April 23, 2009
Going to Hebrew school, I got into the weekly swing of showing up with my siddur in tow and snack money in hand, ready to learn about such wonders as Moses parting the Red Sea. I had begged my mother to send me to Congregation Etz Chaim of Long Island after my father passed away, and I excitedly took my place in the carpool with my best friend shortly after fourth grade began.
It was hard to catch up to the other students, who had begun their Hebrew school experiences as early as six years old. I still managed to gain much knowledge of Judaism, as well as the framework of my own Jewish identity, during those Monday, Wednesday, and Sunday afternoons. Little moments, like a noteworthy teacher who always referenced The New York Times and wore orange yarmulkes made to look like basketballs, contributed to how I looked for Judaism.
As a teen, even after I had a bat mitzva in that very temple, I pieced together not what I learned but how I learned it. I learned wide-eyed and eager in an environment with my peers. Surrounded by Jews who were told that Hebrew school was a Jewish value, obligation, and expression of being Jewish, we were motivated to be Jewish.
When I went to college, I continuously sought this connection with other Jews. I joined Hillel and by speaking with others, I discovered that Hebrew school is where it all started — it contributed to our overall adolescence and helped us discover our identities. When I listened to my friends share stories — about the kid who wrote love notes to all the girls on the back of his alef note cards to the one friend who still uses the seder plate made in the second grade — I knew these stories were more than just individual stories; they were the story of the Jewish people.
I thought, “What if there was a collective space that represented my generation’s Jewish beginnings?” So I created the Hebrew School Project (hebrewschoolproject.blogspot.com), an attempt to gather stories from people about their experiences. I also created a group on Facebook and invited all my Jewish friends to start participating. As I continued to ask people for these monologues, I realized that many members of the group weren’t friends I originally contacted, but people outside of my network.
I realized the growth potential of this idea and also decided to start a blog — an open space where any Jew can contribute or observe. I hope many of you will visit the site and participate, and pass it along to friends. My goal is to make it a project of distribution, rather than simply contribution. Check it out and add your favorite Hebrew school anecdote today.
Samantha Tuchfeld is a junior creative writing major at Binghamton University in New York. She loves reading, writing, painting, fine art, exploration, and having adventures. She’s also a member of the JVibe Teen Advisory Board. This article appeared on JVibe.com, the website for JVibe, the bimonthly magazine published by Jewish Family & Life. Subscriptions are available at JVibe.com and the editors can be reached at email@example.com.