Several hundred Jewish educators and parents spent Sunday drilling for fresh ideas on how to meet a myriad of challenges — some old, many new — that confront those charged with passing our mesorah on to new generations.
“Educating children has never been easy, but it has gotten even harder,” said conference organizer Rabbi Reuven Taragin in opening the event. “Children spend much, if not most, of their time engrossed in a secular culture often shallow and counter to our values.”
Rabbi Shalom Axelrod of the Young Israel of Woodmere, which hosted the third annual Five Towns Community Education Conference, pointed out that this year’s breakout sessions went beyond in-school chinuch to consider the role of families in Jewish education.
Because of their biological link to the mesorah chain, parents are uniquely equipped to keep their children connected, Rabbi Taragin said.
Rabbi Yaakov Bender, rosh yeshiva at Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, touched in his opening keynote remarks on changes in contemporary approaches to Jewish education. While discipline remains a necessity, he said, it cannot be administered the way it once was.
“Every child is different,” Rabbi Bender said, and when one falls away, the parent or educator should not lose heart. “Never give up on a single child, he said, “smother them with love. … You can never tell what will happen to a child later on.”
Thirty thirty-minute panels, with six held concurrently, considered a wide range of educational, familial and social issues.
Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz, whose topic was “The Proper Attitudes of Our Community and Our Children Toward Gedolei Yisrael” said that children may ask, “We have Google, why do we need Gedolei Yisrael?” We need to emphasize the difference between easily-accessed surface knowledge and the deep understanding of complex halachic issues that resides in our talmud chachamim, who must be respected, he said.
In her session, Rebbetzin Aviva Feiner considered a recurring summer challenge.
“The Three Weeks and Tisha B’Av occur when we are usually away having a good time, they don’t fall in the chinuch curriculum,” she pointed out. “Instead of asking how we can best fit our vacation around this inconvenient time, look rather for opportunities to teach the meaning of this time.”
The Jewish Star will have additional coveage of the conference in the next edition.