Why I Send My Son To Two Hebrew Schools
Most children are not enthralled about going to Hebrew school. Imagine my son’s reaction when I told him last year that he’d be going to not one, but two, Hebrew schools each week. To be fair, neither of the programs is actually called Hebrew school. The first is at our conservative synagogue and is called Machanei Shai because the program is structured much like a camp with activities such as art, cooking, Israeli culture and even sports. The second is an independent program called Jewish Kids Group with a terrific tagline that lets you know it is no ordinary Hebrew school – it’s a reimagined, reinvented and ridiculously cool Hebrew school.
So why send my son to both? Am I crazy? Probably. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this solution to other parents nor do I imagine there are many other parents out there willing to pay two tuitions. Yes, I’m crazy but also incredibly conflicted.
I am a committed synagogue member. I understand the criticisms that people level at the synagogue that I attend and at many other synagogues. Synagogues are out of touch. They don’t address the needs of the members. There is not enough innovative programming. The list of complaints goes on. But I also truly believe in synagogues. I believe in the community and the continuity. And I believe that synagogues offer something that you can’t get in an independent setting or a chavurah. Yes, they offer a community a chance to celebrate all life cycle events but, more importantly, they offer a form of interaction with a broader community. Some of my proudest moments have been watching my children greet the elderly members of our synagogue on a first name basis and then turn around and swoop up someone else’s child who needs some attention. As an urban planner, I also believe strongly in the need for a physical place and our synagogue provides that grounding for our family.
At the same time, I am enthralled by what my dear friend (and former babysitter) Ana Fuchs has built in her independent Jewish Kids Group. She personally brings an infectious energy to her program along with a group of equally enthusiastic young teachers. They have created their own curriculum and mixed it with an established Hebrew Wizards curriculum to create an after school program that combines the traditional after care and homework time with time spent on Jewish activities. Did I mention fun Jewish activities? In her temporary space, Ana has quickly built a following mostly for who she is and what she is doing so well but also because of what she does not represent — her program is immune from the politics, the expense associated with membership and many other things that saddle our synagogues. She represents the bright face of innovation that so many crave and want to be associated with – myself included.
And so I struggle. I feel pulled between the loyalty I feel toward our synagogue and the incredible innovation that Ana represents and offers in the community. My son, on the other hand, takes it all in stride. He goes to Jewish Kids Group two days a week after school and then to synagogue on Saturday for Shabbat and Sunday for Machanei Shai. But mostly, I just try to feel blessed to live in a community where we have such wonderful options and my kids can attend the neighborhood public schools yet feel deeply a part of a Jewish community. A blessing indeed.
Jodi is an Atlanta 05 Wexner Heritage Alumna (WHA) and a Delegate on the WHA Council. She is an urban planner at Jamestown Development and Construction with a focus on building mixed-use new urban projects. She is also passionate about sustainable development and has been instrumental in launching her firm’s sustainability program, Jamestown Green. In her volunteer work, Jodi is a big fan of Limmud and helped start Limmud Atlanta+SE (http://www.limmudse.org/). She also serves on the board of Repair the World, a nonprofit that is committed to making service a defining element of American Jewish life. She is married to Ross and is the proud parent of Eli, Orly and Bram, all of whom attend Camp Ramah Darom. Jodi can be reached at email@example.com.