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Staff Column by Sarah Lauing Cohen, Director of Learning and Educational Innovation

Tasting Judaism’s Abundant Rewards: The Inspiration and Guide for Beth Am’s Youth Education Programs
April/May 2024

Each spring, we ask our Youth Education parents why they send their children to Beth Am’s programs. Every year, consistent themes emerge: identity and community. Families enroll their children in Beth Am programs hoping they will learn about their Jewish heritage and will make Jewish friends. 

We do all that and more! As articulated in Beth Am’s Vision for Lifelong Learning, “our goal is not only to gain Jewish knowledge, but to taste its abundant rewards — to understand how Judaism can help us live better, more joyful and purposeful lives.” Even more than teaching specific Jewish holidays or Hebrew prayer literacy, we aim to develop and nurture the core of who our children are and will be.

This vision of tasting Judaism’s abundant rewards drives how our Education Team and committed faculty members approach our work. Two primary themes — corresponding to two core Jewish values — guide how we develop and implement our programming:

Shleimut, wholeness — In Beth Am’s Youth Education programs, learners become more confident and resilient. Bolstered by a deep foundation of identity-building and driven by their exploration of  Jewish values, students become better versions of themselves. For example, as students work through the decoding of Hebrew letters and words, they discover a sense of accomplishment and pride. They do this while connecting more deeply to our “Jewish life vocabulary,” Hebrew that highlights their identities as American Reform Jews. Our 8th-12th grade classes provide a safe space for teens to explore deep and challenging questions around topics such as Israel and antisemitism, bolstering clarity and confidence in their identities as they prepare for life outside of our community. Throughout the different age groups and types of programming, we instill Jewish values into the curriculum so that our young people develop a strong moral compass that aligns with our traditions and build a robust sense of self. 

Kehillah, community — Learners at Beth Am are nurtured and supported by deep relationships with their teachers, educators and clergy, while also becoming more connected to their family, Jewish friends, local community and the world at large. The development of community begins on a micro level  making friends in our programs  and eventually builds to creating a tight-knit cohort with their B’nei Mitzvah and Confirmation classes. Through our family programming, entire families build connections that lead to lifelong bonds with our special Beth Am intergenerational community. And learning about our people’s history and the diversity of  global Jewry today bolsters our learners’ sense of Jewish peoplehood while we create it ourselves in real time.

Our strong values and ambitious goals have powered our successes in recent years. Parent satisfaction has been steadily increasing since 2020, up to 4.44 out of 5 in Spring 2023. Due to our vibrant tween and teen programming, post-B’nei Mitzvah retention has improved more in the past two years than the previous five. And Youth Education is also a membership pipeline, with newly enrolled families representing almost half of our past year’s new members. We are excited to continue to build our special community, offer dynamic programming and bring more into the fold. Registration for the 2024-2025 school year is open now. We hope you’ll join us for the magic!

Sarah Lauing Cohen

Wed, April 17 2024 9 Nisan 5784