First Day Of Hebrew School
09/15/2010 - 08:20

I never attended Hebrew school as a child, but in the past 13 years, as a journalist for Jewish publications, I’ve spent so much time visiting day schools, congregational schools and summer camps (not to mention, interviewing parents, teachers, students and other stakeholders) that I’ve more than made up for it.

So it was an odd feeling this Sunday to be inside a congregational school not as a reporter, but as a mom.

As I dropped off my daughters in their classrooms and then sat down at an orientation meeting for parents, I had to stop myself from reaching for a notebook or seeking out people to interview. Without my journalist hat (metaphorical that is — sadly, they no longer issue those iconic hats with the little “press” card in them), I was just the mom of 4-year-old Sophie and 7-year-old Arielle, making small talk in a roomful of strangers. And since the synagogue is not in my beloved Jackson Heights, I couldn’t rely on the standby conversation starters that have gotten me through many a birthday party, soccer class and playground session, like “Where do your kids go to school?” and “How long have you lived in the neighborhood?”

My fellow parents were friendly enough, and I was pleased to see that not only am I not the only newbie (seems like many people join this synagogue when their older child starts second grade), but also most definitely not the only intermarried one. As I nibbled on a bagel in the temple social hall, the religious school director hurling scheduling and logistical details at us (fortunately, her style with the kids seems to be a great deal more personable and gentle), my neighbors to the right were a father named Chris and his Jewish wife. On my left sat a woman whose husband is a lapsed Catholic; her four children (including two girls in Sophie’s class) are adopted from overseas and thus don’t “look” Jewish. And Sophie’s teacher, who is Jewish, has a Latino-sounding last name; I don't know if she’s intermarried, has intermarried parents, is a Jew by choice or simply a descendant of Latin American Jews.

While Sophie had resisted coming to Hebrew school (a battle I hadn’t expected to face for a few more years), both girls emerged in reasonably good spirits from their three-hour sessions, which included a half-hour service in the sanctuary. They seem to like their teachers and classmates, and Sophie, for the first time, started talking at the dinner table about the need to help poor people (a topic Arielle, a crusading vegetarian who is constantly brainstorming ways to save the world, was already fascinated by).

All in all, it is too soon to tell how this whole Hebrew school project will work out, but I am keeping my fingers crossed.

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Let me briefly add that: a) Things have improved a bit since the reform and Conservative understood they are loosing the kids and made creative changes to their Hebrew schools b) Ya know what? A great Hebrew school can never replace a great Bat or Bar Mitzvah tutor, so when you are stuck with a boring tutor or an impatient Cantor or Rabbi, believe me – you are stuck! Peace!
Old formula of Hebrew School must be changed It should include all the content taught in half the time currently used (yes this is what i meant) and the other half of the time needs to be made more camp-like singing- or social action of sorts - visiting Jews in hospitals as an example - anything more in the informal area. Anybody connected to Hebrew Schools should see this article: (Name of article if link didn't work: Google this: Berkeley synagogue cooks up a new after-school approach and should (for the sake of the kids!) consider incorporating some of the ideas found in the article. ps on a personal level i want to ask Ms. Weiner's forgiveness (esp at this time of year) for being too harsh in a talkback - it had to do with Steven M. Cohen who i greatly admire as a Jewish sociologist and thinker so i was a over-reacting in a previous talkback defending him nevertheless i regret anything i wrote that sounded like a personal attack- i will try to be more careful in the future not to do that to you or anyone. May you have a good, healthy and sweet New Year. David Neil
Julie, Always a pleasure to read your informed and sprightly prose. As for Hebrew school, I trust you will have a better experience than mine: academic chaos and teachers pummeling helpless twelve year olds. I"m still not sure why they did not end up in front of a judge in criminal court.
I'm glad to hear abt this and to start reading your blog. Proud mom