Dec 3 2014
I got a phone call from my high school friend, Mikey, a year ago. We used to be very close, but as time and miles have grown between us, we rarely talk more than once every few years. He said, “Did you hear about J? She’s dying.”
In a high school with 1600 students, J was one of the six members of our “Jew Crew.” We grew up attending the same Reform synagogue, hanging out in the graffiti-decorated youth group lounge, bonding together over our differences from everyone else around us. We were Jewish, living in a small town where Christmas trees adorned every public school classroom. We were known on sight for the religion we practiced, rather than the people we were. Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 11 2014
“My daughter, the Hebrew School dropout.” Those weren’t exactly the words I had in mind when I enrolled Hannah in Hebrew school when she was in kindergarten. And all went well for a few years…until there were some rumblings in 5th grade. But I gamely ignored them, and we soldiered on.
And then middle school hit like a tsunami. Hannah was normally a fairly calm, methodical kid. Not anymore. Her anxiety levels spiked as her secular school workload increased. She placed high expectations on herself, expecting straight A’s every marking period. I remember begging her, “Get a B. Just get a B in something and you will see that the world won’t end.”
Add in a long drive to Hebrew school and an extra two hours of class once a week, and Hannah was on the verge of cracking. When she came home from Hebrew school she would sob in my arms. She didn’t connect socially with her peers and she wasn’t learning anything new. She would stay up late at night to finish her homework and then do cartwheels and handsprings in her bedroom to calm her nerves. It was wearing both of us out. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 22 2014
My daughter started Hebrew School last week. She’s in kindergarten and will be learning the Jewish fundamentals—holidays, traditions, lifecycle events—all the good stuff. For me this is a huge deal—HUGE!—because I’m a Jewish educator. And now my daughter is old enough to finally be in Hebrew School, in a grade that I used to teach! It’s very surreal.
Just before the first day of school, we got an email from her teacher with that week’s essential question which would comprise the core of the curriculum. The teacher asked us to talk about the question with our children to help prepare them for the conversation in the classroom. The question was: What do I do that makes me Jewish?
It’s a perfect point to start a Jewish education. The idea of identifying what we already do that makes us Jewish is spot-on for introducing 5-year-olds to Jewish concepts and ideas. As an educator, I loved it. I was curious to see where my daughter would define her Judaism—would she talk about Shabbat time, our Friday night ritual? Or maybe how we go to Tot Shabbat regularly? Or even how Mommy runs programs for children at a synagogue, or how her preschool was part of our synagogue? Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 7 2014
Growing up I spent much of my time after school at Hebrew School. I did not enjoy it very much and would try many tactics to get out of it. My favorite was holding a thermometer under my lamp. That worked very well for me.
Because I went to overnight Jewish summer camp and learned quite a bit about Judaism there, I felt bored during the school year in Hebrew School. I have heard many stories from friends about their “Hebrew School torture,”and the one common thread was the lack of creativity in the lessons. Unfortunately, that was my experience. It simply was not fun.
But now, my 4-year-old daughter loves going to Hebrew School. We are incredibly lucky to belong to a synagogue that offers a wonderful preschool curriculum and every Sunday morning she attends for three hours. The lessons include reading books, doing art projects, special services, and music where my daughter is learning about the upcoming holidays and so much more. This week she came to me and said, “Mommy, shmi Iliana. That means my name is Iliana in Hebrew.” I thought I would cry I was so proud of her, and so glad that she is absorbing so much from this class. Read the rest of this entry →
Feb 20 2014
As part of our month-long series dedicated to Jewish Disability Awareness Month, Lisa Friedman, a Jewish Special educator and advocate for inclusion, shares her guiding principals for creating a learning environment that is accessible to all students.
In my role as an Education Director of a synagogue’s Hebrew school, I have the good fortune to be able to use my skills to develop programs that enable students of all abilities to learn and thrive in a religious school setting. As an advocate of inclusion, I help guide my community to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities to participate and find meaning through all aspects of synagogue life. Yet, not all synagogues have a Jewish Special Educator. Not all synagogues have a professional who advocates for inclusion. What can parents of children with disabilities do to ensure that their children are fully included in Hebrew school?
