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Saturday, August 30, 2014

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Reform movement offers for-credit high school courses

Tags: Jewish learning
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Robin Leszner

TORONTO — The Reform movement is introducing a new supplementary high school program this fall, which includes both for-credit and not-for-credit courses.

The Toronto Area Reform Supplementary CHAI School Programme will be offered for students in grades 8 through 12.

“It was conceived as a community program to replace the religious school programs post-b’nai mitzvah,” said Robin Leszner, director of education at Temple Emanu-El. Leszner is co-ordinating the program until a permanent co-ordinator is hired.

At least four GTA synagogues will be involved – Temple Emanu-El, Temple Sinai, City Shul, and Neshamah Congregation of York Region.

As well, Leszner said, Newmarket’s Or Hadash Congregation and Am Shalom, in Barrie, have expressed interest in participating.

Other local Reform congregations have their own religious school programs up to Grade 10, but have been involved in the discussions and planning, and are encouraging their older students to participate in the credit courses, Leszner said. Credits will be granted through Blyth Academy.

The fall semester will be held at Temple Emanu-El, and the program will move to Temple Sinai in the spring. Buses will be provided to bring students from both the north and south parts of the city.

Tuition will run $500, $600 for non-members.

Planning for the pilot project, which is funded by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the Toronto-based Council of Reform Educators as well as the Reform rabbis of Greater Toronto, began after a visit to Toronto last November by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

“He had a meeting with the Reform educators, and got us pumped up about how we can rejuvenate Jewish education in the city,” Leszner said.

Ira Schweitzer, who is retiring as director of education at Temple Sinai, and Rabbi Michael Dolgin of Temple Sinai initially approached Leszner and Rabbi Debra Landsberg with the idea for the program.

Coincidentally, Leszner – who just graduated as part of the inaugural cohort of the executive MA program in Jewish education at Hebrew Union College – had an assignment last winter that involved creating “a strategic plan for a change in the education of the community,” she told The CJN.

“We wanted to create a learning environment that offers a liberal alternative,” Leszner said. She knows of a couple of similar programs in the United States.

In Toronto, Torah High, a program for high school students that is affiliated with National Conference of Synagogue Youth, the youth movement of the Orthodox Union, has been offering for-credit courses for 10 years.

The curriculum for the new Reform program was generated by students at Temple Emanu-El and Temple Sinai, Leszner said. “It’s what they’re interested in.”

Credit courses include Hebrew language; Pride and Prejudice – Moving Through Jewish Identity, and Driving Like a Mensch, a driver education program that includes material on ethics and values as well as a CAA-approved curriculum.

Among the non-credit courses are It Ain’t Just Chicken Soup – Cooking up a Taste of Global Jewish Culture; Sex in the Texts, Jews & Jocks – Heroes or Role Models? and a Holocaust-themed fine arts project.

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