No Shortcuts In Jewish Education


Everyone lauds all efforts that will result in a quality Jewish education for our children (“‘Radical’ Hebrew School Model Takes Shape,” April 29). Producing proud and literate Jews will guarantee a Jewish future. However, as indicated, “Hebrew school” has failed to do this. In fact, since students rarely know Hebrew after years in Hebrew school, we now call these schools congregational schools, religious schools or complementary schools. The term “supplementary school” has fallen out of favor. Whatever you call it, it has been unable to deliver the goods. Even in years past when three-, four- and five-day-a-week schools were the norm, success was rare. Jewish youth groups and summer camps have probably contributed more to developing Jewish identity.

Reform of this type of education has been a community agenda item for decades.

In my formative years I attended a Talmud Torah at The Inwood Jewish Center in Upper Manhattan every day except Friday, plus Junior Congregation on Shabbat. In the years since, I have taught and been a principal at various such schools. I have come to the following conclusions: As long as teachers are untrained and avocational, you will fail. As long as there is no full-time career for a congregational schoolteacher, you will fail. As long as you try to create proud and literate Jews in one or two days a week, you will fail. Touchy-feely Judaism and social activities are ancillary parts but not the major components of a Jewish education.

We are creating a civilization of Jews who are strangers in their own culture. They cannot understand Judaism’s holy texts except in translation. They may know some Israeli dances and they can be involved in social justice causes and they may play Jewish basketball, but that is not the sum total of a Jewish education.

The ranks of Jewish professionals are increasingly dominated by day school graduates. There are no shortcuts. I hope that the money and efforts being spent to develop a high-quality program will result in a real change. The Jewish people need it.

Fair Lawn, N.J.

The writer served as the director of Jewish Educational Services for the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey for over a decade.