December 10, 2018

New group for school and shul rabbis addresses shared issues

A new group of Orthodox day school principals and pulpit rabbis on Los Angeles’ Westside began meeting a few months ago to work through issues that overlap the classroom and the synagogue.

Since December, a group of 10 rabbis has discussed issues ranging from bar and bat mitzvah decorum to serving kids with learning or behavioral differences.

“Usually what happens is pulpit rabbis and day school principals rarely talk to each other, and it shouldn’t be that way, because we share the same community — the congregants are going to the schools — and we share so many issues. If we just talk to each other and try to brainstorm and become a think tank, everyone would benefit,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin, who started the Shuls/Schools Coalition (SSC) in December.

The rabbis meet about every six weeks for 90 minutes, addressing a previously agreed-upon topic. The host rabbi provides lunch, the only cost SSC incurs.

So far, participants include Rabbis Yosef Kanefsky of Congregation B’nai-David Judea; Steven Weil, Beth Jacob; Daniel Korobkin, Kehillat Yavneh; Nachum Kosofsky, Shaarei Tefila; Moises Benzaquen, Magen David; Boruch Sufrin, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy; Karmi Gross, Maimonides Academy; Moshe Dear, Yeshivat Yavneh; and Shuki Gabbai, Shalhevet.

At the first meeting in December, the rabbis addressed the problem of kids running wild in shuls when they attend a bar mitzvah. The rabbis agreed to visit the schools so the kids would have a familiar face associated with the shul. They also agreed to appoint adults to keep decorum and make the experience more spiritually meaningful for the young guests.

At the next three meetings, the rabbis devoted all their time to addressing communal responsibility for children who aren’t served by a standard day school curriculum. The issue arose because Kol Hanearim, a two-year-old program to serve emotionally and behaviorally challenged kids in day schools, was in deep financial trouble.

The rabbis decided to examine different models and assess what the best solution is for Los Angeles, an ongoing process. They have pulled the Bureau of Jewish Education and non-Orthodox day schools into the discussion.

The next meeting will look at how to make prayer a more meaningful experience both in school and in synagogue, a long-term problem Muskin sees among many of his adult congregants who graduated from day schools.

“Something is desperately wrong, and this is a synagogue-school problem. It’s an issue that crosses the line between the school and shul, and we’ve got to figure out ways to fix it,” Muskin said.