Innovative religious school programs get BJE grants

In addition, the class also expands the knowledge of congregants. "They're just enjoying it tremendously," Resnikoff said. "It's been very successful. What's really nice, in my class, we have teachers, parents, temple board members and congregants. It's a really nice mix."

The Beit Midrash program, directed by Chani Oppenheim, is one of 10 programs to receive a school improvement program grant from the S.F.-based Bureau of Education. Rodef Sholom received $1,125. Grants to the 10 religious schools, totaling $12,630, range from $700 to $2,280.

In evaluating grant applications, the committee was looking "for a connection between the school philosophy and the synagogue philosophy," said Debbie Findling, the BJE's director of school services.

"Research in Jewish education has shown that successful schools are ones in which there is a synergy between what happens in the school and what happens in the synagogue — where there is a tight relationship between the school and the rabbi, between the school and the lay board, and with the families."

The Beit Midrash program, Findling said, is " based on the philosophy of continued Jewish education not only for teachers in the synagogue but for the adults as well. The beauty of this program is that it's not viewing the teachers as a separate entity but as adult learners."

In San Francisco, Congregation Sha'ar Zahav received $2,280 — the largest of the 10 grants — to help fund an additional session of religious school for its older children. The midweek session will more than double the amount of time devoted to teaching Hebrew and prayers. It will also increase teaching time in Jewish culture, holidays and Judaica.

Sha'ar Zahav, where David Shneer is education director, has experienced growth, Findling said. By increasing the "hours of Jewish education, it's more likely that the students will grow up to be involved Jewish adults.

On the Peninsula, Palo Alto's Congregation Etz Chayim received $1,500 for Mi Dor L'Dor (From Generation to Generation), a family education program. Simone Schweber is the director.

The program "reaches out to a population of families that do not necessarily have a strong Jewish background, teaching them rituals that they can do at home, so that the families don't have to go to synagogue to be Jewish," Findling said.

"Jewish education and celebrating doesn't just happen in the school. [The program] is providing the tools to the families to be Jewish at home."

The following synagogue programs also were awarded school improvement grants from the BJE:

*The religious school at Congregation Beth Ami in Santa Rosa received $1,000 for its seventh-grade play, modeled on a traditional kibbutz program. The director is Joanne Cheslow. On many kibbutzim in Israel, the entire seventh-grade class becomes b'nai mitzvah on the same day, celebrating with parties and often a performance by the students and their parents. With that model in mind, the religious school plans for seventh-graders and their parents to create a play for the congregation.

*Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto received $1,525 for its Shabbat morning family education program. The director is Fred Nathan. The program will provide twice-monthly learners' minyans for parents and children, enabling them to study Torah and learn about the morning service. Services will conclude with a family Shabbat lunch.

*The T'fillah enrichment program at Congregation Beth Israel Judea in San Francisco received $1,500. Claire Mikowski is director. The goal is to improve student participation in youth services and teach them to lead the congregation in prayer. The congregation plans to hire a junior choir leader to work with students.

*Congregation Shir Shalom in Sonoma received $1,000 for its family education program. Director is Susan Jebrock. The program will enable parents to study what their children are learning. Afterward, parents will join their children in class for a joint activity.

*Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon received $1,225 to redesign and improve its seventh-grade curriculum. Beverly Pinto is director.

*Or Shalom Jewish Community in San Francisco received $775 to create a fast-paced beginning Hebrew class for older students, in order to mainstream them into the regular Hebrew school program. Shira Stutman is director.

*The Hebrew enrichment program at Congregation B'nai Israel in Petaluma received $700. Daphne Shapiro is director. The goal is to improve Hebrew reading through small-group sessions.