Hebrew for the Jewish Soul

I’ve been thinking a lot about homework, lately. Specifically, Hebrew homework. Don’t start throwing things at me, you’ll only crack your computer screens.

But before I start assigning homework, amok, I wanted to think about why  students and their families cooperate with any homework assignments, in the first place. And why would anyone agree to add more homework to their family life?

  • For some students, it’s simply about completing what’s been assigned. They’ve learned the homework dance, and they just do it as part of the do-si-do with a teacher.
  • Some students see the progress they make when they do the homework. Math actually gets easier when you do the homework; so does Hebrew.
  • Some students earn prizes for the homework, and they find those prizes to be enticing enough to spend some time with the work. Goodness know, sometimes the homework itself is interesting enough to be enticing; but I’m not sure how often that happens.
  • For some students, it’s all about getting their parents to stop  nagging  – which I would argue is a disincentive for parents to support more homework added to their children’s plates. Most of us don’t really like to nag and don’t want another reason to do it.

I’d like to consider two incentives that I think would be of universal value to Jewish families

  • First, if students develop strong decoding skills and a good grounding in the prayer service, they don’t need as much one-on-one tutoring for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah service So, there’s a material, economic incentive here, not to mention a gain in real time for other activities that pick up during middle school.
  • Second, a constant commitment to Hebrew study transforms Hebrew into something more important, a skill that transcends the Bar or Bat Mitzvah event. Further, Jewish learning becomes a clearer value. This work we are doing in Religious School is not about the Bar or Bat Mitzvah event; it’s about the life-long cultivation of a Jewish identity.

Training in the care and feeding of a thriving Jewish soul should be our ultimate goal – certainly not the few hours it takes to lead a service and make a family kvell. That’s a lovely moment in a family’s life, but it hasn’t proven itself as a healthy indicator of a long life of engagement with Judaism.

We want our children to blossom with Jewish spirit, to spread roots in a Jewish community, and to bear Jewish fruit every season of their lives – meaning to participate in Tikkun Olam, to educate the younger generation, to express their Jewish vision through the arts, to develop healthy psyches with the support of ritual and faith, and, for some, to give us Jewish grandchildren.

Hebrew can be one of the tools for developing and sustaining a Jewish identity, and we need to help families see it that way, so that no matter what incentives we offer in the classroom – be it chocolate, stickers, a party, or a day off – the longer term incentive retains its value. Hebrew is the language of our ancestors, our history, our literature, and our modern sovereign state. It’s even better than chocolate!

Stay tuned for another post about how Hebrew helps develop and sustain my own Jewish identity. I was going to include that here, but I didn’t want to digress . . . and yet I did digress, just now . . . enough! מספיק זה מספיק


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