Jewish education should have meaning

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As a Jewish educator from grades 3 through 12 for the past 25 years, my students in the Conservative movement, and currently at Temple Torat Emet in Boynton Beach, rely on me not to teach, or educate, but to show them that Judaism is not an interruption of their life, it is part of it. In other words, how can rituals, history, texts and culture become meaningful to them and improve their lives.

Statistics reveal that the younger a child starts learning a new language, the better their grades in high school and college. It has been proven that the further a student progresses in Jewish education, the higher their income later in life.

So what is the real value of learning Israel, Hebrew, Prayer, Torah, Talmud, Prophets, Pirke Avot, Psalms, Rashi, Proverbs, Holocaust and Yiddishkeit?

In 7th grade, most students at the start of the year don’t care if Israel explodes. At the end of the year, they support their heritage and their history. Their fellow Jews live there. Many have made Aliyah, studied there or joined the army!

Parents yearn for their children to associate with a good group of peers. This is accomplished in prayer as all sing together in Hebrew and support each other. It’s a great way to explore the whole concept of God. What role does spirituality have in their mental health, are prayers answered and if God exists, what should we do about it?

The Torah, like our Constitution and Declaration of Independence, defines how we live with ourselves, others, and God. As we study Torah, students reveal how they have used its ideals to help them build a better life or get along with others. In some cases, it has helped them to study better, analyze problems and go deeper into life situations.

Ok, now you say they are too young! In all my years, only two students have asked for games or coloring books! They like to be involved, which helps boost their self-confidence and self-esteem.

Of course, they disagreed with some of the discussions that took place and wondered why. Did they accept all the answers, no! What they love is the opportunity to challenge themselves without being ostracized. They are exposed to real situations from the past linked to the present.

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Talmud? It’s not all black and white? There are always 2 sides, many opinions on an issue. They learn to debate with respect and, in many cases, come up with something the rabbis didn’t think of! You should see their confident expressions. The study of the prophets relates directly to today’s world by foreseeing the consequences of today’s actions and discussing today’s world based on previous predictions.

The biggest complaint I get from older students is that we haven’t focused enough on the Holocaust!

Feedback from parents has been excellent. They report that students come home and share what happened in class and they are excited to talk about it!

So how do you get a student to look forward to coming to Hebrew School and get angry when he can’t? There are 3 aspects that must work together. The parent, the school and the report card!

Years ago, for newsletters, I started something new. I first sat down with the students, asked them what they got out of school, what they liked and disliked, then went over their grades with them before send to parents.

Student feedback was generally positive and upbeat. They told me why it was important to them. They said that some of the stories, ethics, morals, rituals, prayers helped them understand who they are as people and who they are as Jews! Parents should emphasize that they are happy for the student who is learning and accomplishing so much!

Andy Greenberg is a speaker, secular service leader and educator on Jewish and secular topics and a former radio and television personality.

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