This week we begin reading the Torah anew – from Parashat Bereishit, Genesis. The first chapter describes the creation of order out of chaos as a very intentional, step-by-step, artistic creation of the world. Like brushstrokes of a water-colour painting, each day adds elements that build on the previous ones: shades of light and dark, water and air, grass and trees, sun, moon, stars, sky and water creatures, and all forms of animal life including human beings.
The intention and artistry of Genesis is a model for the approach to learning we strive to create here at The Toronto Heschel School. Everything our teachers create here is thought through: from the lay-out of the classrooms and bulletin boards, to the community building toranut, middat hashavua, and the sophisticated interweaving of different learning subjects in an integrated curriculum, along with attention to best-learning practices in each subject — math, science, Hebrew, literacy, Torah, arts, physical education.
We strive to create the optimal context — a Gan Eden — for learning: a place that is at once safe, nurturing, and intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually stimulating. We also learn from the first chapter of Genesis something that is imminently true in education as well: that context is only part of the equation. When God placed the first human being into the Garden of Eden, God immediately realized that as magnificent as the garden was, it was not enough. God saw that in this beautiful garden the human was still lonely. The human had everything, including, no doubt, the original “apple technology” needed for knowledge; but in order for the purpose of creation to be fulfilled, the human needed a partner, a friend, someone to relate to, to engage with in conversation.
In order for curriculum to come alive it too must be animated by social interactions, by dialogue, and by active engagement. God said, “I will create for the human an ezer cenegdo.” This Hebrew phrase is fascinating. The first word, Ezer, means “helper”. But the term “cenegdo” is difficult to translate. It means something like “opposite oneself” – but also comes form the Hebrew root “to speak” – lehagid. An ezer cegdo is a speech-helper, or, what we Judaism call a chaveruta partner. Someone who helps us learn by offering a different point of view, another perspective, sometimes a reflection, sometimes a mirror, sometimes a differing face.
At Heschel, we recognize that a rich, innovative, thoughtful curriculum must be mediated through a positive learning community in which children feel on the one hand, empowered to express themselves in diverse ways, and on the other hand, to learn the necessary patience, compassion, and derekh eretz required to learn new things, listen to and appreciate one another, respect diversity and different views, and support one another in their choices.
Our work as Heschel educators is to provide a rich, stimulating curriculum, to help each child develop in her or his own unique way, while learning the skills to be an ‘ezer cnegdo’ — a helpful learning partner for one another. You, our wonderful Heschel families are our ‘ezer cnegdo’ partners in this endeavour.