Education Director: Lori Rubin, Congregation Or Hadash in Ft Washington, PA
Grades: pre-kindergarten through tenth grade
Or Hadash formed twenty-three years ago as a havurah that primarily served the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC). The school was founded shortly after the Congregation because there were many families with young children in the congregation. RRC students served as the first teachers.
Growth since Lori Rubin arrived at Or Hadash six years ago:
When Lori arrived at the Congregation, she saw a need for more students to remain in religious school after their b'nai mitzvah celebrations. Thus, she engaged in “heavy modification of the high school program to enable kids to stay.” Classes for high-school aged students had met once per week on Sunday mornings. She changed that to once per month and added three 24 hour retreats the first year. She found that the number of students staying in religious school through high school improved due to the changes, but there wasn't enough time for substantive education. This year she has changed the program again to incorporate two nine hour retreats and twice monthly class meetings. She has set a goal that one class per month will be a fieldtrip or some sort of “creative, outside the box class.” The teens focus on comparative religions in eighth grade, topics of interest to teens in the Torah like sex, drugs and body image in ninth grade, and social action in tenth grade.
Lori appreciates each little milestone that tells her that the school is making progress. For example, every year she leads the students in bedikat hametz (ritual searching for leaven before Passover). A parent recently told her that his son insisted on doing bedikat hametz at home as well: “When kids really bring it home, and I hear about it later, then I know that it's successful.” Lori is particularly proud that the students feel very comfortable at the school and with her. She explains, “The kids feel really at home here - some of that is because our school building really was once a home. The kids feel comfortable talking to me. I lead services, and we come together as a community every time they enter the building for school.” Also, the school encourages its students “to wrestle with what we do and why we do it.” Lori gives as an example a recent conversation she had with a parent whose son does not like to pray and therefore was not enjoying Hebrew school. Lori responded by asking if the child would be more comfortable studying conversational Hebrew instead and followed up with a discussion with the entire Hebrew school body about their feelings on the importance of prayer in their lives. “Just having the conversation empowered kids to talk about what they think. That conversation is what I like about Or Hadash, and the fact that people like that we can have and encourage having those kinds of conversations here.”
Resources that Aid in Growth:
Lori makes extensive use of her colleagues. She is a member of the Principals' Council at the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education (ACAJE) and the Reconstructionist Principals' Council, which meets monthly with Dr. Shoshana Silberman, the Reconstructionist consultant at ACAJE. She also has forged personal connections with Reconstructionist educational directors: “I have found that the issues you find in Reconstuctionist schools are best solved with other Reconstructioinist ed. directors because the culture is different at our synagogues.” Finally, as its Vice-Chair and Acting Chair, Lori is an active member of RENA. “There is a lot of support. We just have to remember that RENA is there.” She describes RENA as both supportive of its longtime membership and welcoming to new members.
Challenges in Growth:
- Since Lori has been at Or Hadash, volunteerism has declined. It has become more difficult to find volunteers to help with programming. So far this decline hasn't hindered the program because Lori has filled in, but it is becoming problematic. Lori finds this lack of volunteerism to be larger than Or Hadash, attributing it to heavily programmed children and more working parents. Lori is considering participating in ACAJE's Designated School Program for help in solving this problem.
- It is difficult to get families to put Or Hadash on their priority lists; to get them to see that religious school and Shabbat are as important as soccer, dance class, and violin lessons. Lori strives to make Or Hadash a part of her congregants' every day lives, but it remains challenging: “If going to services is not something you grew up with, it's not even in your head to go to services, not even in the back of your head. If I make it a grade's service on Friday night, people will come, but I need to put it on their calendar for them.”