Young religious school teachers return to class

The Madrichim program is implemented in many synagogues across America.

Molly Levine, Junior, Marquette High School

As students return to in-person school, Sunday School classes are also returning. For many, the shift from virtual religious education to in-person Sunday school classes has been a major adjustment, especially for young Jewish educators, called Madrichim.

In Hebrew, the word Madrich translates to “leader” or “teacher”. As Sunday School Helpers, Madrichim obtain the important role of fostering the growth of Jewish education for the next generation of Jewish individuals.

Samara Landy, a sophomore at Clayton High School and a member of Congregation B’nai Amoona, has signed up to become Madrich during the height of the pandemic and continued to hold this position at his congregation’s religious school.

“I taught sixth grade last year and was fully online during the school year, which wasn’t great,” Landy said. “This is my first year as a Madrich in person, and I’m with the third grade class. I also definitely prefer to be a Madrich this year compared to last year.

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Despite the apparent difficulties she faced when she became Madrich during the pandemic, Landy was motivated to continue being a Jewish role model for elementary-aged children.

“I signed up to teach Sunday School as a Madrich because I used to go to the same Sunday school,” Landy said. “I also wanted to be a teacher for the kids who weren’t as willing to go, so they could have more fun and be excited to come to Sunday school. I try to show them that going to Hebrew school is fun and can be a good experience.

In order to shed a positive light and encourage attendance at Sunday School, school leaders, with the help of Madrichim, perform a variety of educational and engaging activities. Alyssa Smith, a senior at Parkway Central High School and a devotee of B’nai Amoona, detailed the schedule that students at her synagogue’s religious school follow each week.

“At the start of religious school, children are in their classroom for 15 minutes doing an activity,” Smith said. “Then they have some sort of choice, whether it’s music, learning about Israel, or art. We eventually add in the kitchen. Then they go back to their room for Hebrew lessons, and more late they will take a break. At 11 o’clock they go to T’filah, then they return home.

Smith provides assistance to individual students as an inclusion specialist. Although this position differs from her former role as a teacher’s assistant in a specific classroom, the role is equally rewarding for Smith.

“I do a variety of things as an inclusion specialist,” Smith said. “I walk around all the different classrooms and see where I can help the kids. I also sit in the sensory room with the kids so if they need a break from class they can go. I feel like I am allowing my students to have a more flexible and comfortable Jewish experience as well. It’s just fun spending time with the kids.

Andrew Goldberg, a senior at Parkway North High School and a member of Congregation Shaare Emeth, has been promoted from assistant teacher to senior educator. Starting as a Madrich his freshman year of high school, Goldberg enjoys being a co-teacher alongside another Jewish educator.

“When I worked as a teacher’s aide before, it was more about learning how to be a teacher and helping the teacher with substantive activities,” Goldberg said. “If the markers were low, I would go get more markers. I would be the one writing things on the board while the teacher was teaching. Now my role has changed.

With her new position, Goldberg now has greater autonomy in her classroom as a teacher and has been able to engage even more with students.

“It’s great to work with kids, and I can do that more as a school leader,” Goldberg said. “My favorite part of teaching Sunday School is being able to pass on what I have learned over these years. I hope to impact my students by passing on my own Jewish traditions and knowledge to them. Message from L’dor V’dor, from generation to generation, is very important to me.

Although many Madrichim including Landy, Smith and Goldberg have all been in the teacher’s aide program for several consecutive years, others are just beginning to share their Jewish knowledge with young children. Carli Alper, a freshman at Parkway Central High School and a member of United Hebrew, fostered the growth of Jewish education among her kindergarten and first-grade class as Madrich.

“It’s interesting to see the different levels of learning and curiosity, as well as what kids know and want to know more about,” Alper said. “I hope I encourage my students to really love being Jewish and to love going to Sunday School. I really think that students enjoying Sunday School is important to our future as Jewish people because it is a doorway to other Jewish opportunities.

During the rest of the religious school year, Madrichim will continue to share their Jewish experiences and knowledge with their students, some even planning their own lessons to teach in the classroom.

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