Three Synagogues, Two Denominations, One Hebrew School

December 2, 2014

Source: Jewish Exponent


In what is a first in the Philadelphia area, three synagogues are joining forces to create a combined supplementary educational program for their students in kindergarten through sixth grade. The congregations, all located along the Old York Road corridor, include two Conservative synagogues — Beth Sholom Congregation and Adath Jeshurun — and Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel.


The program, which is slated to begin next fall, is still in the planning stages but leaders of all three congregations notified their members of the plan to merge their elementary-age religious schools in a letter this week.


“Our three congregations will design and implement a visionary, collaborative elementary educational model that meets the needs of the children and families of our three congregations,” according to the vision outlined in separate but similar letters sent to each congregation. “It will balance the needs of the community and maintain the relationship between these families and their home congregation. We hope that this will become the model for elementary education in our area and beyond.”


The decision to collaborate comes at a time when membership and religious school enrollment has been shrinking at many congregations in the region and beyond.


The changing geographic and demographic factors have affected the Old York Road corridor, where the three iconic institutions involved in this merger once stood as symbols of a strong and growing Jewish population.


But that has changed in recent years, as the number of Jews in the area that includes Elkins Park, Melrose Park, Abington and Cheltenham has declined even as congregations there have worked together to help revitalize Jewish life and attract new members.


The letters sent to congregants listed the increased size of a combined program as the first benefit, noting that “there would be almost 250 students learning and socializing together, enabling our children to be part of a large group of peers.”


The program is expected to be built on an experiential, project-based curriculum called JQuest that K.I. inaugurated last year under the leadership of Rabbi Stacy Eskovitz Rigler, who is slated to become the educational director of the merged school.


Rigler described JQuest as a “21st-century model of Jewish education” that “focuses on helping students find deep meaning in their tradition through project-based learning and arts education.”


Glanzberg-Krainin of Beth Sholom said JQuest provides a methodology, rather than specific content, that keeps it “child-centered, helping students to follow their passions and provide a small enough setting where kids who require individual needs can get individual attention.”


Read more at Jewish Exponent.

Updated: Dec. 21, 2014