A Beit Midrash for the Whole Community: Jewish Day Schools as Centers of Adult Jewish Learning
Source: eJewish Philanthropy
At the Schechter School of Long Island, we know that the education we provide our students will enable them to be passionate and literate Jews when they enter adulthood, Jewish exemplars for the next generation. However, a day school does not exist in a vacuum, and the opportunity exists for day schools to be embedded in what Gail Furman calls the “microecology” of their community, where the school is central to “the creation of local community”. In other words, if Jewish communities want to expand their commitment to Jewish learning, the day school can be a central institution in promoting that value community-wide. While we believe that there is an appropriate Jewish day school for every Jewish child, the reality is that many parents will not provide a day school education for their children. However, even if a parent does not choose day school education, that does not mean the doors of learning in the day school should be closed to those parents.
In the midst of our core priorities to provide excellence in K-12 secular and Jewish education, over the past two years, our Schechter made the decision to make adult Jewish learning a central component of our broader mission. Incrementally, we have expanded our adult learning opportunities with four different intimate offerings on different days of the week and times of the day that are free and open to the public. In the morning, we offer Parashat HaShavua classes taught by our own faculty and administration. At lunchtime, we host the Kolot adult study program run by the Jewish Theological Seminary. In the evening, we run a series of shiurim taught by community rabbis from across the denominational spectrum. And on Sundays, we serve as a host site for Sifriyat Pijama B’America, a version of the PJ Library specifically targeting Hebrew-speaking families.
While each of these programs appeals to different audiences, our annual “Night of Jewish Learning” brings hundreds of Jews together with something for everyone. On Saturday night, February 8th, people from across Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens will come to study Torah together, centered around the theme of “Jewish Identity in a Global Society.” Session topics include Shabbat as a mechanism of Jewish identity, the shaping demographics of the Long Island Jewish Community, family dynamics in the Torah, what the Maimonidean book burnings can teach us about religious extremism today, and many others. Participants will have the opportunity to learn with twenty different teachers from across the Jewish spectrum, including two sessions taught by Schechter alumni, one session taught in Hebrew, one session taught in Farsi, and a keynote address by Yossi Prager, the Executive Director of the Avi Chai Foundation, North America.
In making the decision to offer a wide variety of adult learning programs, we found that turning our institution into a community Beit Midrash enhances our school’s mission in four distinct ways. First, adult learners coming into our school serve as role models for lifelong learning for our own students, who witness adults of all ages carving time out of their busy schedules to come and learn Torah. Second, adult Torah study allows alumni and parents of alumni to continue an active engagement with Jewish life at our day school. Third, adult study provides an opportunity for our school to offer a value-added experience for adults who may or may not have attended day school or sent their children to day school. Finally, adult study helps our school establish a niche within the Long Island Jewish Community as a place where adults can receive a variety of high-quality adult learning opportunities that complement the mission of our partner institutions.
Read more at eJewish Philanthropy.