We are here to educate our children not just to know things, but to become themselves. We are in the business of crafting souls; of building character; of creating mensches (people of integrity). And rather than passing knowledge to our students, we co-create and jointly explore with them. After all, the menschim we are creating are them…and they must learn to author their stories and their menschlikheit (menschiness). We are guides. As co-explorers, our classrooms become not lecture halls, but labs.
As such, our school has a “nickname”: The Mensch Lab. Honoring both the menschlikheit of our original namesakes (Rabbi Harold B. and Elise Waintrup) and the character of our students, the Mensch Lab is the place where we grow our Jewish future in the souls of young Jews.
The theme for our year of the Mensch Lab is, “#IsraelStartsWithI.” Each month our school will focus on a Jewish value that, cultivated, helps our students to become the best they can and to be responsible for one another. Because of this year’s specific theme, we will explore how our values are lived in our relationships to Israel.
We aim to teach our students with very few hours per week. Within these short hours we plant seeds of Jewish inquisitiveness, character and exploration that will last them through their vibrantly Jewish lives.
Jewish learning and participation in Jewish religious and cultural life are essential to the formation of a solid Jewish identity.
The Beth Am Mensch Lab is dedicated to educating Jews who will:
- Understand Judaism as a positive and meaningful framework for their lives;
- Express their Judaism through ethical behavior, ritual participation, and social action;
- View their Jewish education as a life-long process; and involve themselves with their local and global Jewish communities.
Goals and objectives of the Mensch Lab are:
- to have our students feel comfortable participating and praying in any service – each student will know and understand the various prayers, decorum, customs, and traditions of Reform Judaism;
- to recognize that each Jew is a link to their past and directly connected to their future;
- to participate in mitzvot within the community and the classroom;
- to foster social relationships between children from the various neighborhoods we serve.
Learn more about our Mensch Lab by grade!
Sunday, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Welcome to the Mensch Lab! Our early elementary grades (K-3) focus on an engaging and interactive introduction into Jewish ritual, Hebrew, holidays, and Jewish values. Through a blend of formal and informal education the students benefit from Master Educators, a cutting-edge Resource Center, and individualized attention for all students.
The Judy and Julian Weinstein Family Education Program brings students together in learning with their parents during Mensch Lab sessions. This is an interactive, fun and informal learning experience for the family.
Kindergarten: Our kindergarten class is designed to help students begin to explore Judaism on a personal level. Students are introduced to the Jewish holidays and symbols. Students participate in “Hebrew Through Movement”, music and Tefillah (prayer) sessions to help acquaint them with the Hebrew language, rituals of Judaism and the synagogue. Through stories, art, music, movement and play, students feel good about being part of the school and synagogue community. They begin learning about Israel and its importance in Jewish life. They enjoy interacting with Jewish peers. This first year of our Mensch Lab provides a foundation for the strong Jewish identity we strive to build for all our children.
We make a special effort to respond to the developmental needs and interests of these youngest of our Mensch Lab students.
First Grade: Our first grade class naturally follows kindergarten, extending the learning attained during that first, important year. Students look at Judaism and Jewish identity through the lens of brachot or blessings. As they focus especially on the holidays of Chanukah and Tu B’Shevat, they will understand how the brachot of these holidays connect them to each other, K’lal Yisrael and God. The observance of Chanukah gives students an opportunity to explore the place of Judaism in their own homes and in the larger society. Students also explore the concepts of brachot and t’filah (prayer) as a particular way Jews interrelate with each other and the sacred.
2nd Grade: Our second grade program is framed by the concept of mitzvot, the sacred obligations of Judaism. The mitzvot form one of the foundational elements of our B’rit (covenant) with God and K’lal Yisrael. Specifically, students explore the mitzvot bein adam l’havero, the obligations we have toward each other as expressed in the stories of Bereishit/Genesis and the holiday of Purim. They also begin to explore the elements that make up the “synagogue” as a community institution.
Students also continue their study of the Hebrew language, learning the letters and vowel sounds, and exploring relevant vocabulary.
