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Hebrew school enrollment across US down by nearly half since 2006, report says



(JTA) — Living in Brooklyn, surrounded by synagogues and Jewish schools, Rachel Weinstein White and her husband hoped to find a place where their children could receive a Jewish education for a few hours each week.

But they knew they didn’t want to enroll at a traditional Hebrew school associated with a local synagogue. For one thing, White wasn’t interested at the time in participating in prayer services, the main offering of most congregations. Plus, her husband is Black and not Jewish, and they were not sure how well he or their children would be welcomed.

So about eight years ago, she started her own program together with a few families, setting up a cooperative and hiring a teacher in an early version of the “learning pods” that would become a pandemic fad.

“It was just this incredible, magical year,” White said. “So many people started hearing about our little class and asked to join that it became necessary to create a second class. … It just kind of grew organically from there.”

Today the school, Fig Tree, enrolls about 350 children across three locations and plans are underway to expand further. In hour-long classes on Sundays and weekday afternoons, children learn about Jewish holidays and history, engage in art and creative play, explore their local Jewish communities and learn basic Hebrew, in a program that culminates in a b’nai mitzvah year. It overlaps significantly with traditional Hebrew schools, but outside the usual setting — a synagogue classroom — that has become a cultural shorthand among American Jews for rote, uninspiring Jewish education. 

That dynamic may be why Fig Tree is an outlier in a stark trend revealed in a new report: Enrollment in supplemental Jewish schools — those that students attend in addition to regular schooling in public or secular private schools — is down by nearly half over the last 15 years. 

Even as the estimated number of Jewish children in the United States rose by 17% between 2000 and 2020, enrollment in Hebrew schools fell by at least 45% between 2006 and 2020, according to the report by the Jewish Education Project, a nonprofit that promotes educational innovation and supports Jewish educators in a wide array of settings. 

The report identifies pockets of growth, mostly in the small number of programs like Fig Tree that operate outside of or adjacent to synagogues, and in schools operated by the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement. But overall, according to the report, just 141,000 children attend supplemental Jewish schools in the United States and Canada, down from more than 230,000 in 2006 and 280,000 in 1987.

Some of the decline in Hebrew school enrollment is countered by increasing enrollment in Jewish day schools, where students study Jewish topics for at least part of every day. The number of U.S. children attending Jewish day schools has risen by roughly the same amount, 90,000, that Hebrew school enrollment has fallen since 2006, according to the report, though a significant portion of the increase stems from population growth in Orthodox communities, where the vast majority of students attend day schools.

Miriam Heller Stern, a professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion who was tapped to help design the study, said the results suggest that, as with many aspects of religious life today, Hebrew school enrollment cannot be counted on as an act of obligation or tradition.

“There’s this idea that parents send their kids to Hebrew school because they went to Hebrew school and that’s a rite of passage in North America, but that may be a myth,” she said. “People don’t want to push their kids to have to do the same thing they did, necessarily, anymore.”

The report speculates about what has fueled the enrollment decline — from demographic changes to shifts in how American Jews think about countering antisemitism to increased access to Jewish learning online — and also about what has allowed some schools to thrive. It notes that all of the supplemental schools that responded to its census said their schools help children feel connected to the Jewish people.

“We believe that many factors have led to the decline in enrollment of students in supplemental schools in the last decade,” said David Bryfman, the Jewish Education Project’s CEO. “However, it’s also a myth that all supplemental schools don’t work.”

The group is planning a series of online sessions with some of the dozens of researchers and practitioners involved in the report, with one goal the sharing of success stories identified by the survey. Of the six identified in the report, a common theme is urging experiential, community-based learning. Some of the promising models explicitly position themselves as infusing Jewish content into child care, filling a pressing need for American families.

Still, it may be hard to counter the demographic realities of contemporary American Jews: Just a third of U.S. Jews in a 2020 survey said someone in their household was a member of a synagogue. That was the case even for the majority of non-Orthodox Jews who said they identified with a particular denomination, a marker of traditional engagement. 

