Temple Chai Religious Education Not Just for Kids

Article excerpt

Byline: Submitted by Peggy Ann Buchman, Temple Chai Submitted by Peggy Ann Buchman, Temple Chai

Laura Perpinyal begins her third year as director of congregational Learning at Temple Chai, a Reform Jewish Congregation in Long Grove.

Perpinyal believes that she and the temple's clergy, senior Rabbi Stephen Hart, Associate Rabbi Barry Cohen and Cantor Scott Simon, together with the temple's staff and teachers, are partners with the temple's congregants in implementing lifelong Jewish learning.

"My vision of Jewish education is learning, living and leading," she said. "At Temple Chai, we are all learners. We create a passion for living a Jewish life and empower our learners to develop a personal connection to Judaism, God, Israel and Jewish people-hood."

Perpinyal said that by exploring diverse Jewish texts, "we touch the minds, hearts, and souls of our congregation."

"Temple Chai is not a 'top-down' temple," said Perpinyal. "Rather, we practice 'relational Judaism,' crafting educational programs for religious and Hebrew school students and adults that meet their needs and desires. My door is always open for suggestions from our members, including our students," she said. "I speak with our congregants about our programs almost every day."

Perpinyal has developed goals and objectives for each religious school class from kindergarten through 12th grade. Students learn lessons that are important in their everyday lives, she said.

For example, said Perpinyal, some highlights include kindergarten through second-grade students studying the celebration of Jewish holidays as a family and how to do good deeds. A goal for the third grade is to discuss the ethical values of the stories in the Torah and how those values can apply each day.

The fourth grade learns about life cycle and family experiences, including a study of loss and mourning. Seventh-graders, among other things, learn that "an obligation of Judaism is to develop the leadership skills to make a positive impact on the community."

Temple Chai's eighth- to 12th-grade religious school students meet students from Beth Judah, a conservative congregation, and Beth Am, a Reform temple, to create a community high school across denominational lines.

The class of more than 150 students has such diverse goals as learning about the history and culture of Israel and discussing the joys and problems of being a teenager in the suburbs.

"We discuss happiness for teenagers," said Perpinyal. Guest speakers frequently address this class.

Perpinyal has introduced parent and family participation in each religious school class. Through this program, parents and family members have the opportunity to "engage in active discussions with their children on matters that relate to the goals of the class," she said.

Perpinyal recognizes that families are busy with public school activities and may not have time to discuss matters that are the focus of the temple's religious school classes. By allowing time during religious school classes for parents to participate, Temple Chai has "empowered parents to discuss the classes' goals with their children at the temple," she said. "I hope that these discussions continue during the week."

For example, said Perpinyal, the fifth grade, for family education, discusses the relevance of Holocaust Memorial Day and how to use the lessons of the Holocaust to continually fight against injustice in the world. …