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Hebrew School, it is awesome.

12/01/2022 03:48:51 PM


Sarah Avner, Cantorial Soloist

Shalom Chaverim,

One of the absolute privileges of my work here at CBI is the opportunity to teach a Dalet (6th grade) Hebrew class on Wednesday afternoons. Some of you might remember your own Hebrew school experiences as young children. Some of you might be experiencing this phenomenon through your children, for the first time and some of you might have all of this behind you as your children are now adults but soon it will be time for your grandchildren to join the ranks.

For the past 20 or so years I have had a front row seat to the changes and adaptations our program has experienced. When I first started working here a child would attend two times/week. They could choose from an early or later session on Monday and Wednesdays OR an in the middle time on Tuesday and Thursdays. While I was living in Indiana and then returned to Austin as a stay-at-home mom with younger than Hebrew school age children, there was a big transition to one day/week Hebrew school. As I didn’t witness this firsthand, I won’t misquote the schedule. Since my return to working at CBI in spring of 2010 we have been offering Hebrew school on Wednesday afternoons from 4:30 – 6:30 p.m. The pandemic forced this online for the better part of two years and it has been glorious to be here, in our learning center with those students who attend in person since the start of this school year. Also, a huge shout out to Carly Cera, our Director of Youth Education and Engagement, and Lainey Komerofsky, our Youth Education Engagement and Coordinator, for continuing to offer an online Hebrew learning space for those who need it. Remarkable.

Imagine, if you will, being an 8–12-year-old child at 4:30 p.m. on a weeknight in the middle of your school week. You have been whisked away from school by a dedicated loved one – maybe a babysitter, grandparent, or parent. You get dropped off in our parking lot and your first stop – for many – is pizza on the deck with Lainey. From here, you bring your pizza – and maybe your backpack, band instrument, sweater or jacket, and water bottle – up to your classroom. Over pizza you reconnect with your Jewish friends. You might have seen some of them at Sunday school just a few days before or, like this week, it has been a couple of weeks thanks to the Thanksgiving break.

In my classroom we spend the first 10 minutes reconnecting with conversation and check-ins. Yes, I have a small group of students so two hours is a long time to put our heads down and only review, read, and practice our Hebrew but, the trust, friendship and empathy that grows between us in these 10 minutes is remarkable. Once we have reconnected we jump into the reason for being together. Review the letters covered in weeks gone by and then jump into something new.

At 5:15 we meet in the ‘music room’ on the second floor of our learning center. Thanks to our Director of Technology, Dan Lee, online students are being welcomed in on laptop computers and by 5:20, we are ready to pray. 25-30 minutes where the only thing we ask of our students is that they do the hard work of connecting, in their own way to prayer. This might not seem like a big deal. But remember, these are children. We are smack-dab in the middle of their super busy, sometimes stressful, always moving lives. We cannot snap our fingers and ask them to pray. Instead, we connect to our breath – often with some deep breathing and then, song. Maybe Hinei Mah Tov, kol han’shamah or, this week, Alana Arian’s I Have a Voice featuring the blessing from nisim b’chol yom (morning blessings) “blessed are You, our Creator, who made us in the image of God”.

In this space we move what we have inherited from our ancestors forward. We teach melodies, the rubric of prayer, the why of what we are doing, in a safe, appropriate, child-friendly space. Everyone is encouraged to participate whether in voice, by reading the English translations provided so they know what the Hebrew means, or by continuing with the deep breaths offered at the beginning. Many times, Carly Cera, our Director of Education, will say “this was exactly what my soul needed today. Thank you all so much for participating.”

As I write my blog today my soul is still reeling from the beauty our students brought to t’fillot last evening. We have been singing Elana Jagoda’s Oseh Shalom for a year and a half now. Dan Lee brought it to us when we were meeting online only, and it has become a favorite. Last night, amidst a backdrop of continuously devastating news out of Ukraine, increases in antisemitism here and around the world, protests in Iran and China, Carly, Dan, and I all stopped singing to just take in the prayer from our Hebrew school community. These remarkable young humans, the future of the Jewish people and the world, praying for peace in one voice.

When we finished I thanked them. When your congregation is 3rd through 6th graders you don’t share specifics about the news or the state of the world. You share generalizations: “in a world that is in such desperate need of a prayer for peace you knocked it out of the park tonight. Thank you for bringing your whole selves to this space and for being willing to embrace what these words mean. Surely, something has been made better because we gathered together for these few minutes and filled the world with these words and your voices.”

Fortunately, Hebrew school continues to adapt, change, and grow so it can meet the needs of our students, our greater temple community and the future of the Jewish people. How lucky am I to be here for the journey? To have such remarkable partners in Carly, Lainey, and fellow Hebrew school teachers?

For those of you wondering, after t’fillah we return to our classrooms. The letter review, reading practice continues with games rewarded by candy (at least in my classroom 😉) and by 6:30 p.m. we say l’hitraot – see you again soon.

Fri, April 19 2024 11 Nisan 5784