Shalom Winter 2014 Edit23

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Jewish education in America Sandra Lilienthal, Ed.D. Since the Pew Report on American Jews came out last year, several Jewish professionals and leaders have addressed the seemingly bleak future of the Jewish community in America. While some see it as inevitable, some as a process which can be reversed, and others yet think we are misreading the data, we must take into consideration the structure of Jewish Education in North America in order to understand the bigger picture. Why is it that for so many Jews, Judaism means so little? Where have we, Jewish educators, gone wrong? While this is a topic broad enough to cover several articles and dissertations, let me try to summarize the issues we deal with: 1) Early Childhood education - all of us are moved by little children singing Jewish songs, celebrating holidays, and being the “abba” or “ima” at Friday morning Shabbat activities in preschool. We save the chanukiot our children made, as well as the haggadot, Kiddush cups, and more. While a Jewish early childhood education is very important in building a foundation, if not followed by more education it will be lost, in the long run. Singing Dayenu at the age of three does not lead to living a Jewish life as an adult, as much as singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star does not lead on to become an astronomer. 2) Day school education - there is no question that day school education is an important indicator of future Jewish commitment. So why are we not all running to enroll our children in Jewish day schools? I can think of several answers, and I am sure you can too. A dual curriculum is not easy - it implies that a child needs to be in school twice the amount of time. Something will have to give: whether it is playing soccer after school, being in a marching band, or simply playing outside, if a child is to be in school from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Some parents are concerned with the over scheduling that day school represents. Many parents would not mind that, if - and this is a big IF - it were affordable! For many families, the cost of day school education is out of reach. And while many schools offer generous scholarships, it still represents a hefty investment if a family has two or more children. Further, in many areas, the public school system offers (free) high quality education, better than some of the day schools. 3) Supplementary school - while in the past supplementary education (Hebrew school, religious school) was quite effective, I am not sure we


Shalom Magazine -

Winter 2014

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