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September 19, 1986 - Image 3

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-09-19

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

UP FRONT

Take Two Alephs And
Call Me In The Morning

GARY ROSENBLATT

Editor

ewish education is the
medicine and assimila-
tion the disease. At
least that's how too many
American Jews perceive it,
according to Dr. Jonathan
Woocher. And like most
medicine, Jewish education is
thought of as unpleasant —
something to be endured for
as long as absolutely neces-
sary. Until you're cured. Then
you're finished.
"That's the subliminal
message," says Woocher, who
feels strongly enough about
improving the situation to be
leaving his post as professor
of Jewish communal service

j

Enrollment of
students in Jewish
school programs is
below the level of
20 years ago and
little has been done
to stop the heavy
drop-out rate of
post-Bar and Bat
Mitzvah age.

at Brandeis University to
become executive vice presi-
dent of JESNA, the Jewish
Education Serivce of North
America, in New York.
JESNA, which Woocher
calls "the best-kept secret in
Jewish education," is the cen-
tral coordinating service
agency for Jewish education
in North America. It works
closely with local federations,
central agencies of Jewish
education, and community
schools around the country in
the areas of community edu-
cational planning, profes-
sional training and volunteer
leadership development, and
coordination and dissemina-
tion of curricular and other
educational resources.
"Jewish education is not
seen as something of intrinsic
value, but rather something
we have to endure to prevent
the disease of Goy-itis,"
Woocher told the annual con-
vention of the American
Jewish Press Association,
which was held recently in
Boston. "And it is the patient,
not the doctor, who decides
when to quit taking the
medicine." He noted that
often times parents allow
their 13-year-old, who has
just gone through Bar Mitz-
vah training, to decide
whether or not he wants to
continue his formal Jewish
education.
Woocher acknowledged
that American Jewish educa-
tion is "rudderless," citing
problems ranging from how
much to emphasize Hebrew
language in the classroom to
how to attract qualified peo-
ple to the field. But he said

the situation has changed as

there is good news along with
the bad.
The organized Jewish com-
munity has been backing up
its rhetorical support for
Jewish education with more
and more dollars of late,
Woocher noted, ranging from
$500 million to $750 million
nationally when all Jewish
education programs, from
nursery through university
graduate school, are included.
Federations contribute in the
area of $50 million around the
country now, and one of the
brightest spots is that more
than 300 colleges now offer
Jewish studies courses.
But the total enrollment of
students in Jewish school
programs is below the level of
20 years ago and little has
been done to stop the heavy
drop-out rate of post-Bar and
Bat Mitzvah age. "We as a
community have invested
almost nothing on determin-
ing the impact of Jewish
education and the factors in-
volved," said Woocher. "We
say clot, but we don't follow
up." He said that while there
are great success stories "on
the micro level, the fact re-
mains that on the macro level
Jewish education is seen as
boring and unworthy of sus-
tained attention."
He outlined four major
problem areas: lack of
understanding of the goals of
Jewish education; fragmenta-
tion of the Jewish education
network where there is no
central system and much ten-
sion over ideological divi-
sions; the low status given
Jewish education, making it
difficult to attract qualified
people and to pay them ade-
quately for their skills; and
the separation between Jew-
ish education and the corn-
munity.
Elaborating on this last
point, Woocher asserted that
a Jewish education should be
a civic education, not just to
foster individual Jewish iden-
tity but to stress one's con-
nection to communal life "We
need to teach our children
how to be Jewish citizens."

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