For parents with young families, a new program, "Teach Your Children Well," is an opportunity to "strengthen their own Jewish identity and feel comfortable creating Jewish life in their homes," according to Liz Nover, the program's coordinator.
"This class was designed to include Jewish parents who are synagogue-affiliated, as well as those who have not yet joined; for Jews by choice and non-Jewish spouses in interfaith families," explained Rabbi Bonnie Goldberg, senior planner for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Center for Jewish Life and Learning.
"The project developed from a year of discussion and research by the center's Task Force on Adult Education and Outreach, co-chaired by Jay Minkoff and Mark Fishman," she added. "We heard again and again the need from parents to educate themselves so that they feel competent to make a Jewish home for their families, and are able to answer their children's questions about Jewish life. The task force made this a priority. We need to provide these programs if there is going to be a next generation of committed Jews."
With sessions of "Teach Your Children Well" meeting once a week for two hours each at Tiferet Bet Israel in Blue Bell and at Main Line Reform Temple, Beth Elohim in Wynnewood, the center is putting into action another of its priorities - partnering with synagogues in their role as community gateways.
The curriculum for the five-month program, funded by the center and the Tuttleman Family Foundation, is based on a Florence Melton Adult Mini-School curriculum. It presents topics such as Jewish holidays and life-cycles, philosophy, history and approaches to moral behavior.
"I'm Reform and keep a traditional home," said Jan Nossbaum, the mother of Mayah, 3, and Hannah, 1, who takes the course at Tiferet Bet Israel. "There are gaps in my education, and the course has got me thinking and preparing for the questions my children will ask."
"We are a group of diverse women," she continued. "We all read the same texts with the help of our teacher, Juliet Spitzer, and our discussions have lots of give and take. It's good to be with other parents of preschoolers."
Rabbi Robyn Frisch, who leads the class at Main Line Reform, explained that "when we learn about the mezuzah, for instance, we study the 'why' for it in Torah sources and its significance, as well as learning the 'how to' part of hanging one. This way, everything comes together.
"I think the most important thing parents can do is learn. It's a matter of letting kids know as they grow up: I don't just drop you off, I go to learn, too."
Kelly Ricefield, a student at the Main Line Reform course, is a Jew by choice who likes the fact that "learning together is not intimidating. It's a wonderful way to have questions answered."
While her 18-month-old son, Joshua, is still a little young to ask, she said, "I know that there will be things that I will need to explain to him. He's already going to synagogue with us, and celebrating Shabbat and holidays."
The Melton program was adapted for this course by Nover and Debby Malissa, local director of the Melton program, with help from Gratz College and other Jewish-education professionals. Kehillat Lower Merion and YAHAD of Bux-Mont - both community collaboratives of Federation - helped recruit for the program.
"This kind of Jewish knowledge empowers people to participate," said Rabbi David Ackerman of Tiferet Bet Israel. "The course serves as a welcome mat."
"This is a 'win-win-win' situation for the children, family and synagogue," he added. "We are delighted to open our doors, and partner with Federation and Gratz. Enhancing Jewish life in our neighborhood is part of our mission as a congregation."
To learn more about the "Teach Your Children Well" program, call Liz Nover at 215-491-4201 or Rabbi Bonnie Goldberg at 215-832-0665.