Idie Benjamin & Dale Sides Cooperman
We know. We know that a child’s Jewish identity should be nurtured. We know that dancing on Simhat Torah, lighting Shabbat candles, giving tzedakah, saying te Shema, knowing who Rebecca, Joseph, Moses, and King David are, and understanding that the Israeli flag belongs to all of us brings meaning and values to a child and his or her family’s life. We know that these examples of some of the elements that can make up a Jewish identity are important for the development of a Jewish child and for the development of the whole child. We know that one “ingredient” feeds another; raise a Jewish child and you raise a Jewish family.
We now know is that all this also develops a special kind of parent. Research now affirms what we always knew.
Idie Benjamin & Dale Cooperman
Welcoming is particularly on our minds at this time of year. New and prospective families are visiting our schools. With and without their children, they are touring the school to see if your school will be the right one or the best fit, for their children and their family. As these new people, these strangers, come into the classrooms, what will be their first impression? How will the children in the class react? How will these guests be welcomed? And as the “classroom tour guide,” what is your responsibility?
“Shabbat Club” Engages Children and Families With Unique T’fillah Experiences
by Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal
What do colored stickers and ice cream have to do with enhancing Shabbat experiences for families and making it more likely that they will come to synagogue? A lot, if our experience this year with Shabbat Club – the name given to our Shabbat services and programming geared at families – is any indication.
Shabbat Club was born out of a desire for increased participation by children and families in Shabbat programming at the synagogue. It also fit into the educational goals of our religious rchool, to give the children and families real world experiences with what they are learning in the classroom.
The first thing we did was to create a regular schedule for Shabbat Club — the first Friday and Saturday of every month — and publicize the schedule. This is important because it allowed families to know exactly when things were happening and to plan their schedules accordingly. We made Saturday morning attendance a mandatory part of religious school, but opened Shabbat Club up to any families in the community who wanted to attend. We have had a good mix of religious-school and day-school families in attendance.
Once they are in the room, the second thing we did was to create a service that was meaningful and engaging for both kids and adults. Children have to see that what they are learning in religious school or day school is relevant to their lives, so they are the ones who lead the Junior Congregation service. We have a board with the names of all the prayers velcro-ed onto it, and as the children come in, they choose the prayer they want to lead. We don’t do every prayer, but we do enough to make the services feel complete; we also read three small aliyot of Torah. We conclude with the mourner’s kaddish at the end, so that any parent who needs to say it feels that they can.
Once in awhile, we try to pass on stories or articles that catch our attention and that might be useful to Jewish teachers and educators.
This article really takes the cake. It’s by Lisa Greengard, a youth director who “gets it.” She works at Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, and she recently wrote the piece linked below. It’s called “Youth Groups Are Worth the Fight.”
In it, she confirms the importance of youth groups’ role in creating Jewish communities and helping kids to really live Jewishly. She wants parents to realize how important it is to encourage their kids to participate:
Your child’s peer group during these years can determine what kind of Jewish life your child will lead in young adulthood and beyond… Don’t you want to know that your children are in a safe, nurturing environment where positive Jewish role models, Judaism and acceptance are the norm?
To read her whole article, click over to Temple Isaiah’s website.
In the last couple months, you may have noticed Torah Aura Productions using a new mission statement: “Making success in Jewish education an achievable reality.”
We’re really excited about this new articulation of our mission because it so clearly sums up who we are and what we do. We’re in the business of helping Jewish schools succeed.
So it was with great pleasure that we read a new study from Professor Jack Wertheimer entitled Schools That Work: What We Can Learn from Good Jewish Supplemental Schools. It’s an analytical look at Jewish schools that suggests a path towards success. (You can download the entire report by clicking here.)
With the help of a team of top-notch researchers and funded by the Avi Chai Foundation, Professor Wertheimer looks at ten excellent supplemental schools and draws out common elements that contribute to their success.
What is important about this study is that it affirms a truth stated too infrequently: that supplementary schools can succeed. Perhaps more importantly, Wertheimer identifies the elements that help define “success” in schools, offering suggestions for replicating the excellence that he and his team found.
The study presents six “noteworthy characteristics of good schools.” Good schools (1) work on building friendships and community, (2) go beyond teaching facts to allow students to work on meaning, (3) use experiential education, (4) actualize a clear vision, (5) value themselves and their students, and (6) involve not only students but their families. Wertheimer makes it clear that it takes “a combination of traits to forge a strong school.”
Because we’re invested in making success in Jewish education an achievable reality, we take these six characteristics very seriously. Wertheimer’s work has pushed us to ask some meaningful questions about our work. How can we help enable schools to actualize these characteristics in their own authentic way? In what ways do these principles inform the curricular materials we publish? What does it mean to be a publishing company whose mission is to help Jewish educators and teachers achieve success?