I hated Hebrew School. I did well (it was expected) and I obviously learned a few things, but I hated it. Back in the day, my suburban shul was so filled with kids that we ran two 90-minute shifts a day, four days a week, and two two-hour time slots on Sundays. Then there was Junior Congregation each week on Saturday morning.
Our teachers were mostly European Jews who had survived the war, a few expatriate Israelis and a smattering of American-trained educators, and they had substantial teaching loads. The principals were interesting characters as well - gentle and wise Rabbi Stampfer, diminutive Mr. Markowitz who was once tied to a tree by twin eight-year-olds who were bigger than he was, dour Mr. Cohen who showed an auditorium-full of elementary school students how to bow during Aleinu by turning his back and mooning us.
No matter the curriculum, the classroom always seemed the same: drilling on conjugation, reading aloud from a text, being harangued from the front of the room. Anyone who couldn't fit the mould was isolated - if they were good, they got a workbook in the corner; if they were bad, they got thrown out more often than a third-string catcher trying to steal second.
I don't envy today's Jewish educators. Even though everyone my age I know also hated Hebrew School, they want their kids and grandkids to know what they know. But the men and women who devote serious parts of their lives to the endeavor are often expected to use classroom models that date back to the 1930s. They have fewer hours to present more subject matter. They cannot offer teachers enough hours at high enough compensation to expect more than time they can spare for classroom activities. And they have correctly learned to teach the child, not the material, which means accommodating various learning styles.
Fortunately, we have some devoted members of this congregation who have tried to make the best of the resources we have given to our Director of Education and Youth. I am enormously grateful to them. Unfortunately, the calls we hear for innovation, training and diverse approaches are not matched by necessary resources to accomplish those goals.
There is no task more important than educating our children. It is no wonder that we focus so keenly on how well we are doing, often measuring the whole by the individual. I admire our teachers, our Youth and Religious School Committee members and, especially, our educator, Scott Littky.
I talk with our students. They like coming here. And, with few exceptions, they are learning. They are not learning as much as I would like them to learn, but neither did I.
For whatever reason, Scott's contributions to our exceptional staff do not always receive the attention they deserve. So I have dedicated this column to him - the member of our staff tasked with the toughest of assignments who seems to receive the least appreciation. We know what you do, and we are grateful.