For those who wish to raise children in the Jewish faith, a Jewish education can be a great tool for learning more about their heritage. Of course, it can be difficult to present it to young children in a way that keeps them interested and engaged.
Rabbi Simcha Dessler, educational director of the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland in Cleveland Heights; Rabbi Josh Foster of the B’nai Jeshurun Congregation in Pepper Pike; and Karyn Hartstone, director of the early years program at Fuchs Mizrachi School in Beachwood, have their own way of introducing children to Jewish studies.
The Cleveland Hebrew Academy welcomes children from early childhood through high school, ages 2 to 17.
“Children in the academy’s early years division are introduced to the beauty of our heritage through history, song and art,” Dessler said. “Even among the youngest, the weekly parsha and Jewish holidays are a focal point in providing children with an appreciation of their Jewish heritage. Reading books to children, reciting nursery rhymes, modeling language use, and experimenting with finger play improve and expand language and vocabulary skills.
Hartstone said their youngest children engage in experiences that encourage bonding.
“Their learning takes place in practical centers suitable for development,” said Hartstone. “So we seek to provide children with opportunities to grow in physical, social, emotional and academic development. They learn Jewish things by doing Jewish things. We’re not just talking about what we’re going to do on Shabbat at home. In fact, we do Shabbat at school. We sing songs, pretend to light candles, do Kiddush with them, and eat a special Shabbat snack.
Foster said that B’nai Jeshurun’s program is also about creating experiences, especially during the holidays. They have special programs for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and other holidays.
On Sukkot, for example, children have the opportunity at dinner to shake off the lulav and etrog, as well as learn the associated blessings.
“Typically, we’ll have a Sukkah dinner for families with young children,” Foster said. “We will also have some sort of activity, whether it’s making decorations to put in our Sukkah or building your own edible Sukkah. Something that will inspire students to learn a little more about the holidays.
Hartstone said Fuchs Mizrachi plans his program around the interests of his children, as well as the cycle of the Jewish holiday and Torah.
“It is an emerging program that adapts to children’s understanding and interest,” Hartstone said. “If they are busy exploring the properties of water and we are teaching the story of Noah and the ark, then we plan arts activities and science experiments with that in mind. So we bring it to their level so that they can make sense of other experiences in their lives. It makes sense to them because they know about water, and now they can understand a little bit about what a flood is because they are actually playing with water.
Dessler said knowledge of faith and culture promotes an appreciation of Jewish heritage and the ability to pass it on from generation to generation.
“Since the founding of Judaism, Jewish education has been uniquely positioned to educate children, from the youngest to the oldest,” Dessler said. “And its values and its program can be absorbed by all Jews at all ages. Judaism, accessible to all, has something rewarding and overwhelming for everyone. Since the establishment of the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland in 1943, day school education has gained traction across the broad spectrum of Judaism and generations of children have been and continue to be the recipients of the gift. of Jewish education.