Cultural Identity

Article excerpt

Byline: Cheryl Chojnacki Daily Herald Correspondent

Would you read a mitzvah or the Mishnah? Eat a Seder or a sukkah? Are the Jewish High Holidays in the month of Tishri or Tevet?

Beginning in September -- which happens to overlap with Tishri, by the way -- Jewish children of the Fox Valley will have the opportunity to learn the cultural details of their heritage at a twice-a-month school in Geneva.

It's the kind of thing that a synagogue typically sets up for its young people, but there is no Jewish house of worship with a Geneva, St. Charles or Batavia address.

In truth, said Fred Margulies, a Geneva businessman and ordained rabbi, there aren't a lot of Jews in the Tri-Cities at all.

"There's sort of a vacuum in Geneva," Margulies said. "There are synagogues in Naperville, Aurora, Elgin and DeKalb. They're all around Geneva, but it's a little bit like a Jewish wilderness here."

What the Tri-Cities does have, however, is Fox Valley Jewish Neighbors, a community social group that observes Shabbat together monthly and hosts Passover seders, Sukkot dinners, and parties for Purim, Hanukkah, and Israeli Independence Day.

A Holocaust commemoration this year drew more than 100 people, most of them non-Jews.

Fox Valley Jewish School, which opened on a trial basis for just two age groups last year, is a project of FVJN. This fall the school will be in full swing for preschoolers through teens.

"It's an attempt to help children learn something about their Jewish identity, culture and values," said Margulies, an FVJN board member. "This is a rich culture, and we feel a responsibility as adults to teach them."

Fox Valley Jewish School isn't like a traditional synagogue school, where students attend two or three days a week to learn Hebrew. But, "if a child is interested and wants to learn Hebrew, we'll work with him," Margulies said.

He sees this project as more of an informal Jewish education program than a school, with classes designed for four age groups two Sundays a month for an hour or two each.

Preschool through kindergarten students will go heavy on stories and crafts, focusing on holidays and the Hebrew alphabet. …