This is not your parents’ Hebrew school

By Rabbi Joshua Knobel

This Isn’t Your Parents’ Hebrew School: Wise CYE and Leo Baeck Reimagine Jewish Education

On Sunday, May 1, 2022, Stephen Wise Temple families Center for Youth Engagement (CYE) celebrated a school year unlike any in the temple’s 58-year history, a year that marked a reinvention of Jewish education for children attending secular schools.

For our graduation celebration, families from five different CYE programs came together to mingle and share unique stories about their distinct Jewish educational experiences.

“We always felt like we had to work so hard to provide our children with a Jewish education,” said Jonathan, a father of three enrolled in CYE’s monthly Jewish day camp. “Now it feels like their Jewish upbringing is working for us, and we couldn’t be happier.”

Whatever name it was given – religious school, Hebrew school or Sunday school – traditional Jewish complementary education experiences, including Wise’s, have often prioritized community and content over to discovery and personalization, preventing them from meeting the variety of goals and expectations. different families have for their children’s Jewish learning.

Recognizing how shortcomings of the traditional model have prevented us from meeting the unique needs of students and families during the pandemic, we approached our return to on-campus learning in 2021 with an eye for change. Instead of just offering the same weekly religious school experience as in the past, we began to create experiences tailored to meet the disparate needs and schedules of our families, who come from a multitude of ethnic, economic and religious.

With limited staff and resources, we had to get creative. Our first step was to explore a new partnership with Leo Baeck Temple – historically a partner of the Wise community and home to one of LA’s leading religious schools – to ensure we could still provide a weekly religious school experience of world class to these families. who wanted it. Next, we sought to identify the different priorities of our families, using interviews, surveys and recommendations to determine the content and timings they needed for their children’s Jewish education. Finally, we carefully considered the resources available to us, as well as the scholarships available in the field, to select the best experiences we could offer to meet the needs of our families.

We started with five programs, each offering a Jewish education to students with different goals, different learning styles, and different needs.

Five distinct learning opportunities for Jewish children

  1. A monthly jewish day campfilled with fun and engaging experiences that allow students to fall in love with their Judaism by practicing Jewish values ​​on the playground, in the pool, at the art studio, and more.
  2. A monthly family learning experiencefilled with project-based learning activities that allow families to figure out how to infuse their homes with moments of meaning, discovery and joy from our tradition.
  3. A weekly Shabbat Torah studyfilled with deep insights into the sacred teachings of our tradition that allow students who want the academic rigor (without the stress) to approach an in-depth study of Judaism.
  4. A Weekly tefillah classroomfilled with opportunities to enjoy and master the art of Jewish prayer, in person or online.
  5. A weekly religious school Leo Baeck Temple experience, where students discover the joys of Judaism through study, prayer, art, dance, gardening, and more.

After developing these five different choices for additional Jewish learning, we then engaged our families in in-depth discussions about their priorities for their children’s Jewish education, to help them choose the best path for Jewish learning. their children.

There have been challenges: offering different courses at different times makes building community among students a Herculean challenge, one we are still learning to navigate. For some students, this Sunday was their first meeting. Meanwhile, for many families, like Jonathan’s, the ability to choose their children’s Jewish educational path took on immediate meaning, but for others it took some time to see the possibilities that flexibility creates. Some children have moved from one program to another until they find the one that best suits their learning and schedule needs.

However, the first results are encouraging. The flexibility of the offerings has attracted families who might otherwise have avoided Jewish education for their child, either because of their religious school memories or because of time constraints.

“We wanted to introduce our children to Jewish education, but once a week was too much for us,” said Jamie, the father of a kindergarten and first grader. “We already miss so much family time with them. But the camp Sundays and family program were the perfect way to introduce them to Jewish study.

In addition, new and old families expressed their deep satisfaction with the multitude of options available to them.

“We are so grateful,” said Roya, the mother of a fifth grader in our Shabbat Torah study. “We’ve been here a long time and this is what we’ve always wanted. My daughter loves it, and it’s never a struggle to get her here on a Saturday morning.

As our school year draws to a close, we look forward to 5783 and all the opportunities it presents to build meaningful relationships between our families and to further enhance and expand the choices available to families looking for the right person for the job. Jewish education.

To learn more, visit us online at or call us at 310.889.2211.

Throughout their history, the Jewish people have engaged in a continuous search for purpose and meaning that has led to countless developments that affect the way we live and think. Jewish education allows children and adults to continue this conversation, increasing our perspectives with the wisdom and values ​​of our ancestors while advancing their search for purpose and meaning. In order to lead a deep and engaging Jewish life, we must embrace deep and engaging Jewish learning.

Moreover, while a solid Jewish education is essential to becoming better Jews, modern research suggests that Jewish education and participation in a Jewish community makes us healthier, happier and more successful.

All of our Center for Youth Engagement programs contain meaningful and joyful Jewish learning opportunities designed to prepare Jewish children for:

  • Question. Navigate life’s challenges and mysteries with critical thinking, curiosity and wonder.
  • Make a difference. To make the world a more just and moral place.
  • Be wise. Make choices consistent with progressive Jewish values.
  • Be fulfilled. Achieve shleimouta sense of wholeness, through purpose and resilience.
  • Relate. Understand the strength of community, history and heritage – in themselves and as key to achieving the above goals.

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