3rd Grade: In third grade, our students delve into the story of our people, centering their study around the book of Shemot/Exodus and the story of Pesach/Passover. As they uncover our people’s journey to freedom, they will discover how the former Hebrew slaves became K’lal Yisrael and began to live a life of brit and mitzvot. As our ancient ancestors recognized God in their lives, so will our students recognize and learn about what our story and relationship with God can mean to them.
Students will firm up their primer skills for Hebrew decoding and develop a prayer- and values-based vocabulary. In third grade, students begin to work with a one-on-one Hebrew tutor virtually for a half-hour per week.
Once third graders have achieved some familiarity and mastery of Hebrew and prayer, we celebrate their learning with their families through a program and ceremony: Kabbalat Siddur. Students receive their own copy of our Reform movement prayerbook, Mishkan T’filah. With their parents, they study a bit about the structure of the book and decorate a cover for them to use for years.
We encourage our third graders to enrich their peer-based Jewish experience through participation in BAFTY345 programs at various points throughout the year.
Sunday 9:00 a.m.- 12:00 p.m. & Tuesday 4:15 – 6:00 p.m.
The 4th – 6th graders participate in our core curriculum of Bible, holidays, Jewish values (middot), mitzvot, Jewish history and prayer. Prayer goals and Jewish studies topics prepare children for their B’nai Mitzvah and to become adults in the Jewish community. Our educators combine innovative informal and formal education approaches.
Students in our Mensch Lab benefit from our state-of-the-art Resource room. We focus on technology and informal experiences for inclusive education for every child. Our special education trained Resource teachers cater to individual needs.
Students participate in a Ma’ariv services (the weekday evening service) as part of the Tuesday afternoon Mensch Lab experience. They also participate in Shacharit services (weekday morning service) as part of Sunday mornings. Student attendance at Shabbat services during the year is paramount for deep and authentic understanding of Jewish ritual life.
4th Grade: Students in fourth grade take a more global view of K’lal Yisrael in their exploration of Amcha/Peoplehood. They begin to think about the Torah not just as a series of independent stories but as a body of literature. Here they emphasize the Torah’s structure and its physical creation and manifestation as a scroll and in a chumash format. They will also continue their exploration of Bereishit/Genesis and Shemot/Exodus. Students will also focus on gaining an understanding of the Land, history and people of the modern State of Israel. Learning about and participating in the holidays of Shavuot and Yom Ha’Atzma’ut will help our students further connect the concepts of K’lal Yisrael and brit.
In fourth grade, students will also begin to study the Shabbat evening and morning prayer service in earnest. Through the acquisition of vocabulary, grammar and prayer skills, students will be able to participate in worship and ritual activities in a meaningful way. Students will explore the significance each prayer holds for them and come to understand that each of us relates to prayer differently. Students will participate in bi-weekly Tefillah opportunities that will enable them to understand the keva/fixed framework of the Jewish worship service and feel the kavannah/focus or intention of the flow and meaning of the prayers. Through these cognitive and affective experiences, students will develop their own understanding of our prayers and services.
5th Grade: Fifth grade students can already perceive that they have grown and changed both as people and as Jews from the time they began their explorations in the Mensch Lab. Change and growth are normal, natural parts of our individual lives and of the life of the Jewish people. Through a close examination of the Jewish life cycle, students will see themselves on a journey through an ever-changing Jewish life. Not only will they learn about the life cycle as a framework for accessing the sacred, but they will also engage in a focused study of kedushah/holiness through the lenses of time and space. These Project-Based Learning experiences are facilitated in conjunction with the JFGP-Sponsored community Havayah program for fifth graders in Philadelphia. In addition, learning about and participating in the holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah will reinforce the concept of continual growth and change in our lives. Study of the books of the Nevi’im/Prophets and Ketuvim/Writings will reveal how the Jewish people adapted to new circumstances and experiences. Our students will see the Prophets as role models of people who struggled to find meaning and justice in Judaism and Jewish practice.
Our study of the Shabbat evening and morning service continues with the second major division of worship—the Amidah. The Amidah includes both communal and personal prayers. Through their learning, students will understand how prayer can function in a meaningful way for our community and for ourselves as individuals. Students will continue to participate in our bi-weekly Tefillah opportunity, helping them to develop cognitively and spiritually.
