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.
My daughter is super bright and creative but she is also severely dyslexic and struggles with a complicated set of learning, social, and sensory issues.
It turns out the community building family time at that start of the Hebrew school Shabbat learning program overwhelmed my daughter.
It turns out that it was too loud and there were too many activities going on at once. There were too many transitions and there was too much noise.
It turns out that what works for most kids doesn’t work for my daughter.
By first grade she dreaded going to synagogue. She was begging us not to take her to class on Saturdays. She was struggling at regular school and we were working hard to sort out all of her learning issues.
So we dropped out as a family. We pulled my son out of the preschool program. We designated Saturday morning as much needed down time. And then we took the next year off while we figured everything out.
My whole family was happy with this decision. Even the rabbi was on board with us taking a break. But I started worrying that my children’s Jewish identity was hanging in the balance. No matter that we light candles every Friday night and build a sukkah every fall. No matter that we go to the family-based erev Shabbat services religiously. In my mind, they needed Hebrew school. Period.
I am lucky enough to live in a part of the country where there are many options for Jewish education. There is an independent special needs Jewish education program and there are other larger synagogues with a variety of classroom options. But it feels important to try again where we are now. We have friends here and we feel at home. We like that our synagogue is small and strives to create meaningful ritual. Probably, though, this makes it more difficult for our quirky kid who needs structure and established routine.
In fact, even as we return to our home base Hebrew school, it will be in a modified way. My daughter will only attend one day of the two-day-a-week program. We will allow her to opt out of bigger, noisier activities. We will put off teaching her Hebrew and when we do, it will be in the specialized multi-sensory way that she is learning to read English.
So this fall we are heading back to Hebrew school. I very much want my children to have the experience of attending a Hebrew school together, as part of a synagogue community. Because of my daughter’s learning issues they no longer go to regular school together and I am excited at the possibility that they can share this Jewish rite of passage.
If it does not go well, then we will look into other options, including staying put with our synagogue and sending my daughter to the special needs program offered in our town.
But we will also consider leaving our little Jewish community and joining another larger synagogue with more diverse learning and special needs resources. Especially if that means my children can attend Hebrew school together.
Our funky little Reconstructionist synagogue may not be the right place for my daughter and that means it may not be the right place for our family.