The Shema teaches us “you should teach these words to your children,” instructing parents to pass along Torah and tradition to their offspring. Hebrew school has been around for centuries, honoring this commandment by teaching young Jewish children Torah, but has evolved over time.
What does Hebrew school look like in the 21st century?
Hebrew school has developed from a rigid literacy model to one of more interactivity and engagement. Students are encouraged to connect to Judaism not through the repetitive reading of texts, but through engaging and meaningful learning. If a child has a positive Jewish experience, they are more likely to retain a connection to Judaism long after they have graduated, Jewish educators say.
While Hebrew schools generally meet only a few times a week, these time slots could have significant impact. The basics of Jewish knowledge are taught such as literacy in Hebrew reading and texts, the Bible, prayers and blessings, Jewish holidays and traditions, Israel, and B’nai Mitzvah training. Hebrew school’s holistic approach allows for meaning and purpose, where children are encouraged to ask critical and broad questions. Social and emotional learning is another aspect of Hebrew school, as students interact with others from different backgrounds and learn kindness and empathy.
While there are Jewish community centers and independent organizations that offer Jewish educational programs, most are integrated with synagogues. Synagogue integration allows the Hebrew school experience to extend beyond the classroom. Children can participate in Shabbat services and become more comfortable in Jewish services and fun Shabbat programming is provided.
Parents can also participate in the many Jewish amenities of Hebrew school. Many schools provide family programming, where parents can participate in religious events alongside their children, and families come together for Sunday breakfast at the synagogue. Synagogues and schools offer family education programs where parents can learn with their children or attend workshops and courses for adults.
Hebrew school’s mission is to foster a positive Jewish identity in children so they can be proud members of the Jewish community. Giving children positive and memorable experiences in school and the synagogue will help them connect to and develop a love for Judaism.
What should parents look for when sending their child to Hebrew school?
When searching for a Hebrew school, it is important to find a place that best suits your family’s Jewish priorities and your child’s educational needs. Are you looking for a larger or smaller school, modern or liturgical Hebrew education, movement based or non-denominational, a religious school or private tutoring, a two day or three-day program?
Word of mouth and hands-on experience are the best ways to find the answers to these questions. Schedule a tour and sit in on some classes, attend a synagogue service, call up the rabbi or clergy, and speak to other parents in the community. Passionate teachers and educators are the driving force behind a school.
Meet with the educational director to discuss the curriculum and how to make your child’s experience at the school a positive one and learn about the school’s faculty. This will provide you with better insight about the school you are choosing.