At the conclusion of this week’s ECJC Conference, I sit here in awe. It was a tremendous (albeit online) conference that felt so real, that the networking was tangible. I feel a deep sense of joy and satisfaction having had the confirmation from longstanding educators with decades of experience what I have known since I started the Zehud Online Jewish School. Building school is building a community of parents and families. The whole ethos of our school is built and structured to support this end goal. Being online has taken us into their homes and hearts, and it is our privilege to treat that relationship with the utmost of care and delicacy.
As the head of an International Online Jewish School for many families who do not live in bustling Jewish neighbourhoods (as many do not in Europe) , I am involved both in fostering a positive Jewish school culture, as well as helping our parents foster a strong Jewish home culture, and though we live in an age of outsourcing, it is essential for Jewish parents to realise that it is their home culture that is the most impactful force that will shape the choices their children make. As the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks zt’l explains in his Foreward to ‘The Added Dimension: Jewish Primary Schools and their Effect on Family Life: ‘in Judaism, education begins at home, continues at home, [and] indeed is part of what we mean by a Jewish home.’ But how can we foster a positive Jewish home culture?
As Rabbi Sacks continues, ‘often it is parents who teach their children’ – and from my experience it is essential that Jewish parents demonstrate their loyalty and affection towards Judaism in the earshot and eyeshot of their children, if they want to raise children that are passionate and committed to Judaism. It is the parents who curate their children’s Jewish experience, and should therefore be accorded that respect and considered accordingly.
I live in Venice, Italy. My community is tiny and aged. When we went into lockdown in March it was a Wednesday When I came to light my candles on Friday, a remarkable sight awaited me. My children, realizing that there would be no shul on shabbat, had built one in our tiny kitchen. A shul the likes of which architects would be jealous, for it was perfect in detail. It had a women’s and men’s section, a small Aron Kodesh and Torah Scroll. They also included the contents; Prayer books and bibles, a bima with a small lamp and so endearing – a timesheet – so everyone knew at which times the prayers would be held. Honestly, I was absolutely overwhelmed with awe. I wondered from where did these inherent and clear understandings derive?
At our last monthly parents meeting, our topic was just this. Building family culture, and how we can include Jewish rituals and habits into that family culture, where every family is unique and practices are personalized. Our parents shared with us some of their magnificent insights into how they are meshing Jewish elements into their family culture, and we all contributed our ideas for more. Among them habits for prayer and meditation, music and song and even, not to be under estimated, the role that clothing plays in infusing a sense of importance into our experiences.
Rabbi Sacks adds that ‘there is a no less ancient strand [of our tradition] that speaks of children teaching – or at least sharing their lessons with – their parents. That, as those who have experienced it know, is both a privilege and a delight’. What this means is that a Jewish home needs to provide opportunities for children to share their understanding and experiences of Jewish living and learning.
At the Zehud Jewish Online School, I am privileged to say, we are leading this conversation, and I say it not from a place of ego, but from a place of sincere satisfaction and gratitude that we are on the right track, not just for our families, but for the future of Jewish Europe.
To learn more about our school, take a look at our website www.school.zehud.com and set a time to talk with me. I talk to every parent that is interested in our school personally.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tal lives in Venice, Italy, in an antique Jewish Orthodox community that enjoys over 500 years of colorful history. She has fallen hopelessly in love with Jewish Europe and runs The Zehud Jewish Online School & Foundation for Jewish Life in Europe. Most communities today don’t have a Jewish School, by virtually uniting smaller groups to create a critical mass, we have connected it with high quality Jewish education . Passionate about promoting sites of Jewish interest and Jewish personalities , Tal especially enjoys social encounters and hosts locals and internationals for eclectic Shabbat dinners. She has taken her management skills and applied them to various multicultural challenges, family life and even parenting. Tal believes in the power of the WE.