An education is one of the most important things a child can have. From learning about shapes and colors in preschool to advanced science and mathematics in college, a child’s education is beneficial to their growth. But is there a way to incorporate one’s religion – a very important aspect of life for many – into a traditional school curriculum?
Rabbi Simcha Dessler, educational director of Hebrew Academy of Cleveland in Cleveland Heights, and Dina Rock, director of learning at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood, said there are a few important reasons to incorporate Jewish learning into our everyday lives.
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland, Ohio’s largest Jewish day school, has served generations of children from early childhood through high school. With a dual Judaic studies and college preparatory general studies curriculum, students at the academy are in school an average of 34 to 47 hours weekly depending on grade level, Dessler said.
“In addition, hundreds of children choose to come back for more and attend voluntary after school extracurricular classes,” he said. “While Jewish day school education has evolved over the decades, its goals of fostering a strong sense of Jewish identity and a commitment to Jewish continuity remain as strong as ever.”
Rock said her vision as the director of learning is to build the foundation for Jewish life learning. This is not just an after-school activity or supplemental activity, she said. Rock said she wants to build a narrative at The Temple that centers around lifelong learning.
Dessler said every facet of the Jewish day school experience integrates values, concepts and ideas – all of which promote Jewish identity and continuity.
“We view Judaism not merely as a religion but as a way of life,” Dessler said. “Our goal is for children to develop a love for learning and for life, a love for Judaism and for Israel, a love for our people and for humanity.”
Dessler said enrichment and co-curricular programs, Israel education and engagement, guest speakers, supplementary trips, Shabbatons, Jewish holiday celebrations, music, song and dance are all vehicles that enhance the core education and empower students with “a greater appreciation and awareness for their heritage.” He added young children and teenagers should view their role in today’s modern world the way it is – as links in the golden chain of Jewish heritage.
Rock said what’s really important is the learning inside temple walls needs to also be relevant outside temple walls. She said there has to be energy and engagement and connection to the world outside of where they are every day.
“It needs to be relevant to their lives as they get older,” Rock said. “So having social justice conversations, conversations about leadership, learning about our history, and how our history impacts our present and influences our future, learning about all of that is very important.”
Why is it so important to incorporate Judaism into everyday curriculum? Dessler said intensive Jewish education inspires engagement.
“Day school students are inculcated with a sense of priorities, are empowered with a strong knowledge base, and are gifted with a sense of choice,” Dessler said. “They graduate with options to pursue their chosen profession … not just as Jews, but as knowledgeable and largely committed Jews. That is the best investment in a robust, promising Jewish future.”