6th Grade: The story of our people as expressed in VaYikra/Leviticus, B’midbar/Numbers, and Devarim/Deuteronomy demonstrates how a tribe of former slaves, bound together by their brit with God and with each other, becomes a kehillah/community and Amcha/a People. Sixth grade marks a bridge between our primary and secondary educational programs. Throughout the sixth grade year, students further discover how their Jewish identity is shifting from that of a child to that of a maturing, young adult. Students will review the entire holiday cycle with an emphasis on finding relevance to their lives now and in the future. As students individuate from their parents and teachers, they concentrate on the sacred obligations they will choose to take on as maturing members of the Jewish community. As such, they also study the Holocaust and American Jewish history to help round out their understanding of our common Jewish story. Students will refocus their Torah learning to include teaching others.
Students will master additional sections of the Jewish worship service—namely, the Torah service and concluding prayers. The ritual of the Torah service will challenge students to commit to participating in the ongoing process of revelation that binds K’lal Yisrael and God together in our eternal brit. During our bi-weekly Tefillah service, sixth grade students act as role models for our younger students.
Highlights of the sixth grade year include the chance to enter the Rochelle Brill Memorial Holocaust Writing Contest and the class leadership of our Mensch Lab Yom HaShoah/Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration service.
We encourage our sixth graders to enrich their peer-based Jewish experience through participation in BAFTY678 programs at various points throughout the year.
At Old York Road Temple-Beth Am we pride ourselves in our ability to make becoming a b. mitzvah a positive learning experience for each child and family. Beginning with the child’s education in our Mensch Lab, the family is involved in a variety of activities that encourage learning and doing “Jewish” together. Old York Road Temple – Beth Am Lab partners with Moving Traditions (www.movingtraditions.org) on a family education-focused approach to b-mitzvah that connects Jewish wisdom to the inter-personal and social elements that come up as our children enter the teen years—and the additional challenges of doing so in the wake of a pandemic.
The Moving Traditions sessions – created by rabbis, social workers, and educators – aim to help parents and their preteens to explore what it means to celebrate this milestone, to be the center of attention during a life cycle ritual, to navigate expectations from friends and family, to find Jewish meaning in the ceremony, as well as examine other social-emotional challenges and joys associated with the b. mitzvah.
Families’ participation in the Moving Traditions family education sessions aim to enrich our families’ and students’ experiences. These learning sessions promote the b. mitzvah as a “becoming a teen” life cycle transition, marked by personal growth and positive communal connection.
In addition to the family and social-emotional connections we build into the b. mitzvah preparation process, our students also participate in a rigorous Hebrew program. This component of their study prepares them for their participation in the Shabbat morning service when they are called to the Torah as a b. mitzvah.
Every child at Old York Road Temple-Beth Am receives a Jewish education according to their ability. This is the case for the b. mitzvah as well. All students begin their formal training with a b. mitzvah teacher about 9-12 months before the actual service. These are individual lessons for preparation chant and teach about the Torah and Haftarah as well as for review of the prayers.
Our clergy and leadership work with every family to adapt the b. mitzvah service to special circumstances and necessary accommodations. We want students to feel as though they push themselves in this process; we want them to feel that they have achieved something; but we do not want them to feel that the experience of reaching Jewish meaning is beyond their grasp. Through close coordination with the Rabbis, Cantor, teachers and parents, the Shabbat morning service is tailored to enable each child to successfully participate in becoming a b. mitzvah.
Keeping Graduates Connected! Our hope is to stimulate the hearts, minds (and appetites!) of the next generation, the young scholars pushing out into the wider world. We facilitate activities to keep the recent high school graduates and young adults of Beth Am community and the Jewish community connected. These young friends meet with many new challenges and experiences, and we want them to know that the clergy and their synagogue family is here to support, lend a helping hand or just be a sounding board for things they are encountering. We like to recognize and celebrate each young person’s accomplishments along their respective journeys. For more information or to sign up to be part of our Young Friends group please contact the administrative office at (215) 886-8000.