1. We call ourselves the “Jewish Community” but we create barriers by the word “membership” when we refer to synagogue involvement. How often do ‘members’ of one synagogue feel comfortable visiting another? I’ve been to many community programs, held on a rotating basis, in various synagogues. Guess what happens? Right. The program is rarely attended by large numbers of people from neighboring synagogues. Why? Aren’t we a ‘community’? How open are our doors when they welcome only ‘members’? We can fix the structural boundaries, but with radical recommendations…..that will necessitate the involvement of every single synagogue. I’m not betting that this will happen anytime soon.
2. What happens to the ‘profession’ of Jewish education when teens are hired to teach classes in an elementary supplementary school? What is the underlying message we’re sending Jewish teens about the value of continuing their own education? Sure, it keeps teens connected, but at what cost? Read this post for a more complete picture of hiring teen aides.
3. But let me dream a little….what if synagogues joined together in a spirit of true community, and became specialists in their area of expertise? That might look like this: Synagogue A’s pre-school is really great, but synagogue B has a great high school program. Synagogue C has great adult education. We might be able to collaborate more effectively and efficiently if people were offered a menu of options for their ‘membership’ while each synagogue could maximize their strengths.
4. Community Hebrew High schools have a distinct advantage over synagogue schools: teens coming together, forming a new community, rarely bring along bad history into the new environment. Remember when you were so glad to shed your high school identity when you got to college? When designing effective educational programs, would you create a model where the same students remain together, in the same class, year after year, from childhood up to puberty? NO? Then of COURSE there’s got to be a better model out there! Teens coming together in a community school experience new faces, fresh starts, innovative curricular choices, and a whole new social network. The rest of the work is creating compelling content.
5. This references #4. In a few short years, community Hebrew high schools have been closing down in record numbers. This is due to a myriad of factors, most of which I’ve blogged about. The last I heard, the North American Association of Community and Congregational Schools (yes, NAACCHHS–pronounced ‘nachas’ and in Yiddish/Hebrew means pride…generally in one’s children) was not able to sustain itself from membership dues from schools.