The waning of synagogue affiliation is borne out in the Jewish Education Project’s report, which found that more than 700 supplemental schools shuttered between 2006 and 2020 — most outright, though as many as 200 have survived in a new form after merging.

Temple Solel, a small Reform congregation in Fort Mill, South Carolina, shut down its Hebrew school in recent years. The volunteer-run program had up to eight students at a time, according to Russ Cobe, a lay leader.

“We sort of hit a point where we weren’t able to sustain it,” Cobe said. “We only had a couple of people teaching and students from a wide range of ages and they wouldn’t show up every week. Also, our wheelhouse seems to be retirement age and above. We don’t have a lot of young families.”

Hebrew school mergers offer one possible approach to countering the enrollment decline. Two synagogues, one Reform and one Conservative, located half a mile apart in Oak Park, Michigan, established a joint school about seven years ago and called it Yachad, which means “together” in Hebrew.

“One day a week we meet at the Conservative congregation and one day a week we meet at the Reform congregation, so we are keeping our kids involved in both,” said Gail Greenberg, Yachad’s director. “My goal is to make it at the highest common denominator. For example, all of our food is kosher so anyone who wants to eat here can.”

The arrangement appears to be working. Last year, about 90 students were enrolled, and this year, enrollment is at 128, including 26 new kindergarteners, with even larger numbers expected in the future. 

Another set of programs has grown dramatically in recent years: those affiliated with the Chabad movement, which tend to operate even when small and cost less than synagogue programs. Since 2006, the study says Chabad’s market share in terms of enrollment has grown from 4% to 10%, and in terms of the number of schools from 13% to 21%.

Those figures might represent an undercount, according to Zalman Loewenthal, director of CKids, the Chabad network of children’s programs. While the study says there are some 300 Chabad programs in the United States, Loewenthal said he is aware of at least 500 and perhaps as many as 600 — a number driven up in the last decade amid a push by Chabad to launch more Hebrew schools. His count is based on the number of customers purchasing the curriculum offered by his organization, which is also new in the last decade and in his view has contributed to improved quality among Chabad Hebrew schools.

In general, non-traditional approaches to Jewish education may be attractive at a time when American families have packed schedules and competing needs, according to Stern.

“People want to be able to have bite-sized pieces just like you sign up for a six-weeks art class, they might want a six-weeks Jewish class,” she said. “In this atmosphere, some communities are finding ways to be more modular and more flexible, and meet people’s needs in different ways.” 

Stern also said, referring to six programs highlighted in the study as success stories, that the future calls for programs to offer an “immersive” experience, meaning that children become part of a community.

“They are getting something beyond just knowledge,” Stern said. “They’re also getting connection and belonging, which provides the foundation for something bigger in their lives.”

Stern said she thought the report pointed to gaps in the way American Jewish communities allocate their resources. 

“Supplementary education really was abandoned as a communal priority,” she said. “Individual communities had to find ways to fund it on their own. And I think that is part of why we’re seeing a decline.”

Bryfman said he’s optimistic, both about the power of supplemental schools and the potential for them to generate new support from Jewish donors.

The Jewish Education Project had sought outside funding to pay for its study and failed, he said. But now that the numbers are clear, he is beginning to see interest from philanthropies.

“I don’t want to count the dollars before they’re granted,” Bryfman said. “But the study is already beginning to have the desired effect of bringing more resources to the field.”

Fig Tree isn’t set up to benefit in a possible future of increased charitable investments in Jewish education. That’s because the school is set up as a business — an expression of confidence in its growth and to insulate itself from the vagaries of philanthropy.

“It’s a very unusual model for the Jewish education and I would argue a self-sustaining one,” White said. “We don’t have to rely on fundraising… and we’re not beholden to some of the other requirements that a nonprofit would necessitate, which allows us to be nimble.”

The post Hebrew school enrollment across US down by nearly half since 2006, report says appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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