Source: HaYidion, Summer 2014
The Einstein School in Quito, Ecuador, offers a unique model of a thriving Jewish school in a predominantly Catholic country with a small Jewish community. What characterizes our school is not so much its size (700 students) as its interest in offering an educational model based on cutting-edge methodology and research at the service of the larger Quito community. Our aim has been to achieve a quality secular education based on a set of values revolving around freedom, the quest for truth, respect for others, justice and peace, i.e., values closely aligned with those that Judaism has contributed to humanity.
Given the small number of Jews in Ecuador (currently about 600), the Einstein School, since its beginning, opened its doors to non-Jews, who have always accounted for a large majority (currently about 90%) of the student population. Today our classrooms are filled with students who are Jews, Catholics, Protestants, evangelicals, Baha’is and agnostics, within a climate of total respect and mutual enrichment. This means that, from the time they are very young, students are able to develop an open-minded attitude towards the ideas and contributions of others.
All students have classes in Jewish culture from preschool through the twelfth grade. Using a non-religious approach, the subject content ranges from the history of the Jewish people, to traditions and celebrations, to current affairs in the Middle East. This helps Jewish students build their identity and non-Jewish students to understand the underpinnings of Judaic values in Western culture.
All students also have obligatory classes in Hebrew as a third language from preschool through third grade, after which they may opt to continue with Hebrew or to take French, thus giving them freedom to choose as a function of personal aptitudes and individual interests. Every year there are several non-Jewish students that choose Hebrew.
The international mentality is reinforced through a school calendar that celebrates all of the Jewish holidays (Luach Hashaná Haivri) and commemorates national holidays as well.
It is also worthwhile to note that, since we offer secular education, weekly religious instruction takes place through the Talmud Tora, under the supervision of the rabbi at the Jewish community center and synagogue complex, which is located just five blocks away from our school. It is there that our Jewish students also have access to activities and youth movements such as HaNoar HaTzioni.
With 40 years of experience, we receive visits from other small Latin American communities on a regular basis to study the way to teach Jewish culture to non-Jews within the framework of values education and an approach that is meaningful for families from all faiths. The impact of this effort on all of our students is evident whether they remain in Ecuador or go abroad. They are proof that a curriculum offering academic excellence and values education inspired by Jewish thought, history and culture can work very effectively for a heterogeneous population.
Read the entire article in HaYidion.