Appearing in the January 2007 issue of Sh'ma, on the topic of Synagogue Organizing, is an article that I authored entitled "Synagogue Schools and Congregational Agendas." In it, I propose that a synagogue's education program may be the ideal place in which congregants can examine, challenge, and impact upon the synagogue's institutional vision. I further claim that this approach to education can revitalize and reinvigorate the function and purpose of the supplementary school and of bar and bat mitzvah:
". . . If we want congregants to see themselves as stakeholders in the success of the institution . . . there must be potential not only for the lives of the learners, but the practices of the synagogue itself, to be transformed through learning.
The [key purpose of the] supplementary school . . . is to transform young people into Jewish adults, able to make decisions informed by Jewish values and to knowledgeably and competently participate in Jewish observances. This can only happen when synagogue schools provide students opportunities to engage in learning that is informed by their lives outside the school. If not, anything they are taught will come across as irrelevant. All too often, though, students discover instead that their ideas have no place in the synagogue and, equally, that synagogue’s norms have no place in their lives once they walk out its doors.
". . . In many congregations, bar and bat mitzvah has become the point at which students end their participation in the school and the synagogue, and often, Jewish life. But what if the bar or bat mitzvah ceremony were reframed as an authentic demonstration of mastery of the skills that the synagogue expects of all its adult participants? Becoming bar or bat mitzvah would then require the young adult to share in the responsibility for the community’s outcomes and practices — not only by attending congregational worship or participating in its social action activities, but also by having a voice in setting its agendas."
Many thanks to Susan Berrin and to Sh'ma for permission to post the article in full. I would be delighted to read and respond to any feedback posted here.