HAMILTON — Hamilton’s Jewish community launched a new community-wide middle school this fall with two Judaic streams – one traditional and text-based, and the other geared to demonstrating the importance of Judaism in the modern world.
Rabbi Daniel Green, dean of the HJMS, and Danna Horwood, a co-chair of the HJMS development committee
The Hamilton Jewish Middle School (HJMS), which has been up and running since September, is a joint initiative of the city’s two Jewish day schools – the 116-student Hamilton Hebrew Academy, a co-educational Orthodox school with students in junior kindergarten to Grade 8, and the smaller, egalitarian Kehila Jewish Community Day School, which has 34 students from preschool to Grade 5 and is housed in Temple Anshe Sholom.
The new middle school is located in the Hamilton Hebrew Academy building and uses its administration and infrastructure.
Hamilton Hebrew Academy’s middle school has been folded into the new HJMS, which now consists of grades 6 and 7, and will add a Grade 8 next year.
Danna Horwood, a co-chair of the HJMS development committee, said that because the Kehila Jewish Community Day School ends in Grade 5, her children would have had to attend either a private or a public school for grades 6, 7 and 8.
Her goal was to “create a school that had a stream of education that wasn’t just Orthodox-based, that would have two streams.”
The new school has 12 students in Grade 6 this year, as well as 14 in Grade 7.
The process to form the school began this past summer. Horwood said the two schools were able to develop a new curriculum after they received a grant from the Avi Chai Foundation in the United States.
The director of Jewish studies at HJMS is Faiji Itkin, who helped to create the school’s curriculum.
The HJMS refers to its two streams of Jewish education as “cultural” and “source-based,” respectively.
The cultural stream stresses a modern look at meaningful Jewish living. Its emphasis is on the contemporary and personal relevancy of Jewish customs and ideas. Students will study present-day life in Israel, as well as how biblical and talmudic ideals apply to everyday living, HJMS’ school literature says.
The source-based stream – the Orthodox track, which is similar to the curriculum at the Hamilton Hebrew Academy’s old middle school – will emphasize developing the textual skills needed to read, interpret and analyze classic Jewish texts.
The adviser who’s been brought in to help develop the program is Rabbi Charles Grysman of Toronto, whose doctorate focused on multi-streamed Jewish education.
The students spend most of their day studying the Ontario provincial curriculum together. “When the two streams come into play, that is when the students separate,” Horwood said.
The teachers bring the two streams together to share their learning experiences. Horwood and Rebecca Shapiro, the other co-chair of the HJMS development committee, have worked with the two school administrations to plan tours and special programs for current and prospective students and their parents, and they hope Grade 5 students at the Kehila school will be encouraged to attend HJMS next year.