Monday, December 24, 2007

Jewish Family Education Comes to YIOP - YIOP Bulletin for January 2008

As an institution that positions itself in the center of the Orthodox community, YIOP has, thank God, attracted a wide array of members from a broad spectrum of the Orthodox community. We offer programs that cater to adults and children, attempting to address their spiritual, educational, and even social needs. But during my tenure at YIOP, our shul and community demographics have shifted. We need to adjust the programming that we offer to mirror those shifts.

Most synagogues, where many of the children attend Hebrew school at the shul, find a great divide between the kids who were required to attend supplementary school and their parents who drop them off at Hebrew school but remain uninvolved in their religious or spiritual growth. To bridge that divide, Federation coordinates and partially funds a program called J.E.F.F. – Jewish Education For Families, under the auspices of the Alliance for Jewish Education (AJE). This program places a professional Jewish family educator on the staffs of area synagogues who creates meaningful Jewish education not for children or parents, but for families as a whole.

YIOP faces different challenges than other non-Orthodox synagogues. YIOP families usually send their children to local day schools, obviating the need for a religious school. Very invested in religious life, our families usually attend davening if not weekly, then at least monthly. That being said, in light of the many pressures Orthodox families face, the need for family programming and education is pressing and very real.

  • With the growing cost of day school education, the day school education that was once taken for granted is no longer a given. A small but growing number of families are opting out of full-time Jewish day school, and our shul must make an effort to help pick up the slack in programming and activities.
  • We are thankful for the growing number of Ba’alei Teshuvah in our community. Yet many families find themselves in the unusual situation of a knowledge gap between children and their parents. Our children, with their full-time education, quickly surpass the Jewish knowledge and ability of their parents, who did not benefit from a formal Jewish education. Clearly, we must provide opportunities and programs to allow families to study Jewish content together, hopefully bridging that knowledge gap and allowing families to grow religiously together.
  • While member families do attend davening fairly regularly, the davening setting isolates different family members rather than bringing them together. The Mechitzah obviously separates between men and women. Children participate in Shabbos groups, and small children attend babysitting. While each component serves an important function in our shul, they often separate families instead of uniting them. For this reason, we see a need to create other opportunities to bring families together in a religious context, through creative programming, additional services and other venues.
  • Finally, with our fast-paced, busy lives, parents spend less time than ever with their children. We are no exception to this rule. Our can – and must be – a venue to help bring families together and give them opportunities for interaction and relationship building in a positive religious atmosphere.

To address all of these needs, I approached the AJE to inquire about the possibility of hiring a Jewish Family Educator at YIOP. Working closely with Lisa Sobel Siegmann, the coordinator of the JEFF program at the AJE, we began the lengthy process of applying to the program, received approval, sought possible coordinators, and are finally ready to begin the program. We would never have reached this stage without the help, advice and support of many individual members including Stine Grand, Dr. Michelle Sider, Dr. Jonathan Frogel and Amy Schlussel, and the generous support of two anonymous donors.

This month we have hired Mrs. Aliza Sosne –a longtime YIOP member – to serve as our Jewish Family Eduator. Aliza, who begins January 2nd, brings a sense of passion and energy to her new position, and I am very excited about the great programming that she will bring to our community.

Hiring a family educator is really uncharted ground for YIOP, but I believe is a crucial step both to enhance the lives of our members and also to ensure our shul’s future. Still, for the JEFF program to truly succeed, it will need your participation. So, take the time and energy to get involved. Help Aliza plan and program. Come with your family – and learn and enjoy. And know that by taking an active role in our new Family Education program, you’ll not only be helping our shul, but you’ll be educating your family, and hopefully growing closer to God and to each-other at the same time.