My daughter’s JCC kindergarten is open 12 months of the year from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.. There is no winter break or summer vacation, no early closings or PD Days. They feed her lunch and snacks (and even breakfast on days I have an early-morning meeting). It’s a safe and healthy environment in which she thrives and learns, and it’s also convenient. We can drop her off and pick her up at times that work for us. We don’t have to rearrange our work schedules, or organize play dates or babysitting when the school schedule changes, and we don’t need to spend precious evening hours packing lunches for the next day.
Like many in my generation, we lead very busy lives. We work long hours – both in and out of the office; we juggle kids’ schedules of activities, appointments and birthday parties; and we try to squeeze in a few moments every now and then to relax.
Convenience is king, and it needs to be. Jewish living needs to be more convenient.
It’s starting to.
When I was a day school student, a few ‘“after four” programs were offered by the parents association at my elementary school. Today, an increasing number of schools offer daily before- and after-school care, allowing parents to drop their kids off and still make it to work on time and pick them up on their way home. It’s an essential service for dual income families.
Supplementary education is also transforming to meet parent needs. In Toronto, Makom: Creative Downtown Judaism offers a five-day-a-week after-school program in three public schools where children can learn Hebrew and Jewish studies while being cared for after the public school early closing. The Schwartz/Reisman Centre in Vaughan offers before- and after-school, PD and school vacation programming for students at local public schools and Beth Sholom Synagogue in Toronto is piloting a supplementary program in a local public school immediately after the school day ends.
For many, the final week of August poses a similar challenge. Many camps have finished, and school doesn’t start until the first week in September. Is this another week a parent needs to take off from work, on top of winter break, March break/Passover vacation, etc.? Enter synagogues, a number of which are running week-long camps to bridge the gap between camp and school, marrying convenience with an immersive Jewish experience.
The list goes on and on. Supplementary schools that teach some of their classes over Skype so that parents don’t have to drive their children to the synagogue; schools that have set up parent work stations (often with bagels, coffee and Wi-Fi) so they can be productive while their children are in educational programs; and, my favorite of the week, children’s programs on fast days so that parents can have a few moments off in the afternoon.
The need for convenience goes beyond kids and education. The availability of kosher food on Uber Eats was a game changer earlier this year, allowing for quick and easy kosher food delivery in areas across Toronto.
Convenient Judaism could be seen as a negative, bending an ancient religion to the whims of a fickle consumer. In a world where Jewish living and learning is a choice, however, convenience is king, and the greater the accessibility, the more likely young people will be to engage.
We lead increasingly hectic lives, managing dynamic careers, caring for growing families – both the aging and the young – and trying to care for ourselves. The more we can create a convenient Judaism, one that fits into our lives and values, and helps us juggle multiple balls while adding religious value and relevance, the more likely young Jews will be to engage in meaningful Jewish experiences.
Daniel Held is executive director of the Julia and Henry Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Education at UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.