School of Jewish Studies (SJS)

School of Jewish Studies (SJS)

Overview, mission statement, guiding principles, and grade-by-grade learning goals

Am Yisrael SJS is committed to creating a warm and nurturing environment to transmit a positive and meaningful religious and moral identity for our students.  Following the guidelines of the Conservative Movement, we are a progressive Jewish learning community that aims to instill Jewish literacy, a sense of belonging to the Jewish people and encourage lifelong Jewish learning.  Meeting the needs of each of our learners is essential.

As taken from our guiding principles: “Virtues and values are of central importance to everything we do at our school. The way we act; who we are; what we stand for; how we respond; how we view life and the world around us; our personal qualities, attributes and traits—all these reflect the degree to which we embrace our Jewish values.”  It is also essential that we help our students learn the importance of God, Torah and Israel.  These are truly the pillars of our religion.  We help our students chart out their Jewish identities through our celebration of Jewish holidays, participation in Tefillah (Prayer), participation in chugim (elective classes) and involvement in Social Action Tikkun Olam, trying to bring more justice to the world we live in.

Pre-School Age Program – Age 0 – through 4 years

Torah Tots with a Twist

Once per month programming for children and their families on either Friday Night or Sunday Morning concentrating on Shabbat and Holiday celebrations. This program is co-sponsored by JBaby Chicago, a program of the Jewish United Fund.

Gan (Kindergarten) is our one hour introduction to attending SJS on a weekly basis and one Shabbat per month.  The Sunday morning class goes from 9:15 a.m.-10:15 a.m. and students explore what being Jewish means to them. Students are introduced to the beauty of Jewish life, customs, and traditions through our Jewish calendar and Torah stories. Students begin to develop their own Jewish identities and pride in being Jewish. Through stories, games, crafts, tefillah (prayer) and music, students experience and understand Jewish life.

Alef and Bet (First and second grades) is our three hour class meeting on Sundays and one Shabbat per month.  The Sunday class goes from 9:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m.  Students understand Jewish traditions in our families and at home and what it means to be part of a Jewish community, with a focus on Shabbat and holiday celebrations. Students are introduced to the concept of being created in God’s image, which leads into discussions about mitzvot and how to treat others.  Throughout this exploration, they become knowledgeable about the synagogue as a place where Jews gather to pray, study, and meet other Jews, and about other ways Jews gather and support each other outside of synagogue walls.

Gimel through Zayin (3rd through 7th grade) -The pre B’nai Mitzvah Years

Students in these grades meet for 5 hours per week,  every Sunday from 9:15 am – 12:15 pm and on Wednesdays from 4:15 p.m. – 6:15 p.m. and also one Shabbat per month. Gimel students begin to learn to read Hebrew by learning how to decode words and vowels with the goal of being proficient Hebrew readers as they reach their B’nai Mitzvah.  Students are immersed in Hebrew language in our tefillah (prayer) services.  

Gimel (Third grade) The students learn more about what it means to be a part of a Jewish family.  They learn to make connections between apologizing and forgiving, looking at God as a role model in treating others with kindness, Tzedek (justice), importance of standing up for others, sh’mirat haguf (care for our bodies), Israel’s innovations, giving compliments, giving thanks, are introduced to biblical figure Ruth, learn importance of choosing our words carefully, and creating peace in the home.

Dalet (Fourth grade) Students learn more about themselves and their place in the Jewish world.  Students explore the the four steps of Teshuvah (returning), importance of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), learn about Rabbi Akiva, learn about loving your neighbor as yourself, fulfilling promises, anava (humility), bikur cholim (visiting the sick), Sh’lom Bayit (Peace in the home), Birkat HaBayit (Blessing of the home) and Genizah (burying holy items). 

