A JK-12 pluralistic school that engages students in an exemplary and inspiring general and Jewish education.

Principals Perspective (June) - Rabbi Matthew Bellas

Rabbi Matthew Bellas

Celebrating Great Learning

At the beginning of this week, we celebrated the festival of Shavu-ot, also known as זמן מתן תורתינו, the time of the giving of our Torah. Our tradition teaches that it was at this time over three thousand two hundred and fifty years ago that the exodus generation received the Torah at Mount Sinai. The Jewish community around the world commemorates the anniversary of this event on Shavu-ot with a number of ritual practices, including late night Torah study and a reading of the Ten Commandments section of the Torah. As a result of its timing on the secular calendar, this holy day celebration often gets short shrift among the major festivals because it generally occurs at the end of the school year and there just is not the instructional time available to teach fully about it as we conclude a year of learning together.  Fortunately, as a Jewish day school, Torah study is an essential element of our educational experience and something that we mark and celebrate on a daily basis. Each morning in school, we recite the blessing over learning, thanking God for the commandment to be “busy with the words of Torah (and all learning),” so, in the spirit of this blessing and the festival of Shavu-ot, this is a wonderful time to highlight and celebrate tremendous learning, especially in the area of Torah study. 

Every year at the Lower School is marked by very special curricular elements and I would like to take this seasonal opportunity to highlight one from the 5th grade experience and share this year’s incredible accomplishments. A program that was uniquely developed by and for our school is the Torah cantillation training course that takes place as part of our 5th grade t’filah/prayer curriculum. Over the course of the year, all students in the grade have a once per cycle lesson with our incomparable Jewish Music and T’filah Specialist, Hamorah Sue Marx, focused on learning Torah trope, the correct musical cantillation system for the traditional chanting of the Torah. By the end of the first term, students have learned the names of and music for each of the cantillation marks (with associated hand motions to reinforce the learning) and then, during the second half of the year, students learn the special Torah reading for the new Hebrew month celebration of Rosh Hodesh as part of the course.  Many students also volunteer to read from the Torah during weekly Torah services on Thursday mornings in school.  Family members, community clergy, and faculty are amazed by the students’ learning and demonstration of this skill, which most children outside of CESJDS do not have the opportunity to learn until they begin b’nei mitzvah preparation in late 6th or 7th grades.  It truly is a remarkable and unique element of the Lower School curriculum. Here are just some of success statistics and highlights from the Torah Cantillation program from this past year:

  • 51 total student readers (78% of the grade)

  • 3 students read Torah twice

  • Several students read Torah for Rosh Hodesh or other days in their local synagogues

  • Many students learned all four Rosh Hodesh readings while the curricular expectation was to learn two

  • 2 students learned additional trope cantillation systems from family or ethnic backgrounds

At CESJDS, we are deeply invested in educating our students for thoughtful and active participation in and leadership of their future Jewish and general communities of residence. The 5th grade Torah cantillation program is one example of how we not only teach important content and skills, but also provide real-life opportunities to practice, implement, or demonstrate them in meaningful ways in order to achieve his goal. As we end this year of learning together, may we all celebrate our students’ accomplishments across all disciplines of תורה/learning and the steps they have taken toward becoming the leaders and community members we hope they will be.

קיץ נעים/Ka-yitz na-im/Enjoy your summer, 

Rabbi Matthew Bellas

Lower School Principal