Jewish Studies

Jewish Studies at OJCS

Unlike the work we do in secular education (which also goes through cycles of revisiting and re-clarifying), there is no external set of benchmarks and standards that we are required to follow. There are no universally adopted textbooks or curricular materials shared by all Jewish day schools (or even by traditional groupings of Jewish day schools). We have to translate our school’s mission-vision-philosophy into self-created (or borrowed) academic benchmarks and standards. We have to build a schedule around those outcomes. We have to choose curricula based on what we believe to be true about teaching and learning.

To inform the work we have done at OJCS over the last number of years to clarify our Jewish mission & vision, we have created a variety of inputs. These inputs include the creation of a Rabbinic Advisory Committee (RAC), consisting of each pulpit rabbi in Ottawa, alumni survey data collected in grades 9 & 12, annual parent survey data, and exit survey data. Data collected from these inputs contributed to where we are at present and will continue to guide us on our journey forward.

We are currently in a multiyear process to revise our benchmarks and standards for Jewish Studies at OJCS. This process is being guided by a consultancy from Hebrew at the Center – the leading organization for Hebrew-language professional development in Jewish Day Schools in North America. When complete, this will more fully articulate the specific benchmarks and standards for each strand of our Jewish Studies program for each grade, along with all curricular materials and assessment tools. The final deliverable will include detailed documents for teachers and summary materials for parents. The former will be made publicly available. In the meanwhile, we are guided by the long-term plans all teachers at OJCS are required to maintain and the overall commitments we have made through the clarification of our Jewish mission/vision.

Here, let’s focus on our graduates. By being clear about what we expect from graduates of OJCS, one can work backwards by design to imagine how each grade contributes to the final product. What do we expect to be true about students who graduate from OJCS?


Hebrew fluency is the core of our Jewish Studies program, aligned with our overall mission of trilingualism. Our Lower School (K-5) is organized into large blocks of Jewish Studies where all material – holidays, Torah, text, history, traditions, Israel, tefillah, etc. – are taught in a fully Hebrew immersed environment. Our Jewish Studies Teachers receive coaching from Hebrew at the Center to ensure we are employing the “proficiency method” which is best practice for second-language acquisition. Students who graduate from OJCS are Hebrew fluent by North American Jewish Day School standards (not Israeli) in all aspects of language – reading, writing, speaking and listening.


Students pray each day at OJCS.  They utilize a traditional siddur and are fluent in the Shacharit for weekdays and Kabbalat Shabbat.  They also learn Mincha for weekdays and a bit from Shacharit for Shabbat.  Our students are capable of leading a shiva minyan, prepared for bnei mitzvah, and can comfortably participate in any service in any denomination.


Torah is studied in multiple ways across all grades.  Parashat Ha’Shavua is taught each week in each grade.  Beginning in Middle School, students begin to offer divrei torah as part of a cross-curricular experience integrating writing and public speaking skills.  Different parshiot are subject to deeper dives in different grades.  Rabbinic commentaries on Torah are introduced in upper elementary grades.


Students begin to survey books from the last two sections of the Jewish Bible as they transition from lower elementary to upper elementary to middle school.


Students are formally introduced to Mishnah in Grade 6 and Talmud in Grades 7-8 as they are the primary texts for one of our three Middle School Jewish Studies courses.  Students learn both in traditional modes (beit midrash/chevrutah) and academic modes (literary analysis, historical context, etc.).


Jewish holidays are taught about and experienced each year, but different grades will have different emphases as they spiral through the years and they mature.


OJCS is committed to fostering a love for the People, Land & State of Israel.  We proudly sing Hatikvah each morning and our Israel faculty are encouraged to share their experiences when appropriate.  Israel is woven into the fabric of all our Jewish Studies, but becomes an academic focus in Middle School when they take courses in the history of Zionism and the modern State of Israel.

Holocaust Studies

We offer a course in Grade 8 on the Shoah and seminars for parents and students on combating anti-Semitism as they prepare to transition to high school.

Jewish Experiences

A Jewish day school has more to offer by way of Jewish content than academics.  OJCS is committed to providing its students with meaningful Jewish experiences as well.  These include holiday celebrations, community Kabbalat Shabbat programs, our Middle School Retreat at CBB Ottawa, “Havdalah in the Park”, the OJCS Maccabiah, Jewish-themed field trips, etc.  The most significant of these experiences is our OJCS Mitzvah Project – predicated on the Jewish value of tikkun olam, the idea that each of us are here to do our part to make our world a better place.  We are integrating the formal Jewish Studies curriculum that our Middle School experiences on Mondays through Thursdays, with social justice experiences on Fridays, each and every week.  Aligned with our school’s core values of “We own our own learning,” and “We are each responsible one to the other,” we are developing this project, which integrates key Jewish values, deep textual learning and practical hands-on projects. 

Denominational After School Partnerships

We are experimenting with before- and after-school formal learning to accommodate the needs of different JS constituencies (i.e. learning Rashi script, a davening club, a practical halakhah class, an Israel Advocacy club, additional text study, etc.), having launched one such course in the 2023-2024 school year.


In addition to the qualitative data that comes from the feedback sources described above, our teachers perform assessments on a regular basis as part of their work.  We can track academic progress in each strand across all grades.  Students in Grade 8 take exams which serve to ensure that across all subjects that they have demonstrated sufficient mastery to be considered for graduation.  Hebrew and Jewish Studies constitute one such exam.

Graduates of the Ottawa Jewish Community School...

…are appropriately Hebrew fluent.
…are siddur-fluent with all requisite synagogue skills.
…achieve Jewish fluency in Torah, Tanakh and Rabbinics.
…are familiar with the arc of Jewish History, with an emphasis on Holocaust and Israel Studies.
…have spent meaningful time with teachers and mentors engaged in meaning-making and identity-formation activities.
…are committed to ongoing Jewish living and learning.
…prepared to advocate for themselves and their community upon entry to high school.
…know who they are and exhibit pride in their Judaism.
…have knowledge of and respect for all the ways one can choose to be Jewish.