Joining forces
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Joining forces

Northern New Jersey Jewish Academy to unite two Hebrew schools

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From left, Rabbi David J. Fine, of Temple Israel; NNJJA Director Rabbi Sharon J. Litwin; and Rabbi Alberto Zeilicovich of Temple Beth Sholom.

Two area Conservative congregations are merging their Hebrew school programs.

The merged entity, the Northern New Jersey Jewish Academy, will serve students of Temple Beth Sholom of Fair Lawn and Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center of Ridgewood, which are about two miles apart.

Classes will be held at Temple Israel, whose assistant rabbi and educational director, Rabbi Sharon Litwin, will head the new school. Family education and other workshops will be held at Beth Sholom.

“The idea is to work together and pool our resources,” said Rabbi David Fine of Temple Israel.

The joint school is the outgrowth of discussions between area Conservative congregations about creating a joint Hebrew school. The conversations have been facilitated by the Synagogue Leadership Initiative of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

“We’re hoping other schools will want to join us,” said Litwin.

Fine said that it made sense to start with the two congregations because Beth Sholom’s educational director had left to take a position elsewhere.

The new school will keep Temple Israel’s curriculum, but bring in some of Beth Sholom’s faculty, including its new cantor, Steven Barr, who will be working on the school’s music program, Litwin said.

Beth Sholom has about 20 students, and Temple Israel about 80, said Litwin.

“They’ve had two classrooms for their students, a lower school classroom and an upper school classroom,” she said of Beth Sholom’s school.

The merged school will meet weekly for students in kindergarten through second grade, and twice weekly for third through seventh grade.

Litwin said the goal of the school is “to create literate Jews as best as we possibly can in the five and a half hours we have them each week. We’re also trying to have the children grow up and feel they want to be involved in synagogue life and Jewish life in their homes.”

“We hope this is just the first opportunity for more and more communities to work together to raise Jewish children in Bergen County,” she said.

“If we have a community school, we have the opportunity to combine resources. We can have fuller classrooms and more interesting family programming,” she said.

This is not the first attempt at creating a regionalized Hebrew school for elementary students. For many years, Conservative synagogues in Leonia, Teaneck, and Cliffside Park jointly ran the East Bergen Regional Hebrew School. For high schoolers, there is the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies. For many years, three Reform synagogues had a joint program for teenagers, the Bergen Academy of Reform Judaism. This fall, the three participating synagogues will be running separate programs.

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