Congregation B'nai Israel

2710 Park Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06604 | (203) 336-1858 | |

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Religious School, FTW*.

by Ira Wise, December 2017/Kislev-Tevet 5778

Rabbi Prosnit has been heard to say that educators have the toughest job in the synagogue. I am not sure I agree. His logic is that rabbis and cantors are able to get immediate feedback. Whether they are leading a service, counseling someone with a concern, visiting the sick, leading a shiva minyan or officiating at a wedding, Bar or Bat Mitzvah – people show their appreciation right away. There is less of that for the Temple Educator. On that level, I agree that our roles are different.

As a Temple Educator, I have to take the long view most of the time. I usually have to wait until our students are in their 20’s or even 30’s to know how we did. The real results of my work and that of our teachers is not measured in days of attendance or even in content learned on a given Sunday morning or weekday afternoon or evening.

When I see one of our graduates create a Jewish home with their beloved, I know we succeeded. When I look at our faculty and see three adults (Allison Burger, Sarah Tropp and Michael Flatto) who had been our students and now are teaching at B’nai Israel, I know we succeeded. When I see our graduates becoming rabbis, cantors, Jewish educators (Nicole Wilson, Dara and Eli Rosenblatt – I cannot take credit for Todd Markley or Kearith Solomon) or getting involved in Israel or politics in part as a result of their Confirmation experience (Rachel Kelly, Jenna Gross, Steve Krubiner – this is a longer list than I can put here) I know we did something right – with them.

Recently, we got a current report card. And I could not be prouder. Last spring, one of our teachers (and board members), Susan Walden, suggested we bring the Anti-Defamation League to do a reducing prejudice program for our Kitah Chet students (8th graders). She had begun working with them and was very excited about the work they were doing. We did and the program was wonderful. After evaluating the program, we decided to add programs to our Kitah Daled and Kitah Vav (4th and 6th) curricula. We asked ADL to create a new program for us, since they did not yet have two more. I note this happened well before anyone lit a tiki torch to march in Virginia.

I was approached a few weeks ago by a fourth grader and her mother in the parking lot after classes. They shared that in the week following the ADL program they had attended there had been an incident at school. A classmate was eating matzah ball soup. This led to a discussion in which our student took pride in claiming it as a Jewish dish and explaining its place in the life of our people. (I may be embellishing a bit there!)

Another student chimed in with surprise that she was Jewish and said something hurtful about it. She told me that she turned to her persecutor and calmly but firmly shut him down. And then she went to the principal. Her mother told me that a great deal of education ensued and the child’s parents were brought in. There was surprise and apologies on their part. And our student’s mom thanked us for helping her daughter have the knowledge and confidence to stand up to a bully.

*For The Win