My memories of Sunday School are rather, well, unpleasant. There’s sort of a moldy smell that accompanies them. Which is probably why I avoided dealing with the issue for so long with my own kids. When my older son Ben was 9 years old and going into 4th grade, it suddenly dawned on me—only 4 more years ’til bar mitzvah! Oy, to coin a phrase.
We had tried being members of a temple, but we just didn’t go enough to make it worth the expense. And I felt guilty when we didn’t go. Guilt, of course, being something that I do very well.
So, when we moved to the suburbs with Ben and a 5-year-old Matthew, I was at a loss as to how to handle Jewish education. Should we join another temple? How could we get Ben to Hebrew school two afternoons a week with both parents working? Then, a friend told us about BJEP, the Boston-area Jewish Education Program on the Brandeis campus. “It’s great,” she said. “Brandeis students teach the classes, and bring a lot of enthusiasm to it. And, it’s only on Sunday.” Hallelujah!
It was impossible to find at that point—there was no website and my good pal Google turned up nothing. So armed only with a sticky note with a phone number, I made a call and talked to the Director. I found that it was a welcoming community, that we were an interfaith couple was not unusual, that my son’s lack of previous Sunday school experience was not a huge problem, and that my own lack of education (or Hebrew) was not a big deal either. And, they did high holy day services, so we had someplace to go even though we would not be associated with a temple.
Next thing you know, Ben was signed up, had a tutor to help him catch up on Hebrew, and I had a “volunteer job,” which is how the school runs on a budget. My job the first year was to bring 3 dozen boiled eggs for Passover. Okay!
The year went surprisingly well. Ben loved his tutor, and learned to read Hebrew. He even claimed to like Sunday school! For him, Sunday school wasn’t a filled-with-dread, why-do-you-make-me-go experience.
It was fun for me, too. I participated in family education programs where I made challah, decorated siddurs for both boys, attended a talk by a Holocaust survivor, visited a Jewish cemetery, manned a booth at the Purim Carnival, bought books at the Chanuka book fair, and did some learning myself. And, I did indeed boil and bring the 3 dozen eggs for Passover.
I love that the teachers were young and enthusiastic, and that there was a good smattering of guys teaching, too. As a mother of boys, I really value having young Jewish men as role models for them. There’s music, art, and Israeli dance in addition to Hebrew and a Jewish curriculum. And, of course, challah and apple juice.
BJEP is easier to find these days—there’s a real website: www.bjep.com. But word of mouth is still the way most people hear about it. For our family, it’s been a comfortable mix of religious education and community, and I was lucky to find it.
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