April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Professor Jack Wert­heimer, a well-regarded scholar of contemporary Jewish life, as well as a host of other prominent sociologists, have come to the conclusion that America “bet on the wrong horse” after WWII in supporting the congregational school model for educating our youth Jewishly. While this model may have provided basic content and Hebrew reading skills when classes met four or five times a week plus mandatory junior congregation, by the end of the 20th century it was hard to find a three-day-a-week program. Today, most programs are at best twice a week and more often only once a week. Added to that, many families are opting out altogether, resulting in many congregational school mergers due to falling enrollment.

The end result is large numbers of Jewish youth with little or no substantive Jewish education. They, in turn, become adults with little or no Jewish education to pass on to their children. Our day schools, on the other hand, provide this education to our children. What, then, is our obligation to these children? Do we pretend their plight doesn’t exist? Are we selfishly triumphant in our lifestyle to the exclusion of others? Our Torah admonishes us not to stand by and pretend we don’t see what is happening. In fact, our Sages regard providing a Jewish education to those who have been prevented from receiving this instruction as equivalent to the obligation of restoring a lost object to its owner.

Over 40 years ago, one of the founders of our community, Arthur Joseph, of blessed memory, established the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies. Since that time, this non-denominational school, which meets on Sunday mornings, has educated thousands of students from our communities’ synagogues and from the general community. It’s a five-year program from 8th through 12th grades and students choose from a wide range of courses taught by very talented teachers who connect with their students. Some courses are text-based others are less formal. There are also many social programs and opportunities for chesed projects. Students from two dozen communities get to make new and lifelong friends. Shabbatonim reinforce what they learn in classes. The bottom line is that teens get to ask questions about Judaism at a time when they can first begin to appreciate the answers, something that doesn’t always happen in pre- bar/bat mitzvah congregational schools.

The most significant takeaway from BCHSJS is Jewish pride. Graduates take Jewish studies courses in college, sign up for Hillel and kosher meal plans and visit Israel. Some may opt for a year of study in Israel, and some serve in the IDF. Alumni often come back to visit their teachers and volunteer to staff shabbatonim. It’s a great investment in the Jewish future.

Such an important undertaking costs money. The BCHSJS tuition doesn’t cover their costs even with the federation grant. The Annual Gala is the major fundraiser for the school. This year, it is a virtual gala. Although we’ve cancelled our dinner, we continue to fundraise to ensure the sustainability of our school and Jewish continuity. The 2020 honorees are Sy Blechman of Edgewater, the school’s two-term president; its principal, Fred Nagler of Teaneck; educator Bruce Prince of Teaneck; and guidance counselor Chanan Strassman of Fair Lawn. Jill Strassberg of Woodcliff Lake is the parent honoree. For more information about BCHSJS and the honorees, go to www.bchsjs.org. To place an ad in the virtual journal or just make a donation: Phone: 201-488-0834, Fax: 201-488-2126, Email: [email protected].

Please help to ensure the Jewish future.


Rabbi Dr. Wallace Greene is a member of the Board of BCHSJS.

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