What the %#@$%!’s Wrong With Hebrew School?

hebrewschoolMindy Schiller’s What’s Wrong With Hebrew School? in the current World Jewish Digest is a MUST read for every Jew who spent their Sundays reciting the aleph-bet and is subjecting their children to the same. It’s probably going to echo your remembered frustrations and those of your children – namely that it’s boring – but Schiller isolates a few variables like poor timing (like any fourth grader’s going to be bright and sparky at 6pm on a Wednesday) and part-time teachers who aren’t focused (um, you talkin’ to me?) that contribute to the problem.

The article delves deep into the real question – what’s the point of Hebrew School at all if no one’s really learning to speak Hebrew? My humble opinion as a lazy Jew and fast-and-loose Sunday School teacher is that whatever we can do to imbue our children with a positive Jewish identity that’s going to last through the college years is valuable, even if it’s only the memory of sitting on a rug doing the S’hma in sign language.

But those who teach the higher grades have real challenges trying to teach a language, prayers, culture and history in the two-and-half measly hours that their students would rather be playing Wii. Our Shalom School has incorporated the Union for Reform Judaism’s Chai program this year, which focuses on Torah and ethics, and the older students get a midweek dose of Hebrew as well. But is it enough?

You know I can’t possibly answer that. All I know is I’d better my tushy moving on this week’s lesson plan.

7 thoughts on “What the %#@$%!’s Wrong With Hebrew School?

  1. Hey Yo: You’re forever going for the bull’s eye, and never missing. To answer your question most bluntly – NO, it’s not enough!
    Jewish students, K-12th grade, belong in Jewish day schools, with lots of Hebrew instruction. But for the financial cost to Jewish families, and the forbidding low salaries paid to teachers, it’s a great idea whose time has not yet arrived.

  2. Here’s another one Yo:
    I think the ‘innovative’ Hebrew school curricula that are developed, like the efforts to revamp the synagogue service to make it ‘more relevant’, has been self-defeating. Sorry to sound like an old wart, but ‘that old time religion’ is probably the right solution; the attempts to replace it haven’t worked.

    Here’s another: When I was a lad in Hebrew school (Conservative Movement), the emphasis was on Israeli nationalism and aliyah. In public school, we were fed a steady diet of American patriotism. The two were mutually exclusive (surprise!).

  3. Yenta — Since I was partly responsible for the implementation of that curriculum, I would really like to know what you think of it. My impression is that CHAI reflects the Reform movement’s trend toward a reinfusion of tradition & my own thought is that kids get turned on by doing rather than passively listening. So teach them to daven and to dance and let them see the joy of Judaism! I think we have some really fantastic teachers at SS right now, but sometimes the parents could be more enthusiastic. Keep on doing what you’re doing & light those little souls on fire!

  4. Schvach — FWIW my boys are in an Orthodox day school, which we like very much. Nonetheless, it was not our first choice, we tried public school first. We also plan to send them over to the Sunday school where Yo is teaching when it is time to get them ready for bar mitzvah (the oldest has already followed this path with good results), for the simple reason that we are not Orthodox and we want our boys to learn a Judaism that is egalitarian & inclusive as well as grounded in love for tradition. So we’re obviously voting for days schools with our feets, fannies, and wallets … But I don’t think it’s a “one size fits all” thing given the incredible complexity of today’s Jewish community, there’s as many workable approaches to Jewish education as there are Jewish kids and families, IMHO.

  5. I’m happy I found this webpage, I couldnt locate any information on this topic before. I also manage a site and in case you are ever interested in doing a bit of guest writing for me make sure you feel free to let me know, i’m always look for people to check out my blog page. Please stop by and leave a comment sometime!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *