Dear Temple Israel Families,
As I sit to write this letter, I am filled with anticipation and excitement to have the opportunity to invite You and YOUR young learners to the 2019-2020 re-imagined Rabbi Colman A. Zwitman Religious School year.
Take a trip back in time with me—It is the 1980s, and we are sitting in a less-than-engaging learning environment with a teacher pontificating to an overstuffed classroom of under-stimulated and over-tired Jewish children. Presented to us—unapproachable and seemingly irrelevant pediatric versions of Bible Stories spliced together episodically with dreidel competitions and the repetition of the Alef-Bet song. Little was left to challenge or question or engage or explore. We were taught to repeat, memorize, recite aloud, and worst of all—do everything for the sake of “success” at our eventual Bar or Bat Mitzvah. At least in my experience, the purpose of young Jewish education was distant and short-term. It was what my parents and their parents expected before them, and I couldn’t wait to “be finished.”
But what I didn’t understand, and I don’t think that my synagogue’s vision for education did either—was that no matter the age of the person being educated—every learner wants to be challenged, engaged, excited and "in it for the long run." Jewish education should be a beautiful life-long journey which allows us to explore our faith with passion, curiosity, creativity and wonder.
Truthfully, our goals should stretch even farther than our own knowledge acquisition. As a people, the Jews have maintained a strong and vital connection to each other throughout millennia— by studying Torah, its teachings, and living Jewish value-filled lives. Even for those of us who were not brought up Jewish (and who still may not be Jewish themselves) -- educating our community not only connects us to where we came from, it also helps to focus and motivate us towards where we are going as productive, conscientious, compassionate citizens of this world.
And it is from this solid goal, that the sculpting of this upcoming year’s curriculum, calendar, and overall vision for Hebrew and Religious education at TI, is based. Countless hours of conversations with parents, colleagues, and Jewish educators from across the Jewish world-- has resulted in this year’s holistic methodology of engaging and educating the ‘entire’ learner enrolled in our religious school program.
There have been some obvious changes made to the scheduling for next year’s program including the addition of Tuesday’s for intensive Hebrew education (4th-12th grade), a monthly Saturday “Yom Kef” (Day of Fun!) family education session (families of k-12th graders), as well as multiple opportunities to engage in intergenerational mitzvah (community service) projects throughout the community. I can assure you that participation in these innovations will greatly add to the overall education and connection for all of TI’s learners—not just our children.
Subtler changes have been added as well. Both clergy will be teaching within our weekday and Sunday programming. ‘Yom Kef’ will include family learning sessions with outside educators, and me, teaching on various topics that pertain to young Jewish families. The history, purpose, and practice of our Reform Jewish prayer and liturgy will be explored weekly through approachable and meaningful t’fillah (prayer) workshops and activities. And lastly (but not finally…) we have built into our Sunday schedule a rotation (taught by the clergy team) of Jewish music and Jewish values so that each week our learners will have the opportunity to study areas of Judaism that their clergy is passionate about as well.
As John Dewey, an American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” As we enter this new frontier of Jewish education together, let us remember that every day, and--every moment of every day—we are learning something that will shape who we are and who we become in this life. May we continue to teach and learn so that well into the future, the Jewish people thrive and continue to live lives full of wonder.
L’Shalom (In peace),
Rabbi Amy L. Morrison