The mission of the Harold and Mickey Smith Judaic Studies Department is to prepare young people to be fully-functioning citizens of the Jewish people. To that end, it provides a comprehensive and holistic program blending academic rigor in the classic subject areas (Hebrew language, Biblical and Rabbinic texts, prayer, holidays and customs, and Israel) with reflective spiritual practice and community engagement. Heilicher prepares its students to take joy and pride in being Jewish and to apply Jewish sensibilities to the ongoing imperative of Tikun Olam, repairing the world.
Heilicher is a pluralistic Jewish community day school. It celebrates the broad range of Jewish beliefs and practices of the Jewish people. Heilicher promotes respectful dialogue and structures activities to help students understand and articulate their own opinions while developing the critical skills of interacting and coexisting with people of different backgrounds, ideals, and customs. Students constantly examine the relationship between citizenship in the Jewish people and membership in the global community.
Hebrew is multifaceted: it is the language of creation and revelation; the language of the classic sacred Jewish texts; the language of the State of Israel; and the shared language of the Jewish people. Additionally, Hebrew is the only ancient language to be revived as a modern spoken language.
Heilicher recognizes the totality of Hebrew as a critical portal into Jewish culture. Its Hebrew language curriculum is designed to develop the Hebrew language skills necessary to participate in that culture. Heilicher does this by providing a rich and authentic Hebrew language environment, emphasizing students’ intake of language in a relaxed and supportive environment. Students advance from a receptive oral Hebrew environment to one including reading and writing, supporting and encouraging expressive language production.
Heilicher promotes not only technical oral and written language skills, but also an appreciation for Hebrew’s unique role in Jewish living and learning and a love for the history and beauty of the Hebrew language.
Tanakh and Text
The Torah is the primary text of the Jewish people. It is simultaneously a history, a code of law, a book of ethics, and a work of literature. It is our link to all previous generations of Jews and is the source out of which all Jewish text study flows.
“Torah” can be defined narrowly as the Five Books of Moses, more broadly to include all 24 books of the Tanakh (Jewish Bible), or even more expansively as all the religious and spiritual texts comprising the Jewish literary tradition.
Heilicher recognizes individual Jews view the Torah and its role in Jewish life differently: some believe it is the word of God, literally. Others believe it is God-inspired. Still others believe it is a product of human creativity. Heilicher’s Tanakh and Text curriculum acknowledges and supports multiple paths to engage with, understand, internalize, and apply the Torah’s lessons.
Every grade at Heilicher studies text. Three specific content areas are addressed: general understanding in context, specific skills development, and specific content mastery. Heilicher’s goal is students who are “text people,” equipped to embody the precept, “yagdil torah v’yaadir, who make the Torah great and glorious.” (Isaiah 42.21)
Jewish Life and Ritual Practice
Hagim uMinhagim / חגים ומנהגים / Jewish Holidays and Customs
Holiday and home rituals are a distinguishing feature and signature glory of Jewish life. They offer vivid examples of the variety of Jewish practices that have evolved in different Jewish communities over time.
Heilicher’s holiday and customs curriculum is organized according to four categories: Concepts and Themes (the “big ideas”), Laws and Customs, Prayers and Blessings, and Cultural Enrichment. It combines didactic classroom instruction and study with school-wide celebration as a culminating event. These events bring the school together as a k’hilla k’dosha (sacred community) to express joy; to model learning as a Jewish mode of celebration; and to provide students with leadership opportunities. Heilicher helps children learn about the holidays, instills within them the joy of celebrating them, and challenges them to accept the saga of the Jewish people as their personal story.
T’filah / תפילה / Prayer
Communal worship has been a central part of Jewish life since the days of the mishkan (Tabernacle). However, both its form and function have changed over time. As sacrifice gave way to prayer, the siddur (Jewish prayer book) evolved as a highly edited and structured text. Jewish liturgy evolved into a guide-book to Jewish thought, reflecting the lived experience of the Jewish people through time. The siddur preserves Jewish literary masterpieces expressing profound religious beliefs and feelings.