Hei (Fifth grade).  Students learn how they share the Jewish world with their peers.  Students explore hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests), Pirke Avot (Ethics of our Fathers), inclusiveness, diversity of the Jewish people, the mitzvah “Do not stand by idly”, selflessness and courage. What is a Prophet? kibbutzim, seeing the good in others, Jacob and Leah’s children, Elijah, Elohai Netzor, Chametz, Havdalah, Shavuot, Sefirat HaOmer, Ruth and Boaz.  

Vav (Sixth grade)  Students learn how they are part of the Jewish community.  Students explore the concept Rabbi Hillel teaches “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  But if I am only for myself, who am I?  If not now, when?”; Cheshbon Hanefesh (the accounting of the soul), Hineini (I’m here), Na’aseh v’Neesh’ma (we will do it and we will learn it), Partners with God, Prioritizing mitzvot (commandments), derech eretz (proper behavior), Shmirat Hateva (caring for nature). Learning Torah Trope, Haftorah Trope in preparation for their individual B’nai Mitzvah training. An important component of the Vav class learning is an age appropriate study of the Holocaust which culminates in a field trip to the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie.  

Zayin (Seventh grade)  Students learn how they are part of the Jewish world.  Students explore the shofar, Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof, Mitzvah projects (Passion, Israel, Am Yisrael), what it means to be members of the madrichim team after their B’nai Mitzvah. How to act as God’s partners on earth, Kol Yisrael Arevim Ze La Zeh (All of Israel are responsible for one another), Heroes of Israel, the biblical figure Deborah, Chayalim (Israeli soldiers), Holocaust Survivors, Individual vs. Community needs, ethical behaviors, Gratitude Letter Project, Freedom of Speech, Being a good listener, understanding the power of words related to social media, the biblical figure Miriam, words can create and words can destroy, Shalom and sh’leimut (wholeness), Save one person and save the world and introduction to Philanthropy.  Our Zayin students present their mitzvah projects to the entire school at the end of the year assembly.  

Het (Eighth Grade) Het students join with the Zayin class on Sunday from 9:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. for continuing education post B’nai Mitzvah.They expand their knowledge of the topics listed directly above.  The Het students have the option of serving as Madrichim on Wednesday, if they choose.  We strongly encourage our 8th grade students to travel to and experience Israel with their peers with IsraelNow.

High School – 9th through 12th grade

Madrichim Program –  The backbone of our High School focuses less on traditional educational opportunities and is based primarily on helping teachers work with students in the Gan through Zayin classes.  They act as mentors, Hebrew tutors and as a buddy for students needing extra assistance. Madrichim can choose how best to use their time at SJS, ranging from both Sundays and Wednesdays, or just one day per week. Madrichim also assists with our monthly Shabbat program. They also have their own learning experience, with our clergy and guest senior educators. Each High School student does a family history project, learning about their heritage and presenting to their families and peers.  Our students explore current events, Israel, leadership, what it means to be members of the madrichim team, in-depth journey on topics such as racism, the power of words, how to have healthy disagreements, ascending levels of sophistication and nuance related to Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, modern Israeli history, Jewish history, roots of Zionism, antisemitism, Jewish heritage month, Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron, Yom Haatzmaut, Yom Yerushalayim, anti zionism, Israeli visionaries, world’s water crisis, Israeli War Veteran stories, Beneath the Helmet (film), Crossing the Line (film), Israel Inside (film).  

Participation in informal youth activities, attendance at synagogue services and involvement with Am Yisrael on the whole enhance the SJS experience.  Here is a link to our SJS, Families and Youth Programming Calendar: 

Here is a link to more information on our regional and chapter youth groups:  

Informal CHUSY region, AMUSY chapter (8th-12th), Gesher (5th-7th), Chaverim (3rd-4th) and Ruach (K-2nd)

Synagogue Membership and School Registration is ongoing. Please register through your ShulCloud account.  If you are new to our community and want to learn about our dynamic School of Jewish Studies and engaging youth programming, please be in touch with our Head of School, Mr. Charlie Sherman via 847-708-1805 (mobile phone) or email

Updated December 14, 2023   2 Tevet 5784