A Nudge From School to Shul

A Nudge From School to Shul

Chabad of Cobb Rabbi Ephraim Silverman launched an effort in late August to help Cobb County’s Jewish children wind up in synagogue instead of school for the High Holidays.

No Jewish Child Left Behind is a Chabad of Cobb initiative.
No Jewish Child Left Behind is a Chabad of Cobb initiative.

No Jewish Child Left Behind, like the similarly named federal education program, aims to reverse an alarming trend in the public schools. But whereas No Child Left Behind tried, among other goals, to maximize student attendance, No Jewish Child Left Behind aims to maximize Jewish absence when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fall on school days.

“What we’ve noticed over last 10 years or so is a growing trend where more and more parents are leaving their children in public schools for the holidays,” said Rabbi Silverman, who is conducting the campaign alone but has shared the information and materials with the synagogues near him.

He launched the initiative around the time DeKalb County was rescheduling standardized tests that had been planned during the High Holidays. But rather than a specific incident, the rabbi said he was responding to the general cultural drift toward prioritizing school over synagogue.

He met with Cobb Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and Commissioner Bob Ott, whose District 2 includes Chabad of Cobb, and Rabbi Silverman said the school system seems committed to a policy that excuses absences for religious observance and encourages teachers to keep the holidays in mind when scheduling tests.

Ragsdale’s office and Rabbi Silverman sent holiday reminders to public school principals, and the rabbi said most of the administrators provided “very positive responses of support.”

Rabbi Silverman was left with the impression that the county administration believes that Jewish children should not come to school on the holidays.

“We need the Jewish community to understand that,” he said, because too many parents are sending their children to school and thus sending a message that Judaism isn’t important.

Trying to change parental attitudes is the other side of the initiative. Rabbi Silverman said he hasn’t gotten a lot of response from parents, but what he has heard has been positive.

He recognizes that the cultural shift necessary for parents to prioritize shul over school will take years, but if the campaign leads even one more family to go to High Holiday services, he said, “it’s a success.”

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