BY ANA FUCHS / AJT //
July 5, 1991
Mom & Dad: Camp is awesome. Today my cabin went water skiing, and now we’re getting ready for Shabbat. Please, please, please, can I stay for second session? I’ll do anything if you let me stay. I love it here. G-d wants me to stay. Think about it.
Reading this note from my 10-year-old self transports me back to summer camp: the joy of Shabbat; cheers after birkat; best friends; Israeli scouts…I loved it all!
When summer ended each year, life took a turn for the mind-numbingly dull. I had to go back to school and – worse – return to my synagogue’s uninspiring Sunday/Tuesday Hebrew school.
I spent those long Tuesday afternoons devising detailed schemes for how I was going to run away from Atlanta and live at camp.
Fast-forward 15 years, and my rosy recollections of camp had overpowered the painful memories of Tuesday afternoons. I lived in Israel in 11th grade and then majored in Jewish studies at Emory. And for five years after graduation, I worked at the Emory Institute for the Study of Modern Israel, developing curricula for young children.
For extra income, I “taught” Hebrew school. Turns out, attempting to teach a room full of kids who (like me) were Hebrew school-haters is the only fate worse than being one of the kids! Still, that negative experience was at least valuable in that it illuminated a critical disconnect in the Jewish world:
Kids love summer camp – and loathe Hebrew school.
Which made me wonder…
What are the distinct elements of summer camp that make it so great? And precisely which elements could Hebrew schools emulate?
To find some answers, I started interviewing community members about their Jewish priorities for their children. Three distinct trends emerged:
- Parents wanted more and better Jewish education options. Unaffiliated families (two out of three Jewish families in our city) do not have Jewish education options for their children.
- Parents prioritize Jewish friendships.
- The perception is that traditional Jewish supplemental education systems, and even variations of it, are broken; meaning they don’t provide an impactful Jewish experience for youth – one that encourages them to be engaged lifelong members of the community.
These findings, fused with my own rich Jewish experiences, catalyzed the creation of Jewish Kids Groups. It’s a reimagined, reinvented and ridiculously cool new Hebrew school model now piloting in Intown.
Perhaps the best way to tell you more about it would be to give an example of the kind of reaction we’ve encountered in our first year:
In March, I was at Jewish Kids Groups giving a tour (the oldest kids were creating a board game depicting the Israelite exodus) when a mother arrived and angrily pulled her eldest son out of Jewish Kids Groups and hurried him away. Later that evening, when she returned to pick up her other children she explained:
“Adam has been getting into trouble at school. I’ve tried to threaten ‘screen time’ and desserts, but the only punishment that has any effect is taking away Jewish Kids Groups! All my kids just love it here.”
A few weeks later, at 6:40 p.m. one Thursday, my cell phone rang. The caller ID read “JEWISH KIDS GROUPS.”
My heart sank. Why were they calling me so late? What had happened?
It was my Afterschool Director.
“Ana? We have a problem.”
I began to panic
“The kids won’t leave. They are running circles around their parents.”
“These are good problems,” I replied.
As you can see, we’ve created an environment that would please even 10-year-old Ana Fuchs!
Ana Fuchs, a native Atlantan, is a pioneer in the field of alternative Jewish supplemental experiences and has been instrumental in building Jewish Kids Groups, a brand new Hebrew school model.