“A Home Away From Home”: Amsterdam’s Kehila Is Educating Children and Connecting Adults

March 29, 2016

Source: eJewish Philanthropy


Established independently in early 2012 by Israelis living across the Netherlands, the Kehila Sunday school is a fascinating initiative. It meets biweekly to provide a Hebrew education to the children of Israeli expats. Whether they come from two Israeli parents or a mixed relationship, be it at home or at school, Hebrew will likely be the child’s second or even third language after Dutch or English. While some children will be able to both speak and read Hebrew, some might not be able to read it, while others might have very little comprehension of the language at all.

In that sense, Kehila creates an environment in which the Hebrew language can be preserved outside of Israel. Literacy and comprehension of the alphabet is taught alongside vocabulary. There is an emphasis on active learning; as Ruti Shalev, the director of the Kehila Sunday school, explained, getting students out of their comfort zone and making choices. As well as there being Hebrew lessons, other classes including music, Judaism, and free play are conducted with Hebrew as the lingua franca of the group. Those students identified as falling behind receive help from a speech therapist, who also talks to the parents of these children about how best to help them outside of class.

More than preserving the Hebrew language, Kehila recreates the secular Israeli environment in Diaspora. The tenor of the education the children receive is distinctly Hebrew and Jewish but also pluralistic, democratic, and humanistic. Kehila “endows them with universal and humanistic values, while nurturing leadership and social-environmental responsibility, all in an open-minded approach and with a curriculum that encourages tolerance and multiculturalism,” the school states.

As of today, Kehila – made up of 70 families – essentially functions as a parents’ cooperative. All of Kehila’s activities are organized and carried out by its members, who pay either an individual or familial annual membership fee. (In 2015, the annual membership fees are set at €60 for a family and €30 for one person.) Adult members have the right to participate and vote on the community’s assembly, as well as to elect and be elected to the community’s board. Teachers at the Sunday school – whom are typically student teachers – receive a salary, but much of the work of Kehila relies on parents donating their time and resources.

Money from the Pincus Fund for Jewish Education – an initiative of The Jewish Agency for Israel in partnership with the World Zionist Organization, the Government of Israel, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee that provides start-up support for creative educational projects in the Diaspora – goes towards funding Kehila’s next big project: the Kehilot Institute. Its premise is to spread the Kehila model across the continent by providing advise and support to Israeli communities in Europe who wish to found their own collectives.

The hope is that in two to three years, there will be between five and seven Sunday schools for Israeli communities in Europe that use the DNA of the Kehila model. Aside from Stockholm, London, and Berlin, Copenhagen, Vienna, and Bucharest are marked as possible sites.

Read the entire story at eJewish Philanthropy

Updated: Mar. 30, 2016