over the course of a long weekend, students are exposed to a number of social justice issues most prominent in the mind of the Reform Movement, and are taught the skills to advocate for the change they deem necessary. The final day of the program culminates in a group visit to our congressional representatives offices on Capitol Hill for one-on-one discussions with legislators and administrative staff. For more information on the L’Taken Seminar, click here.
Seventh Grade Sundays; weekly Hebrew sessions with Clergy
Seventh graders begin their journey toward Confirmation by learning about Jewish calls-to-action and social movements throughout the ages. From biblical prophets like Isaiah to famous New Orleanian philanthropists like Judah Touro, Isaac Delgado and Isidore Newman, all the way up to modern day activists like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, seventh graders are exposed to harsh realities of the past and how Jewish beliefs have helped steer society in the right direction, to the benefit of all.
Seventh grade learners spend a significant amount of their time learning together on various local and regional field trips, as well as welcoming a number of expert guest speakers across a wide professional and religious spectrum.
Eighth Grade Sundays
With an understanding of how others have calibrated their personal convictions and religious beliefs into social action in the pursuit of justice, eighth grade learners embark on a year-long clarification of their own ideological stances. Through examining a swath of Jewish “commonplaces” — things all Jews can expect to encounter and self-valuate, such as God, Torah, mitvot (commandments), prayer, and Israel — eighth graders begin to draw their own lines around what is central to their identity and what is less important. Just as any individual can look up and draw their own constellations around a chosen group of stars in the sky, so too do we ask eighth graders to formulate their own personal Jewish constellation of what shines more brightly for them, what fades to the periphery, and why.
Ninth and Tenth Grade Sundays (bi-weekly)
The Ninth/Tenth grade Confirmation experience is a two-year loop taught by Rabbi Alexis Berk that explores Jewish identity, spiritual wrestling, and the movements and expressions of Judaism – theologically, sociologically, individually, and communally. Through the use of thought-provoking documentaries, stirring guest speakers, challenging readings, and experiential workshops, the students and rabbi engage in meaningful conversation of complex issues – intended to inspire and encourage an adult approach to integrating Jewish identity and practice into everyday life. Every other year, ninth and tenth graders travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in the L’taken program run by the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center.