Heilicher’s T’filah curriculum includes both ritual practice and academic inquiry. It exposes students to the historic forms of t’filah and equips them to generate new t’filah responses to contemporary challenges. Heilicher helps students become knowledgeable and comfortable with Jewish prayer as it exists, and skilled and confident to explore new forms for this ancient practice.
Heilicher’s school-wide services (twice weekly) allow students to apply what they’ve learned in their classroom inquiries to create meaningful prayer moments.
Additionally, students recite b’rachot (blessings) before eating snacks and meals, join together in birkat hamazon (Grace After Meals), and learn birchot hahehenin (Blessings of Enjoyment) throughout the year. They learn the power of b’rachot as a Jewish reflective practice.
Israel is many things, simultaneously: the land of the Bible; the land-bridge linking three continents; the modern high-tech “start-up nation;” the single, stable functioning democracy in the Middle East; the realization of the Zionist dream; and the homeland of the Jewish people. Israel exists both as a potent symbol for Jews worldwide and as a day-to-day reality for all who live there. The Jewish people’s bond to Israel is religious, historical, political, and emotional.
Israel is a many-faceted and complicated story. Heilicher’s Israel curriculum is designed to be honest, accurate, and engaging. It explores Israel’s past as well as Israel’s present, examining both the dreams and the realities. Heilicher’s goal is knowledgeable students with a strong connection to, and abiding interest in, the land, people, and state of Israel.
God’s command to Abraham to leave his home, go into the world, and be a blessing (Gen. 12:1-2) is the Biblical source for the Jewish imperative to engage with the world. Heilicher promotes a commitment to Tikkun Olam (Repair of the World) through both grade-level and school-wide programs comprising learning, hands-on projects, and community-wide celebration. Heilicher aims to affect change by living its values and is proud of the many alumni who embody them as life-long practices.
The Harold and Mickey Smith Judaic Studies Department
In November 2019, Heilicher was proud to announce the re-naming of the Judaic Studies Department. In gratitude and recognition of a $2.5 million contribution from Rabbi Mitchell Smith, the department was named the Harold and Mickey Smith Judaic Studies Department, in honor of Rabbi Smith’s parents.
This tremendous contribution created the Harold and Mickey Smith Judaic Studies Endowment Fund to support the school's Judaic Studies program in perpetuity. In addition to the endowment, the gift also provided yearly operating support for Judaic Studies.
Harold Smith is a long-time community leader and philanthropist who, with his wife Mickey (z”l), has been a staunch supporter of many causes and organizations in the Twin Cities and beyond, including Herzl Camp, Beth Jacob Congregation, the Talmud Torah of St. Paul, the Harold and Mickey Smith Gallery of Jewish Art and Culture at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Harold and Mickey Smith Enhancement Center at Hadassah Medical Center, and Heilicher.
Rabbi Mitchell Smith, Harold and Mickey’s son, is an ordained rabbi, author, and consultant who has held many positions of distinction both in Israel and the United States. He holds advanced degrees in counseling and educational psychology with a specialty in sports psychology and exercise science. He currently resides in Delray Beach, Florida.
“It is so fitting for the Jewish Studies Department at Heilicher to be named for our parents, as over their lifetime they have been among the staunchest advocates for Jewish education in the Twin Cities,” said Rabbi Smith.
“They always felt that Jewish education is the surest guarantor of meaningful survival of the Jewish people in a free society. In particular, my father’s belief in the critical need of Jewish institutions to adapt to the future while rooted in the past is embodied in his own life, spanning the days of his heder education on St. Paul's West Side to the application of modern technology to teach and transmit those same values as they best relate to our own day. We are pleased to see our parents’ legacy and their vision secured in this gift.”
“It is a great honor to receive this extraordinary gift from the Smith family in support of Judaic Studies and to rename this central pillar of our educational program for Mickey and Harold,” said Yoni Binus, then Head of School. “Their vision and unwavering support strengthens our vital work to prepare Jewish young people to become lifelong learners, critical thinkers, and mensches.”