Congregation B’nai Israel of Basking Ridge already has a Hebrew high program for post-b’nei mitzva students that meets once a month. But a number of parents in the congregation, with approval from their children, agreed that they wanted a more challenging program, one that meets more often and has broader community participation.
On Sunday, Feb. 1, about 16 people gathered at the synagogue to discuss the idea, some of them members of CBI, some from elsewhere. Howard Stolzer, a member of the CBI board of trustees and one of the main organizers, said that with 15 youngsters already committed to the idea, they are ready to move forward with the establishment of Hebrew High of Somerset Hills.
“Ideally we will reach 25 to 30 students before we launch, which would allow us to expand course offerings,” he said.
CBI’s Rabbi John Schechter is spearheading the project and the search for the right staff. The new program will have a more academic focus and will include instruction in modern Hebrew.
It is designed for teenagers in central and northern New Jersey who are post-b’nei mitzva age (primarily grades eight-11). Classes will be held at CBI on Sunday mornings beginning next fall. Students do not need to be members of CBI — or any synagogue — to participate.
Much of the curriculum has been developed by the Brandeis University Community Hebrew High Schools Curriculum Development Initiative.
“The program is designed to enable motivated students to continue their study of Judaism, Israel, Jewish history, and modern Hebrew language,” according to a plan by organizers. “Our goal is to prepare young people as they enter college and their adult lives, enabling them to fully participate as active members of the global Jewish community.”
Central to the idea is partnership with other synagogues. “That is also why we chose a distinct name and created our separate website,” Stolzer said. “We want this to grow as a partnership.”
It is being made open to the community, regardless of the participants’ Jewish affiliation, “to allow our students to create friendships with young adults in surrounding communities,” he said. “We know the benefit that our teens have in meeting peers through summer camp and other Jewish organizations. Adding an academic component to that network adds a dimension that we believe will help students as they look at colleges and beyond.”
The program emerged from conversations among parents. “Many people mentioned that they and their children were looking for a Hebrew high curriculum that was more challenging and engaging,” Stolzer said.
At the Feb. 1 meeting, he said, “Everyone was extremely enthusiastic. I think they were especially excited that there would be a modern Hebrew language component to the program. Several parents spoke about their own years at Hebrew high, and they were very happy that they could have a similar educational experience for their children.”
The projected tuition is $750 per student per academic year, a rate consistent with similar programs around the country, according to the North American Association of Community and Congregational Hebrew High Schools, to which CBI belongs.