Afternoon Torah School is a huge commitment. Once our kids begin third grade, they start coming to Ramat Shalom twice a week for four hours a week. Given the academic and extra-curricular schedules our kids have these days, four hours of Hebrew and Judaica learning is a big deal. But, Ramat Shalom kids manage to find the time to do it all and we are proud of the Jewish knowledge that they receive here. I believe that one of the reasons that our kids are able to do it all is because most of our parents believe that Torah School is not an extra-curricular activity. They see it as part of raising Jewish kids.
There is a trend going on in our area and across the country – the once a week Hebrew School. We are often asked if Ramat Shalom would ever consider this model. We are always looking at ways to improve our educational programs here at the synagogue. We have looked at the once a week plan and we have decided that it does not fit into the educational and spiritual beliefs of our community.
Afternoon Hebrew School is designed to provide children with the building blocks needed to live their lives as proud, learned Jews. Hebrew language skills, Jewish history, Torah, Israel, lifecycle events, religious rituals and customs are some of the topics we teach our students at Ramat Shalom. We have four hours to do this each week, for approximately 26 weeks. This is not much time.
Usually, the sports and performance activities that our children are involved in take up more than four hours each week. Given the fact that our kids often love these activities and they are good for their development – we are willing to put in the time. Most of our kids – not all – will continue to be involved in a specific extra-curricular activity throughout their childhood and teen years. But, most of them will not continue to be actively involved in the activity as adults. Soccer is one of the more popular activities our kids get involved in – but most of them will not go on to become professional soccer players. This does not stop us from spending hours upon hours with them on the soccer field.
While most of us are fine with the fact that our kids won’t become professional athletes, dancers or performers, we do want them to become lifelong Jews. We want them to feel connected to Judaism and feel a passion for it. We hope that they will be able to show off their skills as a bar/bat mitzvah. We pray that they will remain connected to Judaism in high school and college. And, of course, we look forward to Jewish weddings and eventually Jewish grandchildren.
Most of us rely upon the training and insight of our religious school teachers to inspire our children. While we might have a passion for Judaism – we are not able to teach our kids everything they need to know. Our Torah School teachers help us to instill our kids with Jewish pride and insure that they have the tools needed to live a meaningful Jewish life.
But coming on Sunday for two hours and then again on Wednesday afternoon for two more hours – oy! It is so much time. We have soccer and dance and swimming and piano, not to mention homework and karate. I know! I have two kids too! It would be so much easier to come only on Sundays for two to three hours and get it all done. But the truth is – it can’t get done in two to three hours.
To begin with, your kids will not want to sit still for three hours on a Sunday morning. In addition, think about how many Sundays your child has already missed this year. If you did not have Wednesday afternoon Hebrew school, imagine how disconnected they would feel after missing a few Sundays! Furthermore, many of our Torah school kids arrive 15-20 minutes late and often leave early for this or that reason. Given this, a three hours program can easily become a two and half hour program. Two and a half hours each week, for 26 weeks, is simply not enough time to teach our kids the Hebrew language, how to recite the prayers, what these prayers mean and why we say them – not to mention Jewish history, the importance of the land of Israel, holidays, rituals…… four hours not enough time to teach our kids everything we want to teach them. To cut our hours down would have a tremendous impact on what your children are learning and this would affect their commitment to Judaism as they grow older.
If the soccer coach tells you that your child needs to come to practice twice a week, you make it happen. And you make it happen even though your child will probably not become a professional soccer player. If we want strong Jewish teenagers, college students, young adults and eventually Jewish grandchildren, we have to be willing to treat Torah School just like we treat soccer practice. Torah School might not always be as much fun as the competition on the soccer field, but it does provide our kids with the basic building blocks they will need to live Jewish lives.
Sadly, many synagogues are reducing their Hebrew School hours because it saves synagogues a lot of money (you don’t have to pay teachers and maintenance fees twice a week) and attracts those looking for the quick bar/bat mitzvah training program. Ramat Shalom has never been about a quick bar/bat mitzvah experience. We believe that a bat/bat mitzvah is a family experience that is not the culmination of Hebrew School but rather a rite of passage for Jewish teens and their families. Many of our Torah School graduates remain connected to the synagogue after their bar/bat mitzvah and we credit this largely to the education they receive at Torah School. We are not willing to water this education down to save a few bucks. We believe that we give our students the best Jewish learning experience possible. We are proud of it and we are not going to compromise what we believe in to appeal to those looking for Jewish-light. Simply put, if raising spiritually healthy Jewish kids is a priority – bringing them Torah School twice a week makes sense. And, as many of you know, this does not have to be done at the expense of soccer, dance or piano.
I do want to mention that Ramat Shalom has always been sensitive to the needs of our families. We work closely with each family to address scheduling issues and concerns. When necessary and appropriate, we do create alternative learning situations to accommodate our families. In addition, our 7th grade Torah School program is a once a week program; in addition to their Torah School class, our 7th graders meet privately with a bar/bat mitzvah tutor.
So, in short, as we plan for next year, Ramat Shalom will continue to offer the quality Jewish education we are known for – twice a week (for 3rd-6th graders). If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.