What does your Rabbi do? Part 7

Rabbi Joe Blair

December 24, 2007

 The Religious School:

This year the religious school has twenty-one students. I am teaching the Daled class (6th and 7th grades) consisting of three students, all in the 6th grade. 

I am also the sole tutor for the B’nai Mitzvah students, meeting quite intensively with them over the course of the year prior to their celebration. This is a very time-consuming, and labor intensive effort, consuming at least one hour for each student with whom I meet in a given week. 

With a small class, such as this year’s Daled group, it is not too overwhelming, but looking ahead to a year with eight or nine students preparing for B’nai Mitzvah (as is a possibility for the current Alef class), this would be a very significant commitment of time and effort. It may be worthwhile for the congregations to consider the use of individual and/or private tutors for the bulk of the preparation in such a situation. 

The religious school had a Family Education day recently (November 18th). The topic was Ellis Island and the immigration experience. It was very well received, and I was happy with the results. I believe these family education events are valuable additions to the curriculum. 

In the last several years, to better meet the stated goals for the religious school, I have urged the implementation of the Chai and Mitkadem curricula in our religious school. These curricula have proven to be very successful so far when used and followed. These curricula have helped to focus the classes, organize and integrate the levels, and give the teachers a strong and well-designed resource in their planning and preparation. These materials do not assist, however, if the students don’t or won’t do the work assigned – no materials, and no instructor, would. The final responsibility rests on the student, and to some degree, on the family of the student (who is, after all, a minor). 

Given that religious school is only three hours once a week (less than an hour for Hebrew and approximately another hour for Judaica), it is not reasonable to expect that a student can be taught enough there to be a competent, educated, literate Jewish person, prepared to be a Jewish adult, even after the maximum of seven years of thirty class sessions each year. That goal is more properly met by training and practice in the home, supplemented by regular attendance at services and in religious school. 

The question has been raised (again – this is probably a perennial issue) as to the purpose and value of religious school. 

Though I am clearly in favor of and support a maximal approach to religious school, and see it as training and preparation for life as a Jewish adult, I know not everyone shares my viewpoint. 

I am not intending to impose my vision on the community in this matter: I would much prefer an open, civil, and reasoned discussion of the philosophy and ideology for the religious school to occur periodically, leading to implementing a program that more accurately reflects the values and ideals of the community, than to have unspoken concerns and dissatisfactions harbored within our community, leading to resentments, disaffection, and choices and actions that undercut whatever program has been put in place. 

This discussion must necessarily also focus on the policies and procedures for the religious school, and how religious school is connected to the celebration of a B’nai Mitzvah in the congregations. 

If the congregation does not believe that the approach taken as of today fits the goals it wishes to set as a community for its’ religious school, the entire religious school enterprise should be re-examined and re-evaluated in light of whatever the actual goals may be, the policies and procedures should be modified to reflect those goals, and the allocation of resources to the religious school (including the appropriate use of my time and that of the other teachers), should be discussed and given serious consideration, with an eye towards supporting the goals established.