The Redemption of Hebrew School Redux

May 24, 2013

Source: eJewish Philanthropy


In a post in eJewish Philanthropy, Paul Steinberg asks: "What will be our inspiration and idealism that will carry us through the thick of this painful Jewish educational and sociological battle without quitting or annihilating our conscience along the way?" and tries to provide an answer.

He writes:

"For the past year, the battle scarred, stressed out, and devalued Hebrew school educators were nationally called to reconsider their programs. Reinvigorate. Reimagine. Revolutionize. Reframe. Reinvent. Or, in case they didn’t get the message: Change! Change to what? Well, nobody really can say. Just get us more kids and families! Notice my emphasis (albeit a slightly cynical one), that the call for change is not necessarily about engaging students or raising mentsches or building a community of dynamic learning and spirituality. The motivation for change is richly laced with economics.


Surely economics and membership for membership’s sake are not insignificant concerns, and we educators cannot ignore them. That being said, it is during this moment and blend of Jewish American sociology that we must not succumb to the seduction of developing our programs around numbers alone. Rather, now is the time to reclaim. We must reclaim our vision of Jewish learning, of Jewish community, of Jewish living, and of the image of Jewish children we want to grow. Now more than ever we need to reclaim the idealism of the Jewish tradition – that same idealism that led Israelites out of slavery and across the sea, that same idealism that led us to become Jewish educators in the first place….


Education toward Jewish identification is an organic and spiritual process whereby students learn not only the subject, but the teachers themselves. They learn their parents and they learn the community. And when they study Torah, they learn their ancestors. Therefore, education becomes a way of transmitting self-hood from generation to generation, generations close and distant. And when we talk of learning their teachers and ancestors, we are not simply referring to learning about them. Rather when we study Torah we become them. We become our parents, teachers, and we become Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah…."


He concludes:
"As we prepare ourselves for end-of-year culminating events, and plan for the year to come, let us take a moment to reflect on the year that just past. Let’s ask ourselves: what makes for excellent and meaningful Jewish education that endures within the minds, hearts, down to the very souls of our students? This answer isn’t in reimagining, reframing, or revolutionizing anything. It’s simply hidden in plain sight. Enduring Jewish education weaves the binding spirit of promise of our Torah and history through the hearts of loving and creative administrators, knowledgeable and inspirational teachers, and supportive parents and lay leaders. The spirit of our tradition, voiced by millennia of rabbis and scholars, inspires and demands us to make ourselves and our communities better tomorrow than they are today, not bigger.


It’s easy for educators to lose sight of this spirit when we’re scrambling to grasp the frayed fringes of impossible demographics and sociology. So as the year comes to an end, before we leap to the next shiny fad to temporarily subdue attrition, let’s make sure to reclaim the motivating spirit of Torah as it breathes through us, so to ensure it is passed to our students."


See his entire post on eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Jun. 11, 2013