First and foremost, open and supportive communication is essential for a successful Jewish Hebrew school experience for any child, but especially those with special learning needs. Be forthcoming about your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Do not assume that the school will turn you away or will not be able to accommodate your child’s needs. Share your child’s IEP, successful strategies from home and other information that will make it easier for your child to be successful. I am not suggesting that this is a magic bullet. There may be bumps and disappointments along the way. But without the willingness to have the conversations, you will never know what is possible. Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 10 2013
While browsing through old college journals, I recently caught a glimpse of a younger, happier, more confident woman. The bubbly writing belonged to an idealist who hitchhiked around the Middle East, worked at archaeological sites, and attended graduate school overseas.
Today, our children are my greatest joy, but the past few years of struggling with my husband and the divorce process are taking a heavy toll. I do not want my self-esteem to be contingent on my past accomplishments, nor do I want my happiest memories to be of previous decades.
I am proud of myself for getting out of an unhealthy relationship. Nowadays I am plunging the toilet myself, installing batteries and removing bugs and trash from the house. I am raising three very young children, working a full-time job, and teaching on Saturdays to stay afloat, all while far from extended family. I am persevering and finding inspiration and assistance where I can. Read the rest of this entry →
Aug 19 2013
Last month, at the very last minute, I finally sent off my children’s application to our synagogue’s Hebrew school. For the second time.
Three years ago when it was time to sign up our oldest daughter for Hebrew school, I eagerly filled out the paperwork. My husband and I love our funky, spirited, and opinionated Reconstructionist synagogue, and I thought I found a community that would provide a Jewish connection and community for the entire family. Let the Jewish learning begin! They were starting a new family-based, Shabbat-based Hebrew school program. We would be in on the ground floor, as they say, and start my daughter off on an amazing journey of Jewish learning.
But it did not quite work out that way. Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 30 2013
I read Jordana Horn’s piece in the Jewish Daily Forward about “Jewish Homeschooling” as an alternative to Jewish Day School with great interest. In it, Jordana states, “I’m not against day school, per se. I just don’t think that day school is essential in order to raise children who are Jewish and proud to be Jewish.”
Of course she’s right. Committed parents don’t need day school to make Judaism a joyful and central part of family life, as Jordana suggests in her piece. She also briefly acknowledges that parents who don’t feel Jewishly educated enough can avail themselves of books, online resources, and synagogue communities.
This is where things get a little tricky for me. Read the rest of this entry →
Jun 24 2013
My oldest son graduated from the 8th grade last week. His father and I picked this particular school for its academic rigor. By the time his nine years there were up, my son had visited England, passed Algebra 2, read Virgil (in Latin), played Katherine in a full staging of Shakespeare’s Henry V, and drawn a map of Europe freehand, including mountain ranges and bodies of water, with only the latitude and longitude as guidelines.
We were ecstatic about his education and how well it prepared him for the future.
Though the school is ostensibly non-denominational, their crest does feature a cross. When my son inquired about it, he was informed that the cross represents all religions. (He thus proceeded to refer to it as The Cross of All Religions for the past several years. It was funny the first time. Not so much the 74th.) Read the rest of this entry →
Apr 9 2013
So I totally get that sitting around with friends bashing your collective Hebrew school experience from the 80s is pretty much a national Jewish sport, and that we’re all so “traumatized” and “tortured” by the years spent in the cantor’s office memorizing our haftarah portions while wondering when his shiny black hair piece was finally going to fall off that now we’re all refusing to send our own kids to Hebrew school, complaining that it’s a waste of time and they’re not going to learn anything anyway.
But I’m here to tell you that sending my kids to Sunday morning religious school at our local Los Angeles area synagogue is quite possibly the best thing to happen to me post-childbirth since the prescription for Percoset that I got following my two emergency C-sections. Read the rest of this entry →