Welcome to Wherever you Are

This is your life, you made it this far… (Bon Jovi, Have a Nice Day, 2005)

Once again this week, I heard that Ben Gamla is not an option for any Jewish child, that all efforts should be made to keep every Jewish child in a Jewish school, that is a travesty to allow Jewish children to go to a public school.

Once again, we are at the end of a week (and month) and we don’t know where our kids will be at school in the fall, because the phone system was down today and our email went unanswered.

I want to talk a little about my own background, because, yes, it is my blog!

I grew up in Dublin, Ireland. No, I don’t have an accent, and yes, Dublin did have 2 Jewish Lord Mayors and Guinness tastes really good straight from the tap. I’m an “FFB” – frum from birth – child of 2 FFBs. I’m 4th generation Irish on my Dad’s side. My mother was born and raised in London. I attended the only “Jewish” school in Ireland, Stratford National School (pre-K to 6th), followed by Stratford College (7-11th – no 12th grade).  Both schools combined had approximately 300 students. About 33% were Jewish, 65% were Catholic and 2% Protestant and “other”, including Muslim. I received an excellent secular education. I had Jewish and Gentile friends. Of my Jewish friends, a couple were orthodox, a few traditional, and some not really affiliated at all.

How did it work? The answer is simple. The Jewish kids started their day at 8:40am with davening. Immediately following davening at 9:05, the elementary school had an hour of Hebrew/Judaics, and the regular school day began at 10:10am when the non-jewish kids arrived at school. The kids in the upper school (7th and up) went from davening to their regular schedule, and somewhere in that timetable was a 45 – 90 minute period generically labeled “Hebrew”. While the Jewish kids had “Hebrew”(everything from chumash to mishnah to navi), the non-Jewish kids had either Classical Studies or “Religious Education” for those who chose to attend.

I can safely say, 20 years later, that my Judaic education sucked. I learned Hebrew well. So well in fact, that when I made aliya after High School, my ulpan teacher told me that my Hebrew writing was incredibly advanced – had I lived in the time of Moshe Rabeinu… After elementary school there was no Ivrit – everything was taught for the national curriculum (a major difference in the education systems between the US & Europe). And because everything was taught for a curriculum, set by a Catholic Education Board, the concepts which we were forced to study were not necessarily concepts that were important to Jews. Did I learn anything at all? Yes, I did. I can take any verb from Tanach and pull it to pieces – the root, the conjugation etc. Our teachers were caught between a rock and a hard place – they were stuck teaching a group of kids who were not truly interested in Judaism, a lot of stuff that wasn’t practical in our every day lives as Jews. They couldn’t teach us the stuff that is important to our lives, because they were tied to a state dictated program.

Having said that, I remain orthodox today, as do the couple of friends I had who were orthodox back then. My traditional friends are mostly still traditional – a couple became more observant over the years – and my unaffiliated friends are still pretty unaffiliated. Those of us who grew up in observant, and even just traditional homes, were raised knowing that ultimately, staying in Dublin was not an option. Personally, from a very early age, my parents spoke to me about leaving Dublin to go to university in England, to one of the many universities with a large Jewish population – Manchester was extremely popular back then. I chose a different route, and moved to Israel, where I studied French at The Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. My 3 younger siblings all went to university in Manchester, and all now live in London.

I credit my parents 100% that all 4 of their children remain frum. Our home life was always a truly observant one. Being Jewish was not just about going to shul on Shabbat or keeping kosher in our house, it was the model by which we lived our lives. There were no compromises. No kosher restaurants in Dublin, so we didn’t eat out. It’s the 3 weeks? The Omer?  No haircuts. No concerts. That is how I was raised. Later, when I lived elsewhere, and had access to classes to enhance my learning I took advantage -and still do.

For my children I want more than what I had. I want them to get the Jewish education that I didn’t have access to. Until now I believed that the only way possible for them to get that was by putting them in a Jewish Day School. As previously mentioned, I am very happy with the education they have received at Hillel. The pace at which they are learning, is in many ways above and beyond what I learned at a much later age.

And yet, here we are, stuck at an impasse. On the one hand, my kids are getting that education that I didn’t have. On the other hand, in order for us to keep them within that system, we have sacrificed beyond what we have to give up!

I truly believe that there can be a public school option without compromising on Judaic education. With enough of the right-minded families, we can develop a program for our children, coming out of Day Schools, for whatever reason, that will keep them up to the level of their peers who remain in private Day Schools.

I really want to hear from everyone who is interested in being part of this new, 21st century approach to Jewish education. Please do not hesitate to contact me – via the blog, via email or via Facebook.

Shabbat Shalom & Chodesh Tov


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Marty Jacob
    Jul 01, 2011 @ 13:23:59

    I am happy to report that the Plantation Ben Gamla will be starting it’s middle school classes this coming year at 8:45 instead of 8:00 as it was last year.

    Last year, my boys would wake up extra early and we would go to the 7AM minyan and would doven quickly before they were picked up at the shul at around 7:18.

    Next year, they will be dovening on the Soref JCC campus with the Ben Gamla high school students at 8AM, and class will begin for everyone in 6th – 10th grades at 8:45.


    • vanessabrooksceo
      Jul 03, 2011 @ 23:41:47

      This only proves further that Ben Gamla is interested in working with Orthodox Jewish families as much as possible. I’m really happy to hear that, as I think davening is a very important beginning to our childrens’ day.


  2. Ari Beim
    Jul 01, 2011 @ 16:24:44


    Whether I send my children to Ben Gamla or not, I would like to play a role in developing a Judaic program. As a member of a shul which has committed to allocating significant funds, time and other resources toward “outreach” I am amazed that BRS isn’t rushing to reach out.

    I am sorry if I am narrow minded and more concerned with Orthodox kids leaving Yeshiva than grownups who have left (or never were on) the derech and might form a bond and which may lead to an even slighter chance of them becoming orthodox.

    Personally I think egos need to be put aside, and even the Day schools should play a part in forming a Judaics program. After all they are the experts. Students are given the mission to perform chesed hours. Why shouldn’t teachers and the Rabbis be held to the same standard which we “impose” on our children. This isn’t about competing. This is about the children and hopefully why you (both teachers and Administrators) went into education to begin with; to educate Jewish children and infuse yiddishkite into their daily lives and in order to help sustain future generations of orthodox Judaism.

    This has to be resolved on local levels, we can not look to a NY model or a Chicago model, or even a national model. We MUST look at our community and what we can do to help our needs and with our resources. We have to learn from the previous generations and not wait for someone else to save us.

    Like the corny joke about the man on his roof during a flood who turns away the rescue boats saying G-d will rescue him, only to find out when face to face with Hashem that those rescue boats were His attempts to save him.

    Please let me know of any developments and how I can help.

    Have a good shabbos


    • vanessabrooksceo
      Jul 03, 2011 @ 23:43:55

      Ari, I couldn’t agree more! I would love to see our community do more “inreach” and not worry too much about the outreach. I think outreach can have some potentially wonderful results, but not at the expense of the people who are already within the community who are in need of help one way or another. Talmud Torah failed previous generations for many reasons – there’s another blog post for me to work on! This is a generation that has so much knowledge, and so much access to knowledge, that we can give our children a lot more than the Talmud Torah was able to give back in the 50s and 60s.


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