May 12, 2023
You might have seen a headline in the news recently: Hebrew School Enrollment in U.S. Drops Sharply. It’s true. In the recent census completed by the Jewish Education Project, the research indicates that there are 45% less children enrolled in supplemental Jewish education settings since the last data point in 2008. Those are worrisome findings. The Jewish Education Project and many other national Jewish organizations are working hard to create resources and support for communities so that they can grow their numbers and rethink the ways in which they meet the needs of the Jewish community. There’s a lot of fear out there on the national scene.
But that’s not our story here at Temple Ohabei Shalom. The enrollment at ARS, our religious school program, has been growing steadily and increased 25% in this past year alone, taking us from 90 students last year to 120 this year (in grades K-7; we additionally have 10 8th graders and 4 students in our high school Confirmation class). In addition, our incredible preschool TCEE is almost fully enrolled for the 2023-2024 year and HomeBASE, our afterschool childcare program for students in grades K-5 only has a few available spaces for next year. We are making educational magic happen for hundreds of families.
But why is our story so different here at TOS? Why is it that we are bucking the national trend?
Here are a few of our reasons:
1. We put families first. We believe that if we are doing our jobs right, we are making life easier for families. At ARS and HomeBASE, we pick children up from their schools and walk them over to TOS so that busy parents don’t need to leave work in the middle of the day. We know that our families have a lot going on, and we want to make Jewish life work for them – not to make them work for Jewish life. We plan Tot Shabbat to happen right after TCEE pickup so that families can seamlessly transition their kids; and as you all know Shabbat B’yachad is designed with families’ needs in mind, allowing everyone to come and go when it works for them.
2. We help each child and family find their own unique path to a meaningful Jewish life – and we are not proscriptive about how others find meaning. As I say all the time: if you want to be part of our Jewish community, you ARE part of our Jewish community – no matter where you come from and what background you have. We believe that the diversity of our modern world only enhances our Jewish lives.
3. We believe Jewish life must be FUN. To engage students and parents, we focus on easy pathways to Jewish life. ARS is filled with opportunities for special things – even if that’s just getting a lollipop for working hard at your Hebrew practice. Our year is highlighted by unique programs, like our Purim mishloach manot gift exchange, our Passover chocolate seder, and our annual shul-ins where students (and sometimes parents) get to sleep on the bima and take a trip to the “broccoli factory.” We want our kids to tell their friends that they have fun at Hebrew school!
4. And most relevant for this, Teacher Appreciation Week: we understand the value of a role model, and we recruit and retain high-quality, committed, loving and caring teachers. Our ARS team of teachers come back year after year because they love what they do, but also because we offer high-quality professional development, we pay them well, and we value them as people. Over the past few years I’ve been in a network with other Boston-area Education Directors, and what I’ve discovered is that ARS has some of the highest teacher retention rates of any of the programs in the area. I work very hard to keep that statistic active, and I am so grateful to our teachers for continuing to come back year after year to make ARS so magical with their artistic prowess, interactive dramatic activities, and musical aptitude. I’m also thankful to you, our parents and our community, for helping to make TOS such a wonderful place to work and belong.
It’s a pretty incredible thing to be moving in a positive direction when the news from the rest of the Jewish community is so drastically different. We truly are a kehillah kedoshah, a holy community.
Amy Deutsch, Ansin Religious School Director