How to Choose a Hebrew School

Making the right decision for your family and your life

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Choosing a Jewish education for your child is a major event in the life of your family. In fact, according to the Talmud (Kiddushin 29a), providing a child with a Jewish education is one of just a few things that parents are obligated to do for their sons and daughters. For some, it's as easy as stopping by the local synagogue, picking up a membership form and dropping off a check. For others, there is no choice involved, as their communities offer only one synagogue and one program. But for those of us who have many options from which to choose, the sheer variety of programs and number of choices can be mind-boggling.

For many of us, the process of choosing a Hebrew school program for our children brings us face to face with the Jewish education we received as children or young adults. Many of us warmly remember teachers who expertly taught us Hebrew, rabbis who inspired us with words of Torah, or youth group leaders and counselors who, through their enthusiasm, demonstrated how much fun Jewish living could be. But for each one of us who thrived, there are those of us who found Hebrew school to be uninspiring and meaningless.

Regardless of the category in which you find yourself, you still need to make a choice. Choose the school that most resembles the elements you liked about your own Jewish education--and the one that least resembles the program that you disliked. Choose a school with an eye to what best suits your child, what is most appropriate for your family, and, most of all, what allows your child to grow and thrive as a young member of the Jewish community.

Here are some things to look for and questions to ask as you go about choosing the right kind of synagogue educational program for your family.

Get to Know the Lingo

What's the difference between a Hebrew school, a Sunday school, a synagogue school, a supplementary school and a Religious School? Sometimes quite a bit, and sometimes nothing at all. Generally speaking, an afternoon Jewish educational program is housed in a synagogue and teaches a wide variety of subjects, ranging from Hebrew and prayer to holidays and values. The name may give a clue as to what kind of program it is, but it may not. Hebrew schools may emphasize Hebrew, but sometimes simply use the name. Sunday school is a bit of a dated term, from years ago when Sunday was the only day of instruction.  Most schools now meet either on Sunday and a weekday or just on weekday afternoons. Today the term "religious school" is often used; many find this to be the preferred title because it encompasses a broader approach to Jewish learning and living.

Does the Program Suit Your Family?

Often parents will choose a program "in spite" of some major issue or conflict. Examine the requirements of the school (in every grade) to make sure that it is a good match for your family. Choose a Hebrew school that doesn't conflict with your child's schedule or your family's schedule. What if Shabbat is a requirement but you are often out of town on weekends? What if you want a two day program and not a three day program? School requirements should mesh with your family's needs and should support your goals for your child's education. Is the synagogue located far away from your home, or close by in your neighborhood? If your child has particular learning needs or particular interests, find out if the school can accommodate these needs. One of the surest ways to guarantee your child's success in Hebrew school is to make sure that it's a good fit. Your family is unique--choose the program that is your best match.

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Sara Shapiro-Plevan

Sara Shapiro-Plevan serves as the Coordinator of Congregational Education for New York City for the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York.