School-Shul Partnerships: Why Not?

From Section:
Formal Education
Oct. 14, 2013
October, 14, 2013

Source: Avi Chai Blog


Stan Beiner, Head of School of The Epstein School in Atlanta, GA, discusses a Sukkot initiative piloted as a partnership between this Jewish day school and six local congregations. As reported in the Atlanta Jewish Times, hundreds of students and families participated in a hands-on Sukkot experience at their choice of one of the six congregations on the first day of Sukkot. The program at each location entailed students leading the congregations’ services as well as learning about the holiday, shaking the lulav and etrog, singing in the sukkah, and performing Sukkot-themed skits. While participation in one of the programs was mandatory for Epstein students, any child present at the synagogues could also participate regardless of school affiliation, and Epstein students could alternatively attend services at another congregation frequented by their families if they chose.


"The idea of First Day Sukkot was born out of a desire to take advantage of an opportunity. One of our missions as a day school is to provide children with positive Jewish experiences- to bring to life the joy of living Jewishly. So we pitched this idea. The Conservative rabbis listened, suggested refinements to the concept, and agreed to partner with us in doing something never done before: incorporate school into shul at multiple locations. Today, there are six synagogues, including one Reform congregation, whose pews are fuller and in some cases packed as we celebrate one of our Shalosh Regalim (pilgrimage holidays.)


There were challenges. Not every family was comfortable with the idea; the logistics were extensive; and every synagogue required something different. We put ourselves out there taking a risk but as I shared in a letter to our parents: “This could be a great success; it could be a total failure. It will likely fall somewhere in between. But if we don’t take risks, how can we teach our children the benefits of stepping out of their comfort zone and understanding the benefits of trying new things.”


Judaism is reaching a cross roads. The 20th century model of Jewish community life has grown stale. It is not working like it once did. We have to begin taking more risks, trying new approaches, taking Judaism out of the walls of our buildings. Like Birthright, like Jewish camping, like the afternoon school in-town that is run like a camp, like online communities.


We have to start taking more risks, allowing for more experimenting, and developing partnerships like the one we see in place today. Thank you to our synagogue partners for not just working together with us but for making this their own. Thank you to our parents for being a community that has given us the trust to pilot new programs, technologies, and new ideas like this. And thank you to the synagogue regulars for being willing to share the pews with a lot more people than accustomed to on Succoth and having to endure longer lines at kiddush lunch. To paraphrase Robert Kennedy, we can’t look at things and say why; we must look at would could be and say why not?"


Read more at Avi Chai Blog

Updated: Feb. 07, 2017
Community | Day schools | Festivals | Sukkot | Synagogues