It’s Sunday morning, 9:30 a.m. Roughly 100 sixth and seventh graders from our Makor middle school learning community are sitting in the Beit Midrash at Hebrew College. I stand before them, ask them to close their eyes, lower their heads and answer the following question:
“Raise your hand if your parents are making you come to Makor this morning?”
Roughly two-thirds of the hands shoot into the air. The vast majority of my students indicate they wouldn’t be here if it were solely their decision.
“OK. Next question. How many of you are proud to be Jewish? For how many of you is it important and meaningful to be Jewish?”
Almost every hand in the room shoots up. These students are proud to be Jewish. According to them, being Jewish is an important part of their lives.
So what do I learn from this? For me, the most interesting and alarming takeaway is that our students, who proudly identify as Jewish, do not see this time on Sunday morning as a way to reinforce their Jewish identities, infusing new knowledge, meaning and purpose. Jewish education is somehow disconnected from their Jewish identity.
Now, I don’t want to overreact to this. I’m not necessarily surprised to learn that a group of students ages 11-13 can think of more appealing ways to spend their Sunday mornings. Why study Tanakh when you can play soccer, get absorbed in a video game or sleep late on a Sunday? This is particularly true during the weekends when you are up late Saturday night at your friend’s out-of-this-world Bat Mitzvah party. It’s reasonable to expect that middle school students will select leisure over learning every time the choice is offered.
That said, this interaction with my students definitely serves as a call to action –especially as we move through this season of reflection, atonement, and starting fresh.
Our mission at Makor is to empower and connect emerging Jewish teens as learners and leaders. Our students have told us they are proud to be Jewish. Let’s help them discover the connection between Jewish learning and Jewish pride. Let’s help them see how a deeper exploration of Jewish text, Jewish practice and Jewish values can elevate that pride and add value to their lives as they enter their teenage years.
Their Makor experience will not exist in a vacuum. Ultimately their Jewish journey will depend on a variety of factors – their time in their synagogue’s elementary-age Hebrew school; their families’ practice of Judaism at home; Jewish experiences at camp and in other settings; their synagogue’s B’nai Mitzvah program and so on.
But, for the handful of hours that we have with these students each week, my goal, ambitious as it may be, is to completely transform the way our students understand the purpose and potential of Jewish learning. Our team of staff and educators will work so that next year, when I ask that same question on the first day, our students will indicate that they choose to be here with us, that they understand that their time learning with us at Makor will be meaningful and inspirational.
Follow us as we accept that challenge and begin an exciting new year of learning!