May 29, 2024
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May 29, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Judaism has survived great challenges over the centuries. Despite historian Arnold Toynbee’s depiction of Judaism as a fossil religion, even he conceded that we have defied all the rules of history. We have not only survived but thrived. The mightiest nations that tried to destroy us are no more, yet we are still here and prospering. The key to our survival is surely Divine Providence. The Talmud (Shabbat 119b) records Resh Lakish in the name of Rabbi Yehudah Nesiyah stating that the Jewish world only exists because of the breath of schoolchildren.

Jewish education has kept us going throughout the ages. It seems so obvious. Without Jewish knowledge there can be no meaningful Jewish life. We need our scholars and teachers, but there is a universal Biblical mandate for all Jews to be lifelong learners. One cannot practice what one does not know or understand. To paraphrase Ahad Ha’am (Asher Ginsberg, poet, philosopher, 1856-1927), who wrote, “More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews,” more than Jews have continuously studied Torah, the study of Torah has guaranteed the continuity of the Jews.

Ideally, children should devote as many hours as possible through high school to gain mastery of Jewish texts and a basic understanding of Jewish thought, values and practice. As an adult, we expect some textual study to continue. This is an expectation for all, not just for rabbis and scholars. We are fortunate that in our community there are so many schools, organizations, youth groups and synagogues providing this education on every level.

Unfortunately, despite the wealth of educational resources, we find many families in the Jewish community who do not engage in serious, meaningful Jewish study. This is not a new phenomenon; it happens in every generation in every community. The results are often assimilation and intermarriage and even self-hatred. Congregational schools that can barely prepare children for a bar or bat mitzvah struggle to convey Jewish identity and a smattering of content. It’s difficult to accomplish in a few hours a week. To put it into perspective, a child spends more time studying Judaism in one year of day school than in several years in a congregational school. To make things worse, there are many in our community who opt out entirely.

In every generation children and adults with no Jewish background were considered “captive children,” i.e., children captured and brought up in captivity with no Jewish contact. As such, they are not culpable for their lifestyle. Many children and adults today have been captured by the snares of assimilation and contemporary American life.

Enter the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies. Forty-five years ago, with great foresight, the late Arthur Joseph, a’’h, established this school to provide a stimulating and supportive environment for high school students to discover and develop their Jewish identity. Teens experience and explore Jewish culture, heritage, values, morals and the centrality of Israel. This helps them form a deep Jewish identity that will last a lifetime. By making Judaism relevant at this formative time in a young person’s life, BCHSJS creates the bridge for them to become confident, committed Jewish adults.

After completing congregational Hebrew school, the vast majority of teens immediately drop any form of Jewish learning. And yet, this is the most important time to guide our youth into becoming adults with a strong Jewish affiliation and identity. As thousands of alumni and their parents can attest, BCHSJS has been a catalyst for making that happen. It prevents the b’nai mitzvah from being the endpoint of Jewish education and ushers teens into the next phase of becoming compassionate, committed Jews. This community of teens graduates after five years with a strong sense of what it means to be Jewish and with a deeper connection to Israel that supports them on the college campus and beyond.

BCHSJS is a regional Sunday school program for Jewish teens in grades 8-12 that meets at the Moriah School in Englewood. They draw from 23 different northern New Jersey congregations (Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Orthodox) and have non-affiliated students enrolled as well. BCHSJS is not “old school” Hebrew school. The program, run by veteran educator Fred Nagler, combines fun social activities and chesed programs with engaging, relevant Jewish studies taught by passionate, inspiring teachers. To help today’s over-scheduled teens enhance their preparation for college, they offer many opportunities for them to fulfill their community service requirements and even to earn college credits. BCHSJS is proud to be one of the only supplemental community high schools in the country that has a special guidance program, “Project Success,” so students with special needs can fully integrate and thrive in their program.

BCHSJS brings the Jewish values of making a difference in the world to life. Whether it’s collecting food for the needy or working on a holiday gift drive, they offer a variety of ways for students to give back and to fulfill community-service obligations for their secular high schools. One notable program is their Jewish Volunteer Corp. This year-long service-learning class provides the opportunity to volunteer with a group of senior citizens. Approximately half of the class sessions take place (transportation provided) at the Daughters of Miriam/The Gallen Institute senior care facility in Clifton. There, students build relationships with Jewish seniors, learn their Jewish histories and document them in written and visual formats.

This year’s annual dinner will take place on Wednesday evening, June 5, at Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck. Drs. Lia Tsveniashvili and David Pichkadze will be the parent honorees, Dr. Daniel Rynhold, who is also a professor at Yeshiva University, will receive the Educator of The Year Award, and The Walter Ramsfelder Exemplary Service Award will be presented to The Jewish Link.

Susan Tuchman, Esq., director of the Center for Law and Justice of the ZOA will receive the BCHSJS L’Dor V’Dor Award. Susan has generously spoken to our parents and students on the topic of anti-Semitism on the college campus.

She works tirelessly on behalf of Jewish students to fight racism and bigotry towards Jewish students across the country and is deeply involved in making sure that our students are treated fairly and that universities respond appropriately when incidents occur. Susan stands up for Jewish students and exemplifies l’dor v’dor.

Reservations and donations may be made on line at www.BCHSJSdinner.org.�

By Rabbi Dr. Wallace Greene

Rabbi Dr. Wallace Greene has been a BCHSJS board member for over 25 years.

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