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The Whole Spiel

Jewish Learning 

August 17, 2020

When I first heard that the Capital Jewish Museum was going to be built, I was, like many, elated. It felt wonderful to know that something that I had considered to be one of the focal points of my identity was going to be represented in a museum that would be visited by thousands of people. I also thought that it would be refreshing to know that people would be educated on Jewish topics other than the Holocaust. However, a large reason for my elation was something similar- but not the same: I hope that this museum will not only educate non-Jews, but Jews (like myself) as well.  

Jewish education has been a major part of my life for its entirety. I was fortunate enough to attend the Gan HaYeled preschool at my synagogue as a child. When I moved on to Kindergarten, I began my time at the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital (JPDS-NC) and stayed there until I graduated after 6th grade in 2016. (Disclaimer: the school has since expanded to include grades 7 and 8.) At both of these schools I had at least one class period a day where I learned the Hebrew language or Judaic Studies. By the time I left JPDS-NC I had learned about nearly every book in the Hebrew Bible (or Tanach). We studied multiple weekly parshiot in depth, read multiple commentaries, had projects centered around learning about the “lesser learned” parshiot, and when any Jewish Holiday came around, we would pause our current unit to learn extensively about the holiday’s traditions and origins as well as Jewish history. My Jewish education continued every summer when I attended Camp Ramah in New England.  

The intensity of my Jewish learning changed drastically when I graduated from JPDS-NC and moved to the secular public school system in 7th grade. There I had no time for learning Hebrew or Torah study. In fact, our social studies classes touched very little on the Jewish community until it came time to talk about world religions and/or the Holocaust; and even those units were either short or didn’t speak much about Judaism. Fortunately, I was able to continue attending Camp Ramah NE as well as begin attending the religious school at my synagogue. However, it occurred to me that for those who hadn’t gone to any form of religious school, this had been the case for their entire education. Their knowledge of the Hebrew language and Jewish History could be limited to what they hear at synagogue every week and/or what they could teach themselves at home. And as for those with no connection to Judaism, it’s likely that they would not learn much about Jewish History beyond the Holocaust. 

I feel that I have truly benefitted from my Jewish education, however I know that I still have a lot to learn especially when it comes to DC Jewish History. I hope that the museum will explore a wide range of topics that detail Jewish History in DC, but broader historical events as well. My wish is that the information will be conveyed in a way that regardless of a person’s experience with Jewish Education they’ll understand the significance and complexities of this history and culture.