As administrators of America’s first Hebrew school, going back 211 years and still going strong, we read Julie Wiener’s article, “Family Time Hebrew School” (July 5) with great interest. We have no argument with the recent trend for Hebrew schools to experiment with experiential learning. If the kids have fun, they will hopefully want to attend and if they attend and have fun, they will hopefully form positive feelings about being Jewish. This is surely a good thing.
However, we also believe there is room for a variety of approaches, including a content and skills-based program taught by engaging, knowledgeable and enthusiastic teachers. In our experience, Hebrew literacy and knowledge of our traditions also constitute key factors in sustaining a diverse community of not only proud but also competent Jews.
Therefore, we at Shearith Israel’s Polonies Talmud Torah School (PTTS) offer a unique learning experience. When children are challenged academically, and special skills and expertise are imparted, they will most value Hebrew school beyond their early education years. We don’t view Hebrew school as a path to a bar/bat mitzvah ceremony.
Of course, at PTTS we also want our children to have fun learning and for the whole family to get involved. Perhaps most importantly, PTTS families are welcomed into a warm, inviting and highly inclusive Orthodox congregation and a diverse and eclectic proud Jewish community — a kehillah [community] that has never forgotten (and indeed celebrates) its pre-denominational roots that has stood it in good stead since its founding in 1654. There is something to be said for approaching trends and fads with caution and care.
Barbara Reiss, Executive Director
Rabbi Shalom Morris, Hebrew School Principal / Polonies Talmud Torah School Educational Director, Congregation Shearith Israel