Peter Braun
Born in Prague; former Skokie resident

My Hebrew School Rant

Today, I just want to rant, about something that kept me up last night.  I wish to rant about my Hebrew School days.

In about 4th grade, I went to Hebrew School at an Orthodox Temple in Skokie, even though we were not Orthodox.   It was the closest school and the most affordable.

During my three years of Hebrew School, I was taught the Hebrew alphabet, how to read Hebrew, how to write in Hebrew, and I was introduced to the main Hebrew Prayers.

What is a shame about Hebrew School was the following:  we were never introduced to Jewish Ethics, philosophies or ideas; we were never introduced to the history of Judaism or Israel; we never learned why one should pray or what its purpose is, and we were never given life advice or warned about things we should avoid, or provided with any values.  We were not even told not to steal.  (My parents had never told me not to steal, either; and I did steal as a child.)

I am pretty certain that none of the secular students in my class became Orthodox later in life; kept kosher, or joined an Orthodox shul as adults.   I know that I joined a reform Temple as an adult.

Just learning the language does not necessarily imbue one with pride in their religion and history.  It would have been nice to know that Judaism is more than just the Holocaust.  It would be nice to be introduced to the Heroes of Ancient Israel; to battles lost and won; to learn about our contributions to legal disputes and Courts of law and basic Justice.

It is funny that my favorite class in college was Ethics; which mainly featured readings from the Ancient Greeks, and from Kant and the Utilitarians.  Philosophy seemed to really excite my mind, it made me think, and it made me appreciate the fact that there have been men throughout history who think about what is wrong and right, and what proper behavior should entail.  What makes a good person good?  Lastly, it elevated my thoughts to a higher level.

It seemed to me that Hebrew School should incorporate some elements of what it means to be a good person, and how Judaism has contributed to the goodness of mankind. During my entire childhood, I was bullied and taunted, and the gang of guys I grew up with never complimented each other or really supported each other.  Shame.   It was nice to see that at least some men through history thought it was valuable to figure out what constitutes a Mensch.

I never went to a yeshiva or studied the Talmud, and I did not read any of the Torah until I was an adult.   It seems that part of bar and bat mitzvah training should be a basic overview of ethics and a basic overview of Jewish History prior to the Holocaust and post-Holocaust.

All right, that is my rant.  It sure would have been nice to know that the Golden Rule was a Jewish concept and not just a Christian one.  It would have been nice to read the passages in the Torah that talk about charitable giving.  It would have been nice to review and analyze the Ten Commandments; and it would have been nice to know more about Moses, Solomon, David, and Saul, and not just learn about Hitler. All right, end of my rant.

 

About the Author
Born in Prague of the Czech Republic. Moved to the U.S. in 1968, during the Czech Spring. The son of two Holocaust Survivors, orphans, who worked in healthcare or science. I have a brother who is a Klezmer musician in Chicago. I studied creative writing during college at Northwestern University in Evanston. For my career, I have mainly worked in IT, as a desktop publisher, database publisher, and intranet web publisher. For writing, I have written user manuals, help files, and training manuals.
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