Today’s Jewish family is anything but traditional. More and more single parents are raising children. LGBTQ families are common. Interfaith marriage is no longer surprising. As times change, so must religious education.
Magda Reyes, education director of the Jewish Education Connection, located at Har Sinai Temple, 2421 Pennington Road, Pennington, has observed the changing social structure close at hand during her years in the field. Recognized for her wide experience and knowledge of the Jewish education landscape, she is uniquely positioned to understand the challenges of today.
“Here, we embrace the differences that make Jewish life and learning such a delightful, diverse, and vibrant experience,” says Reyes. “We welcome children and families from all backgrounds and ‘non-traditional’ circumstances. At the Jewish Education Connection, Judaism is a melting pot.”
“Add to this the fact that families now come in so many shapes. The Jewish intermarriage rate is now 71 percent. Jews of color can feel sidelined as do LGBTQ parents. So many feel estranged from the traditional ways Judaism is taught. We strive to provide an alternative approach which welcomes everyone.”
“Our approach is unique,” Reyes smiles. “Usually families must belong to a synagogue first for their children to attend the school. We turn that on its head. We recognize that very many people today do not want to join a synagogue before they get a strong feeling for that community. They want to know why they should. That’s where Jewish learning and living first comes in.
Experiential Learning enhances the process at the Jewish Education Connection. Through the acquisition of skills, knowledge, and experience and reflecting on all, Judaism comes alive in a meaningful and relevant way. Events, scheduled throughout the school year, involve the whole family and are open to community members. Hands-on activities inform learning and are a great tool for building a community that values learners of all ages, genders, interests, and abilities.
“An important goal for us is to expose families with young children to Jewish life and learning,” says Reyes. “We focus on discovering how the early biblical stories relate to us, what Jewish acts we do and how we can make the world better through acts of G’millut Chasadim, helping others. We explore Jewish customs, participation in synagogue life and holidays, giving families with young children the opportunity to engage in Jewish life, meet other like-minded families and become comfortable, without the requirement to join a synagogue first.”
At the Jewish Education Connection, the goal is to live the tradition, not merely follow the forms. This means bringing the tenets of faith into everyday life. “We want to bring Judaism out of the buildings and into the hearts of our families. Our classes are interspersed with many events, outings and gatherings where we can share a meal, learn by doing rather than rote ritual. For example, apples are a rich symbol of Rosh Hashanah so let’s celebrate in a local orchard.”
Classes are available from preschool through 10th grade. Programs are tailored to each level of learning grounded in the real world. Register or contact the Jewish Education Connection online at jecnj.org or contact them at 609-730-1500.