Succeeding at Jewish Education: How One Synagogue Made it Work

Succeeding at Jewish Education: How One Synagogue Made it Work

Succeeding at Jewish Education: How One Synagogue Made it Work

Succeeding at Jewish Education: How One Synagogue Made it Work


Joseph Reimer uses his experience and talent as an ethnographer to bring to life the drama of one synagogue's struggle to meet this challenge and make Jewish education work. Reimer spent more than two years as an observer within the synagogue, studying the afternoon religious education programs for children, families, and adults. As a result of his classroom observations, and his conversations with rabbis, teachers, and parents, Reimer comes away with important insights into what makes Jewish education succeed.


By Jonathan Woocher

American Jews have a love-hate relationship with Jewish education.

Though precise figures are difficult to come by, the best estimates are that American Jews today spend more than $1.5 billion annually to maintain an educational system that includes nearly three thousand schools and thousands more educational programs held in a wide variety of institutional settings. This system involves close to fifty thousand teachers of all sorts and more than a million Jews who study regularly -- almost half of them young people between the ages of three and eighteen. It is an impressive enterprise, especially when one considers that it is entirely voluntary. in particular, the commitment of American Jews to educate their children in the Jewish tradition appears to persist at a remarkable level: nearly three-quarters of all Jewish youth today will receive some Jewish education by the time they reach adulthood, a figure that has remained nearly constant for decades.

The recent wave of anxiety concerning the prospects of "Jewish continuity" in America has only heightened the hopes invested in Jewish education. For many active Jews, the proposition that Jewish education is the best, and perhaps the only, guarantor of Jewish survival in the face of assimilation has become axiomatic. the words of the blueribbon Commission on Jewish Education in North America in its 1991 report, A Time to Act, express a position heard today almost everywhere: "The responsibility for developing Jewish identity and instilling a commitment to Judaism rests primarily with education."

Happily, these are not idle hopes. Almost without exception, sociological studies of Jewish identity demon-

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