We call our Education program “Beit Sefer” which literally means “A House of Books,” and in Hebrew is the word for school. I have been reflecting on the language and whether it accurately describes our program.
While like a school there are some discrete knowledge and skills we hope our students will acquire, the meta-goals of our program are affective. We want our students to see Judaism as a lens for living an ethical life, to be knowledgeable and empowered to make choices towards living a Jewish life and engagement in the Jewish community. Additionally, what it means to each of us to provide a Jewish education for our children varies between families. For some of us, it is about building a Jewish identity; for some, it is as much about the literacy, the knowledge, and skills for leading services and learning Torah. For some, it is a cultural and historical connection. For many, it is some combination of these things.
It is these affective meta-goals that set us a huge distance apart from what it means to go to “school.” The measure of our success isn’t how much a student knows, but how that student grows to act and behave in the world as a Jew. Therefore, we create a program that in addition to having some familiar “school” structures also facilitates relationships, memorable experiences, and celebrations, and highlights a Jewish way of learning. We value the experience of the students as much, if not more, than we value the knowledge that student gains from being here. This is why, in addition to formal learning in the classroom, our students spend time singing with the Cantor, making arts and crafts, learning Hebrew language through physical actions, doing Israeli dancing, cooking, communicating with a partner school in Israel, reading with students older or younger than they are, learning in small groups, building relationships with teens working in their classrooms, participating in mitzvah projects, playing games together, and taking time to reflect on what it means to be Jewish.
The next time you are thinking or talking about the Beit Sefer, I invite you to imagine a “Beit Chayim Jehudim,” A House of Jewish Lives,” alongside the idea of “Beit Sefer,” the “House of Books.”