Can Hebrew School Be Cool?

The Boston Globe reports on one local synagogue’s controversial plan to revitalize its Hebrew school:

Temple Emanuel’s reinvention begins this fall, when sixth- and seventh-graders will be transplanted to Prozdor, a well-regarded supplementary school for teens at Hebrew College in Newton.

“The idea is to take some of the pixie dust from the new Prozdor and sprinkle it on the middle-school kids,” said Jonathan Sarna, a well-known author and lecturer on Jewish life and a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University.

The Emanuel middle-schoolers will attend Prozdor on Sundays, selecting a Judaic studies or Hebrew language track and a variety of upbeat electives – such as “Jews, Movies and the American Dream,” and “Israeli Top 40.” Under a collaborative program called Makor, the Hebrew word for “source,” they will return to Temple Emanuel on Tuesdays. There, classes taught by clergy will connect students to the synagogue as they approach their bar or bat mitzvah, the Jewish ritual welcome to adulthood.

Marjorie Berkowitz, Prozdor’s director, said the goal is for other interested synagogues to be folded into the Makor program within five years, and for Makor classes to be hosted at sites throughout the region.

News of the pending changes provoked intense anger among the teachers at Temple Emanuel’s Hebrew school, since teaching jobs are being cut. From 20 teaching positions, only 12 will remain, and staffers were told they would have to apply for the jobs to be considered. Several Emanuel teachers declined to be quoted about the controversy, citing concern for their professional reputations.

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