Since its creation in 1873, the Reform Movement in North America has committed itself to Jewish education and defined as one of its primary goals providing assistance to synagogue religious schools. Reform Jewish education, important then, has become even more important today.
For much of the last century, our religious schools have been the central activity of our synagogues. The number of people who enter the synagogue because of the school far exceeds the number who enter for any other purpose. More people join the synagogue because of religious schools than they do for any other reason. More money is spent on our religious schools than on any other synagogue program. Our schools are the best opportunity to develop lasting relationships between members and synagogue.
Our educators and rabbis, working under difficult conditions, have frequently succeeded in creating schools that provide supportive community and spiritual connectedness; schools that teach our children both to do Jewish and to know Jewish things; schools where learning by children is woven into the fabric of synagogue life.
Despite these successful educational models, many of our schools have real problems: limited instruction time, a shortage of teachers, sporadic attendance. Many of our synagogue leaders have removed themselves from involvement in the religious school. It is no surprise that the religious school, so critical to synagogue life, is often perceived to be a failure.
Religious schools cannot succeed on their own; they need the active participation of parents and the commitment of the entire synagogue. We must mobilize ourselves for religious education and chart a stable course toward Torah for our schools that are adrift.
Therefore, the UAHC has joined in partnership with the National Association of Temple Educators and the education faculty of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion to create a new core Judaic and Hebrew curriculum (Chai Curriculum) for Reform religious schools. It will provide texts, lesson plans, and teaching materials for grades 2 to 7, including a full course in Hebrew language. It will engage parents through a minimum of three family and three parent education sessions for each grade. The Chai Curriculum and accompanying handbook materials provide the foundation for all synagogue members to become involved in their religious schools, in weaving lives of Torah, and enabling parents, lay leaders, teachers, and children to be a congregation of learners.
THEREFORE , the Union of American Hebrew Congregations resolves to:
- Encourage synagogues to invest in and nurture their religious schools to make the transmission of Torah to their children their highest priority, and empower parents to reclaim their traditional role as Jewish mentors to their children;
- Urge congregations to adopt the new Chai Curriculum for grades 2 to 7, including implementing a full course in Hebrew language;
- Urge congregations to schedule a minimum of three parent and three parent-child educational opportunities in the synagogue each year;
- Assist parents in participating in, learning, and modeling Jewish living at home and actively engaging in their children's religious learning in the synagogue;
- Work with lay leaders to adopt the UAHC handbooks designed for both temple Boards and Education Committees that will help them expand their role in providing oversight of religious school education and to involve themselves more intensively in the realm of education;
- Partner with synagogues and Education Committees in providing critical teacher education: Enhancing teacher training through on-line UAHC courses; conducting teacher-training events in every region and at our camps; and providing video training for new teachers;
- Encourage congregations to train teachers from the rich pool of committed and passionate lay leaders; and to offer religious school training opportunities for high school and college students; and
- Call upon our high school and college students to engage in training that will enhance their own knowledge of, and passion for, Judaism and will develop their ability to impart this knowledge to younger students.