By Lesley Machon
(AJNews) – At Calgary Jewish Academy (CJA), students walk down the halls on Friday hearing the prayers of Shabbat, the sounds of locker doors and zippered binders creating a chorus with prayers thousands of years old. In this way, generational legacies are forged and nurtured, ensuring traditions and teachings of centuries past continue to find their place in the Jewish homes of tomorrow.
“Culture” as an umbrella term, refers to the practices, languages, values and world views expressed by a social group. Questions of culture are questions of community, belonging, and identity. All parents want to raise healthy, resilient children, though we often underestimate the role that culture plays in an individual’s developing sense of self. Being rooted in cultural identity offers us the structure and support needed to engage in meaningful ways with the world, and find each of our places in it.
At CJA we offer a dual curriculum, which expands beyond provincial mandates to cover important gaps missing from the Alberta history curriculum (such as the history of Europe). Our approach also incorporates a full Judaic curriculum which explores the history, and the heart, of the Jewish people. Our educators strive to offer students a broader understanding of the world, so they may anchor their personal histories and experiences inside those of the collective.
Learning the stories and histories of Jewish people is important because as a broader Canadian culture, the lives and experiences of minorities are often sidelined and skimmed over. As humans, we seek to make meaning of our daily experiences by linking events together in a particular sequence across time, and finding a way of explaining or making sense of them. This meaning forms the plot of the story we tell ourselves, use to construct societal norms. In the retelling of stories, there are always events that are not selected, based upon whether or not they fit with the dominant plots. The experiences of various cultural and minority groups are often sub-texts, and seeking them out expands the story we tell ourselves about the world. This creates more room for unique experiences and diverse expression, both in our communities and across the globe, which leads to less isolation and more room for differences. Only people who are connected to their own cultures, and willing to listen to the stories of other cultures, can truly build an inclusive multicultural nation.
In addition to the benefits of belonging to a community with a strong sense of cultural identity—such as security, trust, and access to social networks which provide support and shared values—students at CJA are given the opportunity to learn three languages: French, English, and Hebrew. They are also invited to participate in various celebrations and assemblies for Israel’s birthday (dressed in blue and white), Hanukkah (the smell of latkes clinging to sweater threads), and Passover. These celebrations connect us to Israel’s history as a nation, and remind us of our responsibility to learn from and incorporate the teachings of our ancestors. In this way, by honouring the past, we begin to build a future.
Ms. Lesley Machon is the Junior High Humanities teacher at the CJA.