This summer I met @Moosh2, an online friend. She was working at Crane Lake Camp while I was at Eisner Camp. Her name in RL is Marci Bellows the rabbi at Temple B'nai Torah in Wantagh, NY. She also writes a regular column inn the New York Jewish Week. We grew up in the same community and have a lot of friends in common, and yet we had never met!
I saw this article, I thought it made some very important points in our
ongoing discussion about what we should be doing in Jewish Education
today. Let's discuss!
“When I was in junior high, and all my friends were having their Bar or Bat Mitzvahs (sic),
I just enjoyed celebrating with them. It didn’t really occur to me that
I wasn’t having one of my own. It wasn’t until college that I really
began to regret it…”
words, Jessica Yanow, my best friend since we were eight years old,
began reflecting on her own Jewish upbringing and education.
Growing up in Skokie, Illinois, it was impossible not to feel, at the
very least, culturally Jewish. There was a bagel store in every strip
mall, and a synagogue every few blocks.
grandparents belonged to a Traditional synagogue, and they encouraged
Jessica’s mother to enroll her in Sunday School there. Though the level
of observance differed from what she was seeing at home, Jessica
attended for a few years. When she was in second grade, her mother gave
her a choice – she could keep attending Sunday School, or she could
stop. Jessica explained, “At that age, I would guess that most children
would choose not to go to any additional school. There was no
discussion, as far as I can remember, with regards to later
implications, like the fact that I wouldn’t have a Bat Mitzvah. So, of
course, I said, ‘No, I don’t want to go to Sunday School.’”
cannot express how much this one story has affected my rabbinate. I
often hear young parents wrestling over whether or not to “force” their
children to attend religious school. Likewise, I hear students bemoan
the fact that they are “stuck” going to religious school every week.
And, yet, I inevitably share Jessica’s story with them all, for this
reason: Now that she is an adult, she deeply regrets not attending
religious school, not building her Jewish identity from a younger age,
and not celebrating Bat Mitzvah at 13.
and perhaps not consciously, Jessica found other ways of engaging in
Judaism as a teen. Jessica was active in our local Kadima chapter in
junior high, and then we were all board members of my temple’s Youth
Group in high school. She took Hebrew as a foreign language at our
public high school. She traveled to Israel during the summer before
college, and then we both began our studies at Brandeis University
(where feeling Jewish is unavoidable).
by Jews of all stripes, Jessica was now confronted by her lack of
Jewish knowledge and personal connection to her heritage. For the first
time, she truly regretted her decision to halt her religious education.
Thus, she continued studying Hebrew, added three semesters of Yiddish,
and read as many Jewish books as she could.
to now, and she is living in Phoenix, married, and mother to an amazing
four-year-old son (who calls me “Auntie Marci,” which makes me giggle
ALL the time). She and her husband have chosen to send their son to a
pre-school at a local Reform synagogue. She hopes that they will become
more involved in the
coming years, and perhaps she will study towards Adult Bat Mitzvah. I
asked her how she feels now that she is the parent.
delights in spending every Friday morning at the preschool’s Tot
Shabbat celebration. She loves learning more about the holidays
alongside her son. She was pleasantly humbled when he came home one day,
looked at the family’s dormant candlesticks, and asked, “Mommy, why
don’t we light Shabbat candles on Friday nights?”
is but one case, but she exemplifies so many adults in today’s Reform
congregations. For a variety of reasons, we have men and women who feel
detached, alienated, or lacking in some way. Some of these adults will
never set foot in the temple except to send their kids to religious
school and then leave as soon as their youngest child turns thirteen.
others are longing for connection, and they wish desperately that
someone would reach out to them. These folks may be intimidated by adult
education offerings, fearful that their lack of learning will be a
source of embarrassment. To all of these people, I say, you are welcome
here! You belong here! You are a crucial part of the fabric of the
Jewish community, and you needn’t be afraid!
Jewish learning is possible throughout our entire lives, whether or not
we started our learning when we were young.
adults, it is our job to model the importance of a strong Jewish
education – not just by sending our children to religious school, but by
finding ways to continually enhance our own understanding of Judaism.
Imagine how little we would understand about the world if we had stopped
our secular studies at age 13! This month, the Union for Reform Judaism
is highlighting various ways of approaching Lifelong Jewish Learning,
and I encourage you to look for inspiring ideas and topics on their
website: http://urj.org/learning/. I’m sure that, with a bit of searching, you will find something that works for you.
and, by the way, Jessica will not be giving her son a choice. He will
go to religious school through Bar Mitzvah, at the very least. No doubt
Cross-posted to Welcome to the Next Level.