Judaism 101: Is Sunday morning Hebrew school passé?

Posted on September 1, 2009



Sunday morning Hebrew School? That’s soTwentieth Century!

In a couple of weeks thousands of New YorkJewishchildren in grades K-8 will start the new school year in synagogue Hebrew schools. Some will attend class Sunday mornings, as has been the norm in many Jewish communities, but more and more New York Hebrew schools are eliminating Sunday classes and opting for only weekday after school Hebrew school class schedules.

In Brownstone Brooklyn, for example, Union Temple has the only Hebrew school that meets exclusively on Sunday mornings. At Brooklyn Heights Synagogue the lower grades have a choice of either Thursday afternoon or Sunday morning and middle grades meet exclusively on weekday late afternoons. The reverse is the case at Park Slope Jewish Center (PSJC) where the middle grades meet on Sunday mornings while the lower grades meet on weekdays after school. Kane Street Synagogue, Congregation Beth Elohim, and Kolot chayeinu have eliminated Sunday morning classes entirely: all Hebrew school classes at these congregations meet on weekdays after school. The Orthodox congregations Bnai Jacob and Bnai Avraham do not have K-8 Hebrew schools, because their children are expected to attend Jewish day schools. The trend away from Sunday morning classes is even more pronounced in Manhattan Hebrew schools.

One of the reasons for this shift is to increase student attendance at Shabbat morning synagogue services. Many parents and kids feel that when children are expected to attend services Saturday morning and also attend classes Sunday morning they no longer have a weekend. Hebrew schools face competition for over-programed kids’ time with team sports, individual sports, martial arts, as well as performing and visual arts lessons and recitals; when Hebrew school classes meet one or two afternoons a week there remain two or three afternoons free to schedule those other activities. Moreover when Hebrew school meets on Sunday moorings kids have no night during the week on which they can stay up late and no morning during the week when they can sleep in and enjoy a leisurely Sunday breakfast with parents and siblings.

Hebrew school attendance suffers when the parents do not agree on its value, especially If the parents are divorced. For divorced parents the cost of maintaining two residences can come at the expense of synagogue membership and Hebrew school tuition. Some qualified parents might try to Hebrew homeschool their kids (in an earlier article I mentioned a parent whose child is learning Hebrew with Rosetta Stone software). Even if a divorced couple can afford Hebrew school a child’s migration back and forth between parental homes can impair attendance, though there are cases where divorced parents who are committed to Hebrew school arrange for one parent to drop the child off and the other to pick up and take the child home.  For parents who only see their children on weekends to give up a Sunday morning is asking a lot. However, according to PSJC Hebrew School principal Elisabeth Albert only five out of 70 PSJC Hebrew school families have such concerns. I would like to thank Ms. Albert, her colleagues Ann Landowne of Union Temple and Valerie Lieber of Kane Street Synagogue, as well as parents who prefer to remain anonymous, whose valuable input is reflected in this article. Although the registration deadline has passed at most synagogue Hebrew schools call and ask anyway as some classes in some grades may still have open slots.


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