Modern Jewish education about focusing on values, friendships and community

April 27, 2012

There is a disturbing trend in the Jewish world. It begins right around the Bar and Bat Mitzvah of many of our boys and girls.

On that milestone occasion, when they should be feeling the excitement of bursting into their adult Jewish life with endless enthusiasm and potential, and with a pride to carry the torch of their Jewish heritage, most of them are just celebrating the fact that don’t have to go back to Hebrew School.

That trend continues through their teenage years. Judaism is irrelevant. The very thought of it conjures up memories of Hebrew School, at a time when they’d rather be hanging out. In college, some begin to try to “find themselves,” and they often discover that there is a spark of Judaism that still glows deep inside them.

Later, some will meet a guy or woman and once again that spark will cause them to question whether they want to marry a Jew and raise a Jewish family. And when their first child is born, they wonder how they can possibly transmit their Jewish heritage to their children when they barely know anything about it.

That’s when organizations like the Aish Center for Jewish Learning kick in. Aish is not a fancy synagogue with a membership base of hundreds of families. But in the modest two-story converted house on the corner of Old Georgetown and Tilden Road in Rockville, Jewish adults of all backgrounds and all affiliations discover a Judaism they never knew existed and a vibrancy and joy that keeps them coming back for more.

They learn about the values and the culture of Judaism that traces itself back over three millennia. They begin to understand the wisdom that has been a source of vitality for the Jewish people. And they experience first-hand that Judaism has always found relevance regardless of the changes the world undergoes.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of Aish is the “no label” approach to Judaism. American Jewry has been torn apart by the polarization of labels and sects, a phenomenon that has never been this extreme in Jewish history. Aish’s focus is to transcend those labels and create an environment where the focus is on the values, the wisdom, the friendships, the community, and connecting with God in the deepest possible way. At any given class or program, Jews from the spectrum of observance levels find themselves discussing, learning, celebrating and finding common ground.

And what about the trend of disinterested Jewish youth? In September, Aish will launch a new Sunday School program for children ages 5-13, encouraging diversity, and imbuing the vibrancy, relevance and joy of Jewish life, regardless of background or affiliation.

Led by educators who are passionate about Jewish education, language, the weekly Torah portion, Holidays, Jewish values, and Israel, Aish’s “Sunday Experience” will instill a love of Judaism.

The joy of Judaism is coming back.

If you would like to learn more about Judasim, if you have a child who would like to get involved, or if you know somebody who could benefit from what Aish has to offer, you are invited to come along for the ride. Learn more at AishDC.com.

Rabbi Shlomo Buxbaum is director of Aish DC in Bethesda, Md.

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