Some Results from the Roundtable Fishbowl
Posted by Joel H. on August 18, 2008
The Roundtable Fishbowl at CAJE 33
In its first ever Roundtable Fishbowl, CAJE 33 convened seven scholars, practitioners, and consultants to discuss the future of Jewish supplemental education in North America.
The two-day free-ranging discussion covered synagogue life, the question of “Why be Jewish?”, integration of schools into synagogues, community, bar/bat mitzvah, authenticity, spirituality, expectations, and much more.
Below are e-mail addresses for the fishbowl participants (who have generously agreed to continue the CAJE 33 discussion on-line), and some brief highlights:
- Bar/Bat Mitzvah
- Formal/Informal Education
- (Contact Information)
One direct and concrete result was the consensus on the need for better integration of religious schools into the synagogue. The participants all agreed that schools suffer when they are disconnected from synagogue life. Rather that being their own units run by a principal, principals should work with other synagogue leaders to create a center for Jewish life that welcomes children.
Equally, it became clear that any solution to the Religious School crisis will have to involve the entire community. (Some suggestions for the community are summarized below.)
In response to a question from the audience (questions were submitted via real-time e-mail), Rabbi Larry Hoffman claimed that we don’t do enough to validate people who just senn their children to Religious School to become bar/bat mitzvah.
He pointed out that these parents invest considerable time, money, and energy to make sure that their children become bar/bat mitzvah, and we do a disservice to them and to our communities when we don’t recognize the value in that. Rather than affirm these parents’ commitment to giving Judaism to their children, leaders chastise them for not doing enough.
One point of disagreement was the role of expectations. While some people advocated raising the proverbial bar, and, like a good piano teacher, only teaching to students who were willing to learn, others thought that each community should come to its own consensus on what quality looks like.
According to the panal, both formal and informal education formats have imporant roles, and both have to be expanded.
Hebrew is probably best taught in a formal setting. Identity may demand something else.
Dr. Steven Cohen raised the interesting possibility of investing in non-scholastic contexts for Jewish children to come together. His example was a Jewish soccer league, though he was clear that other similar programs could be equally valuable.
Another suggestion was based on the observation that classes for children up to about 10 years of age tend to function better than 6th/7th-grade classes. Perhaps those older children shouldn’t be in classes as all. Perhaps formal classroom education should run through 5th grade, to be replaced by something else before bar/bat mitzvah.
If we take the religious school seriously, we have to offer children more than just information and data. Children no less than adults require some sense of spirituality. If religious school doesn’t offer it, or at least the promise of it, the students will search elsewhere. Some will try meditation, yoga, etc., and others will leave Judaism altogether.
There’s little point is creating a good religious school model if there won’t be any Jewish children to attend, so we have to balance long-term and short-term goals.
The word “authenticity” came up several times, but time constraints prevented the participants from exploring what they meant by it or why it’s so important.
There was general agreement that a successful religious schools must not only convey information but also help in identify formation, and that this topic demands much more attention. While we have found people who know a lot about how children learn Hebrew, do have yet to identify experts in identify formation.