As summer comes to an end, hundreds of thousands of Jewish youth will now embark on a year of Jewish learning in early childhood centers, day schools, congregational schools, youth groups and increasingly in spaces created by a cadre of entrepreneurs committed to building something new in the Jewish educational landscape.
Alongside these young people (and their families) are thousands of Jewish educators fresh off their summer breaks, infused with a new energy that will drive them throughout the academic year.
We at The Jewish Education Project, along with many other organizations, continue to inspire and empower these Jewish educators to help Jewish youth and their families to thrive as Jews in the world today. That is our sacred mission and one that we hold dear to us every single day that we go to work.
But I do ask myself, how did we get to this point in time, where so many Jewish families have come to rely on institutions outside of the home to fulfill a timeless, personal responsibility — to “teach [these words] to your children, reciting them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you wake up” [Deuteronomy 11:19]?
I’m oversimplifying the role of Jewish learning institutions — it takes a village to raise a child. That said, there are some things that families are uniquely positioned to do. They can pass down heritage and tradition in ways that can only resonate within the family unit. As shown in our Gen Z Now report — the largest research study of teens in North America — our youth are overwhelmingly positive about the family’s role in ensuring that which is important is carried forth from generation to generation.
Conversely, there are things that settings of Jewish learning are often better positioned to do. Educators are trained to access knowledge and skills that reaches beyond memory and nostalgia. Great educators —of whom there are many, and increasingly many more — are creating environments that welcome children to ask questions without fear of being shunned. Like a year-round seder, albeit outside the home, this approach to fostering inquiry and curiosity ensures that Jewish learning is continually evolving and relevant to the changing needs of today’s youth and their families.
In reconciling that families and educational settings ought to be regarded as two sides of the same coin, let’s consider a few shared principles as we start this new school year:
♦Jewish learning is a lifelong endeavor. It ought not start in the summer or end when we turn 13 — and it is never too late for us to all engage in Jewish learning and experiences;
♦The Jewish education you most likely received bears little resemblance to all the good stuff that is taking place today;
♦Where Jewish education doesn’t meet your expectations, please don’t complain from the sidelines — get involved and help make the difference that you want to see;
♦The Jewish educators out there are some of our most precious communal resources and they deserve every bit of respect, encouragement and support that we can give them.
And perhaps most importantly, if you do choose to enroll your child in any Jewish educational experience, which I highly encourage you to do, then don’t send mixed messages to your kids that what they learn at school is not valuable at home.
For Jewish education to be successful, it is not that which takes place in a bubble — or which may have burst your bubble long ago — but that which permeates every aspect of our children’s lives today.
David Bryfman is CEO of The Jewish Education Project.