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Raising Jewish Children: Research and Indications for Intervention

An initial window of educational opportunity occurs with marriage, child-rearing, and the search for Jewish-content child care programs, not only for children but for the parents and other family members. Ruth Pinkenson Feldman discovered this dynamic in her study of Philadelphia children almost twenty-five years ago: the Jewish observance level of the entire household rose when children entered Jewish nurseries, as a passive or second-hand result of the children’s schooling.13 In a study for JECEP, Beck observed 9 schools and ―interviewed 90 families with children attending the school,” finding that ―most families were initially not primarily concerned with providing a Jewish education for their children.” Afterwards, “16 percent of the Jewish preschool graduates continued in Jewish day schools,” and 52% “continued their formal Jewish education in synagogue-affiliated religious schools.” The impact on the family was even greater: ―Nearly 70 percent of the interviewed families were ‘doing something different’ as a result of their child‘s Jewish preschool experience,” and “prior to their child‘s preschool experience, only 40 percent of the families were synagogue members. In contrast, at the time of the interviews, 80 percent of the families were members.”14 (Many schools require membership for enrollment.)

Shaul Kelner’s more recent study of the impact of early childhood Jewish education further refines the nuances of the family effect: Having a child enrolled in a Jewish school builds connections to an important Jewish social network: other Jewish parents and the Jewish community, helping parents to create Jewish social circles that may reinforce their own and their family’s connections to Jews and Jewishness. This social network additionally supports home-based Jewish behaviors. Parents with young children in Jewish schools may become more amenable to providing their children with substantive Jewish education in the future.15