Again we are told that Talmud Torah is “an abysmal failure” and this time by one of our local luminaries and beloved leaders.
As parents encounter the stress of day schools costs, the bigger issue is ensuring and delivering Jewish education. Talmud Torahs or afternoon schools have faced a long, uphill battle for the hearts and minds of their students and their parents. And yes, those of us dedicated to these schools know full well that we compete with baseball practice on Tuesdays and birthday parties on Sunday mornings. The untold story, however, is that the dedicated educators and schools they run are succeeding in forging Jewish identity, teaching Jewish practice and values, teaching core skills for Jewish life, teaching Hebrew reading and davening, and instilling a love for Israel. Not to be overlooked are the Jewish friendships and positive (yes positive) experiences that the students share during their years of going to classes and synagogue.
Educational directors no longer offer students the narrow cheder experience of earlier decades but have become skilled practitioners and specialists, carefully balancing formal and informal Jewish educational experiences, incorporating the latest teaching techniques and materials, and refining their curricula to make sure that educational objectives are met. Added to this are efforts to nurture both the children and their parents in the ways of Jewish life during the primary, elementary, and middle school years spent in the program.
In these difficult economic times, I pose the challenge to Rabbi Goldin and the organized Jewish community to support not only day school education and proposals for Hebrew immersion in public schools, but to also support the idea of a first class after-school community Hebrew school.
The community school idea has been discussed by educators and the federation’s Jewish Educational Services since the ’90s, but this may be the time to give it serious thought. A community school could pool resources, attract talented teachers, operate five days a week, provide a core curriculum as well as tracks for Hebrew, and offer concentrations of various kinds as well as an Ivrit b’Ivrit program sought by Israelis in the community. Socially, it could be the place to be for young Jews to be several times a week. We already have a successful community high school program, the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies.
Less time means more focus, more expertise, and a goal-oriented approach. This can be put in place in order to provide quality Jewish education and an additional option for Jewish families. There is room for more Jewish educational options. The community Hebrew school should be part of the conversation.