September is a great month. Temperatures begin to slide from misery to comfortable. So does the humidity, by the way, which means “good hair days” outnumber the “bad”…a reason to love fall that is not to be taken lightly. We celebrate the High Holy Days, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah in quick succession. And moms and dads across the land rejoice as school begins with its rhythms, return to regular schedules, and early bedtimes. I swear, I still feel that sigh of relief today, even though my own children are in their 30’s!
Religious school also begins in September. And no matter what religious organization you can name: a synagogue, church, mosque or temple, your school is your future. That is especially true in the Jewish community. Educating the next generation forges the future of our faith. The more vital your religious school and the more connected it is, the stronger your link to the future.
How do we keep that vital link? How do we ensure that all of our houses of worship are Beit Midrash? The key is intentionality in creating bonds between teachers, parents, students, clergy, and lay leaders.
I know all of our institutions have a strong focus on education: it is who we are as a people. We are blessed to have a talented and dedicated Religious School Director in Susan Jacobs. Susan provides steady, sure, and skilled leadership for our school and has the support of our clergy, staff, and Religious School Committee.
My experience with our Religious School is as a Temple Beth El parent and leader. So I know that Temple Beth El’s Religious School is engaging our 350 or so students by meeting them where they are.
To reach kids today, you have to engage them with some level of technology and the ability to explore and gather information across many platforms. Our students have access to a 15 station computer lab and a classroom set of tablets. Teachers use multiple websites and applications to support the curriculum. We constantly add to our resources as technology advances as it is a high priority.
We also acknowledge that in 2018, families are stretched and need some alternative Religious School options. We spent time exploring what those could be…again, “meeting families where they are.” We made adjustments so that attending weekday and Sunday school is easier and also created alternatives for families that travel a long distance or have changing schedules.
We have created opportunities for a deep dive into learning with an off-site retreat for 4th, 5th, and 6th Grades. This time for Jewish learning outside of the traditional classroom often takes the form of experiences in the outdoors. Students have more occasions to bond with each other, strengthen friendships, and connect to Judaism.
Temple Beth El Religious School has a cool STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Math) Careers curriculum focusing on Israel. This program helps students develop a new connection to modern-day Israel, identify key cities, and recognize their significance as centers of innovation. Ultimately, they will learn about the ways in which Israel is committed to Tikkun Olam and is making global contributions in and outside of Israel.
As always, the core of any school is passionate, creative and caring teachers. But at Temple Beth El, we take it a step further with our Madrichim Program. Ninety Madrichim, or teen teacher assistants, are vital to the success of our school. Madrichim volunteer their first year and then later are paid for their time. Often, this is their first work experience. These young role models are teens who are not only supporting the school, they are continuing their own Jewish education and staying connected to our community.
After 7th grade, all of our Charlotte teens are encouraged to continue their Jewish learning through 12th Grade by attending the Consolidated High School of Jewish Studies of Charlotte (Hebrew High). Students of Hebrew High continue to develop strong Jewish values and a sense of unity with the Jewish people.
Finally, we are proud to teach life lessons and Tikkun Olam through a Jewish lens. One topic of interest from the retreat I mentioned is “Finding the Courage to Be Kind and the Strength to Stand Up.” I am proud to know that our children are learning that to be Jewish, is to be brave, to be kind, to have courage and to repair the world.
Moira Quinn Klein is a past President of Temple Beth El