The Board is charged with various responsibilities. One that affects so many congregants and their families is the education of our youth. Some recent trends bear noting: Over the years we have seen an increase in the number of our members’ children attending Jewish day schools and consequently fewer children have been attending the Temple religious school. Parents tell us that their children are engaged in significant after school extracurricular activities and that the challenge to schedule all the activities is difficult for full time working parents. We have seen that the important religious milestone of becoming bar or bat mitzvah has taken on different meanings and the traditional celebration among the community of family and friends in synagogue is not what it was a generation ago.
We are aware of trends and we are anticipating trends.
In January, 2015, the Holy Blossom Temple Youth Education Task Force was struck. Dr. Michelle Lynn-Sachs, a highly respected Reform Jewish educator known for her work with other URJ member congregations across the U.S. and Canada, and a former Director of Education at Holy Blossom Temple, was consulted. Together with the Holy Blossom Leadership Team headed by Judy Winberg, Chair, Department of Education, Debbie Spiegel, Director of Education, Lisa Isen Baumal, Director of Youth Engagement, and Rabbi Jordan Helfman, eleven Temple members met over the past six months and have now prepared a formal report that will be presented to the Board in September.
We are excited at some of the new initiatives that will be offered this coming year in the HBT Youth Education Centre including the hiring of new and dynamic teachers, a team teaching approach for our youngest students, a ‘concierge’ model in which individual family meetings for all new students will be offered by the Debbie Spiegel or Rabbi Helfman, enhanced Shabbat programming for families and engaging programs and activities for youth, to include travel, social action and leadership opportunities.
In the meantime I want to share with you highlights from Dr. Lynn-Sachs’ final report:
…the leadership demonstrated by Judy Winberg, the commitment and enthusiasm of the Task Force members, and the open-mindedness, creativity, and work ethic of the professional leadership were at the highest levels, and they deserve the congregation’s gratitude and recognition.”
… the Task Force engaged in a five stage process to determine the future direction of youth education at Holy Blossom Temple. Their work was creative, respectful, forward thinking, and deliberate.”
… the Task Force spent time:
- laying the groundwork by learning about the history of youth education at Holy Blossom, and getting up to speed on its current state;
- looking inward and identifying the things that were enduring and precious in HBT’s education program that Task Force members wanted to be sure were preserved;
- looking outward to inspiring and compelling education programs in congregations and communities around North America;
- looking forward and envisioning the future of youth education at Holy Blossom;
- And finally, “moving forward” by determining the four most important and promising strategic directions and identifying “next steps” that are even bolder in scope and impact.
…The creativity and willingness of the professional staff to take on this challenge should be celebrated; it’s not always the case in projects like this one, and they have truly risen to the task.
…Finally, the Task Force recognized opportunities to support or strengthen youth education that will require work and advocacy beyond just the education department, and they have made recommendations accordingly.”
We all want the best possible education for the next generation of Reform Jews, and those to follow. Jewish continuity is a fundamental concern of our congregation. We also know that developing and maintaining the best possible education system is the key to our success as a Temple. Over the months I have watched carefully and with increasing optimism, the bold, rooted work which the Task Force has undertaken. I believe and deeply hope that we may indeed achieve the very courageous goals we have set for ourselves.
The members of the Youth Education Task Force included: Daniel Abramson, Dylan Aster, Sheryl Brodey, Ariel Dalfen, Meredith Englander, Aaron Gordon, Denise Gordon, Gillian Helfield, Jennie Howard, Melissay Hylton, Neil Jonatan, Eric Klein, and Gail Silver. On behalf of our entire community, I thank the Task Force participants for their energy, creativity and commitment to our future.
We will be sharing more information about the work of the Task Force and our Congregation’s next steps in the weeks to come.
Holy Blossom: Life can blossom here.
Joan Garson, President