The New Hebrew School Will Take A Village: Envisioning a Family-Centered, Synagogue-Based and Community Enriched Model

January 11, 2011

Source: The Jewish Week 


Rabbi Joy Levitt, the executive director of the JCC in Manhattan, shares her vision of a new model for Jewish supplementary education which would replace the traditional after-school Hebrew school model, which many students and parents see as highly unsuccessful in providing a Jewish education. She proposes a model based on a communal responsibility for Jewish education, placing more choice (and responsibility) in the hands of children and parents and providing children the opportunity to follow their passions.

She writes:

"The new model I envision assumes that most children will not receive a Jewish day school education, most families cannot provide Jewish education for their children without outside resources, and that most afternoon Hebrew schools fail to provide children with the tools to lead engaged Jewish lives. It also assumes that no single model will be sufficient for our diverse Jewish community: while synagogues remain a key resource, we need to expand the institutions engaged in providing educational opportunities. Multiple options are required to meet the needs of children with special needs, challenging schedules, different family structures and specific interests.


My alternative model begins in fourth grade and resides either at a synagogue or a JCC. Communities would undertake a process to identify their values, forming a list that might include 25 items, like Hebrew reading proficiency, an understanding of Jewish holidays, setting Shabbat aside as a special day and a regular practice of tikkun olam. From that list, perhaps eight items would be deemed “core.” Children would select an additional five “electives” from the list, based on their interests. An adviser who works with the child and his/her family would help facilitate the process. Over the course of the four years leading up to bar/bat mitzvah, children would complete the requirements for 13 “badges.”


While synagogues would offer classes, retreats and workshops to enable children to earn badges, there would also be other venues where they could do so, including Jewish summer camps, JCCs, Jewish museums and even secular institutions, where appropriate. Once a week, children would come together in a clubhouse in order to create community that will provide social and emotional support as they grow."


This model is not just a dream, Rabbi Levitt is now embarking on a planning process with a select group of four to six pilot synagogues in the New York area to simplify the model, develop the business plan and determine the staffing needs. Parents willing to have their children try this new approach to Jewish education will have to be located.


She concludes:

"We have a passionate desire to succeed. We understand the stakes. We have the resources, in our minds, in our hearts, and in our pocketbooks to create exciting, intensive, interesting learning pathways for our children. "

Updated: Mar. 08, 2011