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Inside Our Homeschool… with Jewish Curriculum

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This post is part of a series of homeschool snapshots.  No two families are alike so why should your homeschool.  Head to the Event Page to read the rest of the stories and find your tribe.

Hi, My name is Amy! I am the Special Needs Consultant at A Charlotte Mason Plenary, and I have homeschooled my two children, Jessica (14) and Austin (12), since the beginning! My children and I are all Autistic with a plethora of sensory and learning differences!

However, while these differences significantly affect how we homeschool, the fact that we are a Jewish homeschool family differentiates us the most because there are very few Jewish homeschoolers. In fact, I helped create the very first Jewish homeschool curriculum, Ani VeAmi, which means “I and my people.”

Inside Our Homeschool as a Jewish family.

The Jewish people represent both an ethnicity and a religion (also called an ethoreligion). Thus, creating a Jewish homeschool curriculum was essential because it must encompass both a separate cultural history and a study of religious practices. A Jewish education, in general, looks very different from the average American education in at least 3 main ways. 

#1 The major Jewish holidays occur in September/October and March/April.

The Jewish school calendar is different than the traditional school schedule. In the fall, we celebrate the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot), which equates to about 2 weeks off of school! In the Spring, we have Pesach (Passover), which equates to another 2 weeks off of school! Then most Jewish children spend about a month at a Jewish camp where they get to experience being the majority culture! 

#2 Secular subjects and Jewish subjects are taught separately.

Jewish children either go to a Jewish school that spends half of the day studying Secular subjects and half of the day studying Jewish subjects, or they learn Secular subjects at school and Jewish subjects from an afterschool program. Secular subjects and Jewish subjects are not mixed to separate what is Kodesh (Holy). It does not in any way devalue a robust Secular education. It just emphasizes that they serve different purposes. 

#3 Jewish life is cyclical.

Our calendar is a lunar-solar calendar that was initially based on an agrarian society, so it is very much connected to the cycles of the earth. In fact, I think we may be the only religion that recognizes and honors women’s moon cycles. But it is not just limited to the rhythm of the natural world. Jewish History also goes through distinct patterns, and Jewish philosophy is more Eastern in thought which is also cyclic by nature. 

What does a Jewish homeschool education look like?

Well, we are making it up as we go along!! But, even though Judaism already includes a multi-sensory approach to learning and living, homeschooling allows us to adapt our work to where our children are in development. 

First of all, we choose to start our school year quite late. When it works out, I prefer to start our school year after the High Holy Days as the first holiday is Rosh Hashanah, one of the four Jewish New Years. (We like New Year so much we even have a separate New Year for trees!) Besides, there is just something joyous and inspiring about starting the school year right after a time spent reflecting on the things we can forgive and let go of to make room for a sweet year and a better world!

Then when other homeschoolers are taking December off, we often try to use it to catch up on school work and enjoy some family time, as Hanukkah is, in reality, a very minor holiday. (It is only a big deal in the United States due to its proximity to Christmas.)

Then in the Spring, we often take another two weeks off for Pesach. The first week is spent finishing a significant number of preparations. Then the second week is spent enjoying time with family and reliving the Exodus story and the many journeys to freedom since that first one.

This puts us in the perfect mindset for our final march towards summer freedom! As our children do not find the concept of going to camp appealing (sensory issues), we spend our summer reading, traveling, swimming, and generally enjoying time together. 

Secondly, half of the subjects we cover are Jewish subjects. For simplicity’s sake, I have created a table of the different subjects we cover in our homeschool (because, let’s be honest, this is a lot to keep up with even if you ARE Jewish). 

Secular Subjects Jewish Subjects
Science Religious Texts
Geography Prayers
Math Jewish Year
English Hebrew
Yoga/Martial Arts Jewish Practices
Secular History Jewish History
Secular Literature Jewish Literature
Secular Fine Arts Jewish Fine Arts

We started all these subjects when the kids were ready to begin formal schooling, but we didn’t take off at top speed. We started at the level that they were developmentally ready for. Yehuda ben Teima used to say: “At five years of age, Scripture; at ten, Mishna; at thirteen, mitzvos; at fifteen, Talmud….” 

Obviously, with both of my children being Autistic, this particular instruction schedule did not fit…at all! However, I do appreciate the fact that there is a clear developmental progression in the study of religious texts. Finding resources for teaching my children about the Torah, learning the many different prayers, and memorizing the Hebrew Alef Bet has not been difficult since Judaism already takes a multi-sensory approach to learning. However, finding quality books for Jewish homeschool History, Literature, and Fine Arts has been quite challenging.

Jewish History has such a tradition of persecution that much of what was beautiful has been lost, and the last century especially left a deep scar felt by the entire race. This has impacted the types of stories that have been published as well as the perspective with which those works are written, and at present most books seem to center around the Holocaust as we work to process our collective loss. 

This brings me to my final point. In the words of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), memorialized by The Byrds, “To everything, there is a season, and a time to every purpose, under heaven.” There have always been times set aside to mourn: sitting shiva after the loss of a loved one, saying the Mourner’s Kaddish daily for the first 11 months after a loved one’s passing, or fasting as a community on the 9th of the Jewish month of Av, the most unlucky day on the Jewish calendar.

That might be an understatement. On this day, both the 1st and 2nd Temples were destroyed, Jews were expelled from Spain, England, and France, and Himmler presented his plan for the “Final Solution” and received official permission to put it into action.

But, there are also times set aside to celebrate! At Purim, we enjoy all the world has to offer to excess! Purim celebrations typically include dressing up in costumes, reading the story of Esther, and “booing” loudly anytime someone says “Haman!” We eat lots of hamentaschen (cookies) and drink copious amounts of wine! At Simchat Torah, we dance as a community with the Torah scroll for the joy of the Torah!

And at my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, our family, friends, and synagogue will be celebrating as she takes on the mantle of adult responsibility within the Jewish community with a ceremony full of traditions and a party that will include food, music, and dancing! 

 This post has been incredibly challenging to write because I am trying to encapsulate my experiences as a minority homeschooler when most people don’t even have a basic understanding of Jewish culture. Where do you even start?!?

My goal all along with homeschooling my children was that they would learn to love who they are and the rich culture they come from, and really, isn’t that what we want for all of our children? However, as time has passed, I have come to realize that in itself is not enough. No matter what I pour into my children, they will be confronted by anti-semitism.

Thus this year, my homeschooling goals are being expanded to include teaching a class online at A Charlotte Mason Plenary for anyone interested in learning about Jewish Cultural History and expanding their knowledge about a minority culture beyond the major negative highlights.

This is just another part of the rhythm of Jewish life: Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). It is not my job to fix the world’s problems. Instead, it is my job to participate in the process, paying it forward to the next generation and enriching our lives in the present, and isn’t that what homeschooling is all about? 

This post is part of a series of homeschool snapshots.  No two families are alike so why should your homeschool.  Head to the Event Page to read the rest of the stories and find your tribe.

Amy Bodkin, EdS is an Autistic adult and School Psychologist turned Special Needs Consultant and Public Speaker. Amy enjoys her advocacy work through many different avenues, from consulting with both parents and professionals to conversations in her Facebook group or through her podcast Special Needs Kids Are People Too! Amy is also one of the creators of Ani VeAmi, the first Jewish homeschool curriculum, and will be teaching Jewish Cultural History to homeschoolers this year through A Charlotte Mason Plenary.

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