Jewish Studies at MMK
We are excited to share with you our innovative approach to Jewish Studies (JS), which permeates every aspect of Mathilda Marks-Kennedy (MMK) school life. JS shapes our ethos and vision, and informs activities and events throughout our school.
At MMK, JS is integrated into the many components of our teaching of the National Curriculum. The JS thread is central to British Values, as well as the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development (SMSC) of our community. For example, the Year Three topic on Romans lends itself to a comparison and discussion about the invasion of Jerusalem in the time of the second Temple, and its subsequent destruction. Throughout the year, all of our pupils are given opportunities to make meaningful and creative links across the curriculum, starting with our very youngest pupils in the Nursery Class. When visiting their outdoor learning area, you may well find a group of children counting the number of bricks they need to build pyramids, or discussing the properties of the bricks: naming their shape and comparing size when learning about Pesach, or experimenting with floating and sinking when learning about Noah and the flood.
Our dedicated team of teachers is passionate about making JS current, alive and exciting for each of our pupils. Please see below for a selection of highlights, events, and extra-curricular activities.
At MMK, the children learn the weekly Parasha (Torah portion) with increasing detail in innovative ways including drama and singing. Our Parasha curriculum ensures progression across the school, with a focus for each year group, which builds on their prior knowledge from previous learning. Higher order questioning is an important tool in Parasha classes that develops the children's thinking, and often stimulates brilliant questions and discussions. The content from the Parasha is always made relevant to the children's daily life, either through a Middah (character trait) or an inspirational example from a character within the weekly portion.
From Year Three the children begin to learn Torah narratives from Hebrew text. They learn how to navigate a Chumash and find the place when given a chapter and verse reference in Hebrew. As the children progress through the curriculum (JCP), they boost their knowledge of key Hebrew words, Hebrew prefixes and suffixes. This enables them, with increased independence, to translate unseen Hebrew text. We aim for our children to leave MMK with these basic skills, to independently comprehend Hebrew text whether in the Chumash, Siddur or any other other reference. An understanding and appreciation for the narratives learnt is also part of Chumash learning.
Given the importance of Shabbat to Jewish living, we learn about the joys of this special day through activities that are interactive, creative and fun. Key Stage Two thoroughly enjoy our Shabbat Around the World Project. Each week the children are challenged to find out the time of Shabbat in a town or city beginning with a certain letter of the alphabet. Our excellent Time Detectives announce the time at Kabbalat Shabbat and compare it to London times.
Every Key Stage has their own age-appropriate Kabbalat Shabbat. Always striving for improvement, we frequently change the format: Key Stage One and Foundation Stage have their own separate Kabbalat Shabbat assemblies, where they build a repertoire of songs and rhymes, act out preparing for Shabbat and listen to delightful Shabbat stories told with picture books or puppets.
Key Stage Two learn about Shabbat through a range of thought-provoking puzzles and quizzes. They gain a deeper knowledge of the Parasha and Jewish life through debate and discussion. No answer is ever wrong, and it is a delight to see the pupils talk about issues with confidence, knowledge and clarity. As teachers, we learn as much from the pupils and their responses as they do from us, as is encapsulated by Rabbi Chanina’s words, “ I have learned much from my teachers and even more from my friends, but from my students I have learned more than from all of them.”
אָמַר ר' חַנִינָא הַרבֵּה לָמַדְתִּי מֵרַבּוֹתַי וּמֵחַבֵירָי יוֹתֵר מֵרַבּוֹתַי וּמִתַלמִידָי יוֹתֵר מֵכּוּלָן
Year Six take great delight in hosting a School Friday Night Dinner for their families. There is always a special atmosphere accompanied by good food and plenty of singing. Singing is something at which MMK excels. The pupils are often invited to perform at Jewish and Hebrew public events, and also share their talents with local care homes and charity organisations. They are proud to have been the winners of the Barnet Inter-Schools Eurovision Song Contest, they featured on a charity CD for Camp Simcha and have sung for Prince Charles, at Hyde Park, at the Israeli Embassy and Brent Cross to mention but a few events.
