The following guest-post is the first in a series about a program that brings rabbinical students at Hebrew Union College to one of the Reform day schools, building their connection to day school education. This one is by David Prashker, Director of Education at Temple Sinai of North Dade and the President of PARDeS, the Progressive Association of Reform Day Schools.
Funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation and now in its second year, Hebrew Union College’s “Rabbinic Externship” came to Miami this May to discover why Jewish day schools have become one of the cornerstones of Jewish continuity in North America. Six third- and fourth-year students spent a week at Jacobson Sinai Academy at Temple Sinai of North Dade. The students, two from each of HUC’s campuses in Cincinnati, New York, and Los Angeles, were accompanied by Rabbi Sam Joseph and Dr. Michael Zeldin. Their intensive week included classroom observations, opportunities to teach and to witness tefilah; the externs met with administrators, teachers, current and alumni parents, clergy, school and Temple board members, Parents Association leaders, founders, and donors. They even had an opportunity to watch as the founders of PARDeS reminisced in front of cameras for a video to mark the 18th anniversary of the Reform Day School movement.
What makes Jacobson Sinai Academy unusual is that it’s a day school which is part of a synagogue community, one where the religious school shares the same facilities under the same leadership. It’s also a Reform school with a large Hispanic community, very few of whom are actually Reform in their family lives. It’s also the primary source of income for the Temple, and the primary bringer-in of new members.
Twenty years ago, pulpit rabbis advocated actively for Jewish summer camp, and of course for their own religious schools, but very few for day schools. Why? In the Reform movement it came from a commitment to integration in the wider community and a balance of Jewish and secular spheres; public school on weekdays, religious school on Sundays, and camp in the summer was considered the best route to that end. Gradually, as day schools have become more and more successful, not only academically but also in producing fully integrated Jews who may even have a stronger Jewish identity and commitment than their public school peers, our Rabbis have come to recognize the importance of advocating for all forms of Jewish education, and from this has come HUC’s Rabbinic Externship program, designed to ensure that future Rabbis can speak from personal knowledge and experience.
So this is what the Rabbinic Students came to see, and now they have gone back to HUC–and on into their pulpits—they have that knowledge and experience. And for us, as the host school – we received eight keen, astute, and engaged pairs of eyes to engage us in a week of deep reflection and a chance to show off the virtues and qualities of a great institution.