Kesher Newton has seen some incredible growth over the past eight years. From an original cohort of seven families and twenty-odd kids, we entered this year with 104 kids from 62 families, and enrollment in grades K-8. Something magical is happening, and each year something more amazing is added to the mosaic that is Kesher.
This year, the new piece of the program is our Rimonim class, the eighth graders. As kids have aged through the program, we have always asked the question, “When does Kesher end?” More and more I think that there really isn’t an end to Kesher. Our approach to teaching and learning has created a warm and intimate learning environment where students are challenged and embraced as learners, from the time they enter the school in Kindergarten all the way up to eighth grade.
Our Rimonim class (meaning “pomegranates”), comes for three and half hours every Tuesday to Kesher, arriving when the middle schools dismiss for early release. They come and complete their homework, socialize, and hang out with their teachers as they get settled in their room that serves as their mo’adon, or clubhouse, for lack of a better term. Today, for example, one of our 8th graders was talking about the B’not Tzlafchad with the staff, one of them was doing math homework, and another was upstairs playing in the gym with some of the younger kids.
Once 3:40 rolls around, though, the schedule gets going and the real beauty of the 8th grade program comes to light as the students begin their Hebrew and Judaics studies. Kitah Chet, or eighth-level Hebrew, was added this year for the first time, and under the capable instruction of Maayan Lipiner the class is forging forward with a new curriculum. The class is focused in building proficiency in all three verb tenses (past, present, and future), working to acquire new vocabulary, dealing with longer sections of reading comprehension, and speaking practice. Kitah Chet is built on the foundation of the first seven levels of Hebrew and Kesher and is structured much more like an intensive ulpan class than a traditional classroom.
In Judaics, the Rimonim are studying Jewish History through the lens of the stories of the Jewish people. The year will take them on a whirlwind tour of our history, from the Tanakh to today, with stops along the way in Biblical Israel, the Hasmonean Empire, the Rabbinic Age, the Sephardi and Ashkenazi Diaspora, the Zionist era, and modern-day Israel. Along the way the students will grapple with the differences between history, memory, and stories, and evaluate why certain things are included in each of those categories. The class is about to engage in a month-long study of Biblical texts that highlight the powerful and influential women of the Tanakh as they create a b’rit, a covenant, that will guide them in their studies and interactions throughout the year.
For decades, Jewish educators have fought a losing battle with middle school students. The facts show us that the majority of post-B’nei Mitzvah students stop their formal Jewish education after 7th grade. As usual, we are bucking that trend and continuing to engage kids with high-level Jewish learning in the 8th grade.
But don’t take my word for it: the 8th graders already asked me if they could come twice a week, and they’re also already talking about continuing in 9th grade. In the words of Theodor Herzl: im tirtzu, ein zo aggadah– if you will it, it is no dream.