When I grew up, we belonged to a synagogue and frequented it…well, I shouldn’t use the word “frequented.” Yet somehow I ended up in a Jewish elementary school, which could have been an excellent vehicle to engage my whole family more deeply in Judaism, as educators in Toronto are now recommending for their schools. The only family engagement method in my school was a kosher food labels contest, when I begged my mom to buy countless individually wrapped instant oatmeal boxes in order to cut the kosher label from all six packets. But as we know, oatmeal sticks to the gut through mid-morning at best.
There is a wealth of untapped outreach potential through Jewish schools. Parents want to be involved in their children’s education, and are generally excited to learn something new themselves. The outreach possibilities become particularly salient as Jewish preschools gain popularity among the unaffiliated (the number of children enrolled in these schools is now 122,500, twice as many as were enrolled ten years ago).
As more families that don’t fit into the traditional mold—including interfaith, single parent, and same-sex—are looking beyond synagogues and other institutions for ways to enrich and expand their family’s Jewish experiences, educators in Toronto are beginning to tap into this growing potential.
And as more unaffiliated and intermarried families do choose this path for their children, educators will hopefully recognize and take advantage of outreach potential for the whole family, because while some have enrolled their kids in Jewish schools because they received a Jewish education as children, others enroll their kids because they didn’t. And it could be the perfect time to make up for that missed opportunity.