In our new parenting blog, join Jennifer Raphael in the adventures of raising two boys. Today, it's time for her oldest to start Hebrew school. Again.
Hebrew school starts on Sept. 8. Maxon, my oldest, is nine and it’s time for him to start.
We enrolled him in "Mercaz Limud" at Congregation Rodeph Shalom when he was 4. This did not go well. Every Sunday in the main sanctuary, Maxon exploded in his signature you-are-taking-me-to-my-fiery-death fit. You know what feels louder than your child’s tantrum in synagogue? Perhaps a military fighter jet. If said jet were inside your body.
Every Sunday I felt the shame of a thousand suns while trying to simultaneously tame and abandon my son. But every Sunday we went through this exercise. For three years.
And then, when we got the enrollment form for the second grade year, I just couldn’t fill it out. I told my husband I thought it was time we took a break. This was fine by Michael, who believes there are different ways to get a Jewish education other than the traditional road through Hebrew school. He wants to hire a private Bar Mitzvah tutor and take the boys to Israel for the ceremonies.
So for the past two years, we thoroughly enjoyed our Sundays. We slept in. We took the kids skiing. We went to brunch. We didn't miss the early morning rush to Rodeph. The fights. The fits.
But now 13 isn't so far away. And the Bar Mitzvah is not a choice. And I don't feel certain that a tutor will be enough.
I only had one year of Hebrew school at Beth Zion-Beth Israel, one sleepless year of Haftorah bingeing and Hebrew alphabet asphyxiation. I struggled so, cramming for my Bat Mitzvah, crying as I rewound the tape recording of my portion over and over. I don't want Maxon to have that same experience. Whether he has his Bar Mitzvah on Broad Street or in Jerusalem, the kid is getting properly schooled.
I also have to believe that he can get more out of Hebrew school than Bar Mitzvah prep. Jewish history, ethics, seeing how to integrate Jewish values in everyday life, the bond of learning as a community, understanding what it takes for a persecuted people to survive and thrive — these are just as important as learning your Torah portion.
"It's school. On a Sunday. That means I only get one weekend day," he said when I told him about returning to Mercaz Limud.
I feel you, Maxon. I will miss the lazy Sunday, too. But I have to believe that despite the eye rolling, something will light him up.
"You think you'll learn anything cool about being Jewish?" I asked.
"Maybe. But being Jewish is already pretty cool."