Hebrew school revisited

PEJE’s new study on the impact of Jewish day schools has garnered a fair amount of attention from the Jewish press. As our Editor-in-Chief noted, the report has mostly positive reviews for day schools.

Just a few months ago, the Avi Chai Foundation released a study on “Recent Trends in Supplementary Jewish Education,” which received far less publicity. While this report is not as bleak as some would predict, it gives voice to the many challenges that this sector of Jewish education faces.

Just a few of those issues:

  • The shrinking number of hours students attend
  • Parent priorities with other extracurricular activities (the “this is not real school” argument)
  • Poor pay leads to mediocre educators
  • Overemphasis on bar and bath mitzvahs
  • Lack of national bodies to help centralize curriculum

As a former religious school teacher (I quit mostly because of the reasons listed above), I am concerned with the lack of resources devoted to fixing this sector of our community.

The majority of Jewish students in America will never attend day school. As the report reminds us:

Even many leaders who strongly prefer day schools as the optimal form of Jewish education acknowledge that, for the foreseeable future, a considerable number of Jewish families will rely upon supplementary schools to educate their children. Despite considerable efforts to recruit even larger number of non-Orthodox children to day schools, and the increased student populations enrolled in such schools, to date only a small minority of children from Reform households attend day schools, and fewer than 30 percent of Conservative households enroll their children in day schools.

I wonder whether people will rise to the challenge of reforming this age-old institution thoroughly enough to ensure the majority of Jewish children can contribute to the community?

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