Why is American Jewish Education in Crisis?

Why is American Jewish Education in Crisis?

Jewish people are known for being smart and good at business. Yosef Meystel knows that historically, Jews have given a special place to education, considering it the best way for them to transmit their tenets, principles and religious laws from one generation to another. This can be seen in different moments of human history, when Jews instead of placing a high value on physical aspects, decided to cultivate the mind and became some of the most proliferous scholars of all times.

It is not a secret that the largest and most successful companies on earth were founded by Jews. Also, Jews can be spotted in history at the forefront of the most important movements, including civil rights, all kinds of reforms and women’s rights. Their attitude towards education has given them the power to choose what is best for them individually, as a community and even as a country. Education gave them the power to survive difficult circumstances in which they did their best to preserve their heritage, ideals, and lifestyle.

Despite how important is the education for Jews, during the past two decades, in America, this idea has suffered several changes that left it in a very precarious situation. Some believe that this crisis was caused by the popularization of secular education in countries where the largest Jewish populations can be found. Others think that the current issues Jewish education is facing are caused by the lack of funds and synagogue schools to give a proper Jewish education to children. The truth is that there are more to this matter that pushed Jewish education in America to a crisis.

Recent Social Trends

Jewish education has been reshaped by recent social trends such as intermarriage. The massive growth of this phenomenon over the past decades has led to a visible decline in the number of children enrolled in Jewish schools. Only 18% of children coming from intermarriage couples are enrolled in Jewish educational institutions and usually, these children attend to a synagogue only once every week to learn about Jewish traditions and culture.

Another recent trend is related to the fact that many families relate Judaism to family and festivals, instead of focusing on the great emphasis Judaism makes on faith and feelings. These social trends have led Rabbis to ask unexpected questions to the Jewish community related to the freedom of faith seen today in kids that go to synagogues and are also attending a church school.

Demographic Dispersion

Over the past two decades, Jewish children have often moved from one territory to another, this makes it harder for Jewish institutions to give them a proper education. Resources are needed to create Jewish educational institutions in places where Jewish populations were inexistent and are now growing. Places in America like Las Vegas, San Francisco Bay Area or South Florida are facing a crisis because no one could predict that the Jewish populations in these areas would grow as fast as they did and there are not enough institutions to teach Jewish children about their traditions.

The other side to this is that locations in the United States that have great Jewish educational institutions such as most Midwestern cities are losing ground due to the reduction in the size of the Jewish population.

Image courtesy of Ted Eytan at Flickr.com

Women Participation in Education

During the postwar era, most Jewish women used to stay at home and take care of the children. They would deal with carpooling duties and be available for part-time teaching jobs at Jewish institutions as volunteers. This made it possible for Jewish children to receive a great Jewish education inspired by tradition and taught with love and passion.

Nowadays, the labor force participation of Jewish women has grown and in most Jewish families both parents need to work. Jewish women are prone to find full-time jobs where they can ensure a full income to provide for their families. This means fewer volunteers in synagogues and Jewish institutions to teach children about their heritage and principles and more time for children in secular schools taking supplementary activities instead of religious services or education.

Related: What We Now Know About Jewish Education

Secular Model of Education

Regarding the changes suffered by the family structure in America, there are some Jewish families who have chosen day schools for their children were Jewish education is weak or completely absent from their programs. The popularization of secular education has made it virtually impossible for many children to be educated in Jewish values.

Secular education is far away from including any type of religious teachings and values. This prevents children from being close to the Torah ideals and emphasizes in the lack of fun religious education today represents to anybody.

What can Jews do?

Jewish education institutions need to re-evaluate their mission. Rabbis and teachers should advocate for the importance of the transmission of Torah ideals as the basis of their community values and beliefs.

The only way to form great Jewish community leaders is through education. This is why families should take this matter seriously and fight against models that ignore the basis of Judaism and aren’t designed to maximize the potential of Jewish students, condemning the Jewish ancient tradition to death.

* Featured Image courtesy of Sagie at Flickr.com