Supplementary Jewish Education: What Can Be Done

Reference: The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life

Contact, the quarterly journal of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, Autumn 2007 issue


by Eli Valley

There is arguably no venue of Jewish education that has received greater condemnation and scorn than afternoon schools. To hear many community leaders tell it, Hebrew schools are both cause and symptom of seemingly ubiquitous declines in levels of Jewish affiliation.

Much of the criticism is well-founded. It is hard to find adult Jews who speak glowingly of past experiences in afternoon schools. Numerous factors have contributed to this reputation. The venues — often synagogues — are stultifying. The curricula are ossified. The educators are working part-time. The time of day — in the afternoon or on Sundays — is not especially conducive to learning indoors. Parents, for their part, do not show the same investment in their children’s educational progress as they show in non-Jewish educational settings.

But the fact remains that for the majority of American Jews, afternoon schools are and will continue to be the preferred venue of Jewish education. Instead of declaring the demise of Hebrew schools, the community should recommit itself to making afternoon schools work. The articles in this issue of CONTACT examine ways in which afternoon schools can take the initiative in creating innovative, dynamic and rewarding Jewish educational experiences. Taken together, they offer a picture of supplementary education that can help form the cornerstone of a revivified Jewish life.


  • Rethinking Supplementary Education, by Michael H. Steinhardt
  • Something Wondrous! PELIE: The Partnership for Effective Learning & Innovative Education, by Rabbi Nathan Laufer
  • Kesher, by Lauren Applebaum and  Rafi Esterson
  • Teaching in a Religious School as a Full-Time Job, by Saul Kaiserman
  • Chai: A Living, Learning Community, by Rabbi Daniel Freelander and Rabbi Jan Katzew
  • Righting the Rite of Bar Mitzvah, by Jacob Schreiber
  • Tribeca Hebrew, by Heather Brown
  • Jewish Family Education in Today’s Synagogues, by Rabbi Jeffrey Schein
  • Prozdor, by Margie Tarmy Berkowitz
  • Authentic Jewish Education, by Bill Robinson

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