Making faith fun

Rabbis Moshe and Yossi provide a glimpse into the modern teaching tactics at Bucks County Hebrew School

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

When the bell rings on Friday at 3 p.m., most students sprint from their classrooms, not giving school a second thought until Monday morning rolls around. But for those who attend public school yet have a religious-based family, the dreaded Sunday school still looms ahead. While reading scriptures from centuries ago and jotting down dates of historical events, most kids dream of being elsewhere. But not at the Bucks County Hebrew School, where the staff works to make faith-based learning enjoyable.

Head of the class: Bucks County Hebrew School, at 2446 Bristol Road in Bensalem, opened its doors 10 years ago under the umbrella of the Bensalem Jewish Outreach Center. Lessons are offered to prepare students for Bar and Bat Mitvahs, Jewish coming of age ceremonies for boys at 13 years old and girls at 12. PHOTO: Bucks County Hebrew School

The school, located at 2446 Bristol Road in Bensalem, opened its doors 10 years ago under the umbrella of the Bensalem Jewish Outreach Center. Starting with only three students its first year, the school has steadily grown. Currently, almost 40 students ranging in age from 4–14 years old meet every Sunday from 10 a.m.-noon to learn about their Jewish faith and culture.

At the BCHS, the philosophy is “we make Hebrew school fun.”

“Many adults didn’t have a positive Hebrew school experience,” Rabbi Moshe Selengut, one of the instructors, said. “It was strictly academic.”

Selengut and the other teachers at the school, many of whom are alumni, believe making sure the students have fun is more important than the education. If they’re enjoying themselves, learning the material will come naturally.

Each lesson is broken into two periods. The first focuses on the Aleph-Belts reading program to teach students the Hebrew language letter system. Afterward, students learn about Israel and Jewish history, holidays and values. Throughout each lesson, crafts, songs and other activities like Jewish trivia are incorporated to help them better understand the material. Speakers visit occasionally to present on special topics, including a three-week kosher series.

Hands on learning: Bucks County Hebrew School incorporates games, crafts and trivia into each lesson. PHOTO: Bucks County Hebrew School

The mission of BCHS is to relate the religion to the next generation. Many students come in with a severe lack of knowledge about Judaism, but Selengut sees excitement grow with each lesson, which they’re able to pass along to their families. A few celebrated Hanukkah for the first time after their children’s school lessons became a family-joined experience.

For parents wishing to connect with their faith, BCHS offers a Family Partnership Program where they’re able to join their children on Sunday in a special, interactive adult class. Danish and other breakfast foods are always served to help entice them, but according to Selengut, the parents have built a community around their class and use it as a social and spiritual outlet.

Though lessons are packed with activities, education isn’t limited to the classroom. Throughout the year, various trips are taken to give students a hands-on approach to learning about their faith. During Passover, they stop by a matza bakery, and apple picking takes place before Rosh Hashanah. The school also hosts a Hanukkah party, which usually attracts more than 200 guests.

Probably the most anticipated trip is a visit to Brooklyn, which has a large Jewish community. Compared to the city, Bucks County is holding its own. According to Rabbi Yossi Censor, another instructor, Bucks has the third-largest Jewish population in Pennsylvania. In Lower Bucks County, the Jewish community totals approximately 50,000.

Beyond the core classes of Hebrew language and Jewish history, optional lessons are offered to prepare students for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, Jewish coming of age ceremonies for boys at 13 years old and girls at 12.

“It’s to inspire a sense of Jewish pride,” Selengut said.

To attend BCHS, there is a tuition fee, but every family interested in having their child attend is offered a scholarship. According to Selengut, many families in the area are hurting financially and neglect to give their child a religious education because of the high costs associated with it. To maintain the scholarship, the student must have an 80 percent attendance rate and one parent must attend at least one monthly function, such as an adult class.

On Sept. 10, the school will host an open-house carnival to kick off the start of a new school year and invite interested families to see what it’s all about. Last year’s event featured local student performances, balloon artists and an appearance by the Phillie Phanatic.

For information, visit buckscountyhebrewschool.com. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com