Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid School of Jewish Studies holds a joint havdalah service with their sister school in Israel.
When I was 11 years old, I remember a conversation with my brother, then a college student. I asked, “When you get married, will you send your children to Hebrew school?” My brother, trying to be funny, responded, “Of course. I hated Hebrew school. I want them to go. Then they can hate Hebrew school just like me.”
This was a joke that my brother made over 35 years ago, but I have never forgotten it. Is this the purpose of religious education? To make our children endure something because we did too? NO! Jewish education has changed. What my brother described is not what I see in the Milwaukee area supplementary schools (Sunday schools and Hebrew Schools).
What do I see in Milwaukee? I see children engaged in Judaism in meaningful, creative, and important ways. I see children doing -- not just sitting and listening.
At Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid I see children using Skype to make havdalah (the separation between Shabbat and the rest of week) together with their peers in Israel. They are singing together and then discussing the experience.
At Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun I see children creating a fort with tarps and blankets and then sitting under it to really understand the blessing Mah Tovu-How good are your tents of Jacob.
At Emanu-El of Waukesha, I see the children turn the social hall into a forest for Tu B’shvat, the birthday of the trees.
At the Milwaukee Community Hebrew School (the Shul in Bayside) I see children sit with their parents over lunch and teach the adults all that they have learned about the holidays.
At the Pelz Hebrew School, I see high school students so engaged in a discussion with their teacher that they refuse to leave even after school has been over for 10 minutes and the halls are filled with the voices of children going home.
At Congregation Shalom I see Danelle Carriger teaching children the words to the prayer V’ahavta. She asks them if it is easy to love God with all your heart and soul. One student responds, “If you give everything to God, you’d be empty.” This leads to an amazing conversation.
At Congregation Sinai, I see children making get well cards for people in the hospital. I listen to their teacher, Rabbinic Pastor Aggie Goldenholz, tell them stories about how their cards touched the souls of people who are sick and alone. I see the spark in the children’s eyes to know they have made a difference.
Hebrew School is not the place my brother hated as a child. It is a vibrant, exciting, caring community where children learn by doing.
Why Go Jewish? So someday when you ask your children if they will give your grandchildren a Jewish education they will respond, “Of course. I want them to go. They will love it as much as I did.”