For the vast majority of American Jews, the culminating event of their Jewish education comes at the young age of 13 at their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Most of these young teens simply choose not to continue their Jewish studies. This creates 2 dilemmas for the preservation of Jewish culture:
- The ever fading loss of cultural identity through lack of knowledge of Jewish history, culture and religion; and
- The increasing assimilation of American Jewish youth who do not remain involved in organized Jewish educational programming.
Fortunately, in Madison, the Jewish community has come together with 2 solutions to this problem. First, since 1975, the Jewish Federation of Madison has sponsored a Midrasha, which is a community wide after school Jewish education program for 8th-12th grade students. Students may take Hebrew language classes and earn credit for those studies from their high schools. They also take Jewish religion, culture and history classes. For many students, the opportunity to spend an hour on Sunday afternoon, and a few hours on Wednesday evening with other Jewish students serves to strengthen their cultural bonds with their people.
The second solution is that through a generous donation, qualified Midrasha graduates can receive a $2,000 incentive award to continue their Jewish studies after they graduate. These funds can be used in a flexible manner to go to a Jewish conference, study Hebrew, or attend school in Israel.
Earlier this week, my wife and I joined many other parents and attended this year’s Midrasha graduation ceremony, as our son was in the graduating class of 17 students. Fourteen of these graduates qualified for incentive awards to continue their Jewish education.
The smiles on these young adults’ faces demonstrate the bonds which they successfully achieved by spending years of study together. In fact, a few of these graduates gave talks elaborating on how beneficial Midrasha has been for them, helping them understand their own religion and culture, and therefore their place in our community and the larger world. Hopefully, some of these students will remain friends long into the future. But even if they do not, the value they received by learning from their teachers and from each other will remain with them for the rest of their lives.
For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact him by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.