We celebrate all of the Jewish festivals. Here are a few examples of how we mark special dates in the Jewish calendar.
- Pesach / Passover: Our school Seders (Sedarim) are specifically designed for each year group, making it new and exciting every year for the pupils and their families who come to participate with us. Throughout the school, there is a natural and academic progression, with the year groups presenting the Seder in a variety of different ways. This ranges from the traditional ‘mock Seder service’ to an interactive activities-based event. Hence, by Year 6, our pupils have sufficient knowledge and a depth of understanding to write and present their own lessons and reflections of the Haggadah, plan and prepare their own Seder, seeing it through to the implementation of their own self-run class Seder.
- Purim: In preparation for our festivities, Year Six are taught to lein sections of the Megillah, which they proudly deliver to the school during a special Purim assembly. In Year Four, the children begin to look at the actual text of the Megillah and in Year Five, they add more depth to their learning by discussing a range of interesting commentaries (such as Rashi and Midrashim), which give clarity and meaning to the Megillah text. The whole school embraces the festival of Purim with great excitement, teachers included. The array of fancy dress is really something to be seen, as we all participate in the traditions and festivities of Purim in school.
- Rosh Hashana/Jewish New Year: The shofar encourages us and our pupils to think about previous behaviours, and then to make positive resolutions for the year ahead. We hold an annual, very popular shofar-blowing competition, and award a certificate not only the longest sound, but also for expertise in recognising and blowing individual notes as heard in shul.
- The pupils gain knowledge of festivals throughout the year using crafts, song, Hebrew texts, stories and drama, as well as interactive games and teaching applications on the Ipad.
The importance of Israel as a land of our heritage and belief in Zionism is key to our school ethos. Each day we pray for the safety of the land and all its inhabitants. We mark the special days of Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut with ceremonies and lessons to explain their significance. On Yom HaZikaron, we hold a solemn and sensitive assembly, led by Year 6, to remember the fallen soldiers. This is typically attended by parents, governors, the Mayor of Barnet, Our Patron of the School Lord Levy and his wife Lady Levy, as well as a representative from the Israeli Embassy. As expected, in complete contrast to this, Yom Ha’Atzmaut is celebrated in true MMK style, beginning with families, dressed in the blue and white colours of the Israeli flag, dancing in the playground. The music, dancing, singing and exciting educational activities, together with a delicious Israeli lunch, create a very special day at MMK.
We place a focus on Jewish ritual, and the way in which we access it and integrate it into our daily lives. Tefillah is an important aspect of our JS curriculum. Years Three to Six greatly benefit from the Mesillot Lashem (Pathways to Hashem) programme, where they learn the meaning and relevance of prayers and have the opportunity to discuss and strengthen their connection to Hashem. Pupils in all classes have gained confidence and are able to lead the morning prayers. In Year Six, a Tefillah transition programme enables pupils to first learn how to recite different prayers independently, and then communally, as they will see them in Shul. The programme culminates in each pupil receiving an adult siddur.
We work as one cohesive staff group. Our JS teachers join the training sessions on National Curriculum subjects, giving them the knowledge to focus their planning at the correct level for each year group.
To ensure parity across the school, JS is assessed in line with the schools’ policy for all other subjects. JS in the Foundation Stage is assessed using the Early Learning Goals framework and our pupils' progress from Year One to Year Six is recorded using a JS version of Route Map. All pupils are given opportunities for peer and self-assessment. The whole school marking scheme is followed in JS lessons, as are the school’s reward systems, thus creating a sense of unity for our pupils and staff.
We are very proactive when sharing what we learn with parents and the wider community. To this extent, we include a ‘JS Highlights @ MMK’ page, in our weekly school newsletter. This page often features in-action photographs of children engaged in their activities, illustrations of their work or explanations about a particular topic from the children. A section in the newsletter is dedicated to the weekly Torah reading, festival information and Jewish General Knowledge. Our Parasha Thinking Question for the week is aimed at promoting deliberation and discussion around the Shabbat Family table.