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Learning and Community

Jewish Supplementary Schools in the Twenty-First Century

Jack Wertheimer

Publication Year: 2009

At a time of heightened interest in Jewish supplementary schooling, this volume offers a path-breaking examination of how ten diverse schools have remade themselves to face the new challenges of the twenty-first century. Each written by an academic observer with the help of an experienced educator, the chapters bring these schools vividly to life by giving voice to students, parents, teachers, school directors, lay leaders, local rabbis and other key participants.

The goal of the book is to uncover the building blocks each school put into place to improve its delivery of a Jewish education. Employing qualitative research, Learning and Community is filled with moving and inspiring human-interest stories. Collectively, these portraits offer models of how schools of different sizes and configurations can maximize their impact, and in the process revitalize the form of religious and cultural education that engages the majority of Jewish children in the United States.

Published by: Brandeis University Press


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pp. c-ii

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xviii

Jewish supplementary schools1—programs that meet on weekends and/ or weekday afternoons when students have completed their general studies schooling and that enroll the majority of children receiving a Jewish education2—carry a heavy burden of responsibilities. Parents who enroll their children, congregations that invest large amounts of their financial resources in their schools, and religious and communal leaders who look...

Part I | Innovative Small Schools

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1 | Kehillah

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pp. 3-46

At 3:30 on a Wednesday afternoon the Anafim (fourth and fifth graders) at Kehillat Ha’ir are gathered around the table in their classroom for kibud (snack). On the table are water, slices of apple, and some pita bread. With only minimal direction from Shimon Feld, their teacher, the students say three brachot (blessings), one for the water, one for the fruit, and a third for the bread. As they munch on their snacks, the following conversation...

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2 | The Power of Their Commitments

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pp. 47-78

If demographers have it right, increasingly large numbers of American Jews across the continent live in small Jewish communities. Some of these have small congregations or informal Jewish groups. Some urban areas have seen a corresponding decline in their once dense Jewish populations and now also host small congregations. Elsewhere, in cities and towns that never had a large Jewish population, Jews work hard to maintain their...

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3 | Between Entrepreneurship and Jewish Mission

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pp. 79-110

A half century ago, at the height of the great expansion in the number of congregational schools across the United States, Arthur Hertzberg, a prominent Conservative rabbi, mordantly pronounced the membership of most synagogues to be little more than “the parent teacher association of the religious school.”1 Hertzberg recognized the extent to which Jews were joining congregations largely in order to provide a Jewish education for...

Part II | Re-Thinking Large Suburban Congregational Schools

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4 | Belonging Before Belief

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pp. 113-144

If this Reconstructionist synagogue ever adopted an anthem, it would be Henai Matov. The song emanates from boom boxes in classrooms; the cantor and the congregation sing it in services; congregation members hum it in the halls. Psalm 133 represents the synagogue’s credo and the essential value of Reconstructionist Judaism: Belonging to a community comes before all beliefs save for a belief in belonging. Belonging comes before behavior....

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5 | Adath Shalom Religious School

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pp. 145-175

In order to set the context for the make-up and flavor of the religious school, it is useful first to gain a picture of the synagogue in which it is housed. Adath Shalom is a large Conservative synagogue in an upper-middle- class suburb approximately one hour away from a major northeastern city to which many commute for work. The synagogue was founded in 1920 and saw significant growth and expansion through the 1950s and...

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6 | Innovating Inside the Box

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pp. 176-206

One of the first things that catches the eye in the foyer between the sanctuary and school wing when you enter Temple Reyim is a large portrait of its emeritus rabbi with three young children at his side. It is a warm and peaceful picture and quite possibly unusual. How many rabbis choose to include children in the formal portrait by which they will be remembered? How should we understand this choice? To what extent do young people...

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7 | Promoting a Counterculture

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pp. 207-235

It’s Shabbat. The senior rabbi at this West Coast temple sermonizes today, as on many other occasions, on growing up in the twenty-first century. “It’s so easy for our children to be bruised by the world,” begins the rabbi. “Life can break their hearts and shatter their deepest beliefs.” Just as bad, “It can turn them into cynics and skeptics at a tender age.”...

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8 | Beit Knesset Hazon

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pp. 236-274

Beit Knesset Hazon, a Reform congregation whose modest building is tucked away on a side street of an East Coast suburb, does not look like an educational powerhouse. At 8:15 on a Sunday morning in November it looks quiet, even a bit sleepy. But as the building fills with the voices of teachers, students, and parents, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary congregation. Every available space, including the back of the social hall...

Part III | High School Models

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9 | Western Hebrew High

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pp. 277-307

At the dead end of a long road, tucked at the foot of a major highway, lies a collection of trailer-like structures connected in the shape of a “T.” This modest complex serves as the Jewish Community Centre of a small western city, and is the home of the smaller of two campuses of Western Hebrew High. The building consists of an office opposite the front lobby, a boardroom, eight classrooms, and a small gymnasium with an adjacent...

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10 | Putting the School Back into the Supplementary Jewish High School

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pp. 308-346

The field of supplementary Jewish education has struggled in recent decades to reconcile what actually happens in most settings with the potentially unrealistic expectations raised by their self-identification as “schools.” Some educators, in fact, passionately deny their programs are schools in any meaningful sense. In their view, the limited number of hours available in Jewish settings as compared to full day schooling inevitably...

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pp. 347-362

Our portraits of ten schools have introduced readers to a range of programs differing in size, geographic setting, and affiliation. All have strengths; some more than others. Each suggests that, under the proper conditions, supplementary schools are able to give children positive Jewish experiences, teach them a modicum of Hebrew and other Judaic skills, stimulate them to reflect on religious and ethical questions from a Jewish perspective...


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pp. 363-382

E-ISBN-13: 9781584658290
E-ISBN-10: 1584658290
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584657705

Page Count: 400
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 667078160
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Learning and Community

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Subject Headings

  • Jewish religious education of children -- United States.
  • Jewish religious schools -- United States.
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