Temple Israel Ner Tamid in Mayfield Heights believes strongly in the concept of tsedakah, or charity. It also would like to attract some unaffiliated Jews to join the Reform congregation.
Those are two reasons why the temple is offering tuition-free religious education to children of families who are dues-paying members, Rabbi Matthew Eisenberg said. The offer includes both Sunday school, which begins Aug. 28, and Hebrew school.
“Universal Jewish education is a Jewish value that is thousands of years old,” Eisenberg said. “Over time, congregations have provided religious education, and there are costs involved, so congregations charge for religious school.
“We wanted to get back to the age-old welcoming of as many people as possible to come and pray and learn. The concept of doing tsedakah, and the mitzvah of Jewish education, should be shared as widely as possible.”
It’s also a reality that there are many more Jews who are not affiliated with synagogues than there were 20 years ago, Eisenberg said.
“About half of the Jewish population of Cleveland is unaffiliated,” he said “We are trying to reach out to those Jews in every way possible.
“We’re not targeting other congregations’ members. We’re trying to make known the good we are doing … the goal is to attract new members and more Jewish students.”
The temple, which has about 250 family units as members, started offering free religious school education to members a year ago, but it was not publicized outside the temple, Eisenberg said. As a result, there was no increase from the previous year in the number of students enrolled.
“We hope this year we will (see an increase) as we get the word out,” said Eisenberg, noting a sign publicizing the offer is posted on the temple’s front lawn. “We want people to know this is a reality; come be a member of our congregation, and religious school education is free.”
Last year, 44 students were enrolled in the temple’s religious school. Eisenberg said he would not know how many have signed up this year until school begins, as most people don’t enroll early.
The drawback of offering free religious school education, Eisenberg said, is it creates a deficit in the temple’s budget. He declined to comment on what that figure is.
“The annual budget runs a significant deficit because of this, but the concept of educating Jewish children is important, so we find other ways (to balance the budget),” he said. “Members of the congregation make additional donations to cover those costs.”
Eisenberg said those donations are separate from dues payments, and he emphasized they are voluntary.
“We’re not assessing fees,” he said. “We also do a couple fundraisers throughout the year, targeted to raise money for the religious school.
“We’re trying to remind people of their multigenerational responsibilities. Jewish people need you to be there for other people’s children’s Jewish education.”
The temple is raising funds to build an addition to the religious school, Eisenberg said. Plans call for work to begin in April, with the goal of completing the addition by High Holy Days next year, he said.