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School leaders train students to become committed Jewish adults

June 07, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

When Randi Numbers and her family became part of Congregation B'nai Abraham in Hagerstown, there were 88 children enrolled in The Religious School.

Now, because the congregation is small and aging, that figure is down to 15 students, said Numbers, who has been principal of the school for the past four years.

Still the school is vital, teaching young Jewish children to read Hebrew, learn prayers and ultimately to be able to read from the Torah, the Jewish holy book.

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"Our mission is to educate Jewish children in the Hagerstown area and turn them into knowledgeable and committed Jewish adults," Numbers said. She added that whether there are 88 students or 15, there still is a lot of work to be done to make the school work.

Numbers, 45, taught pre-kindergarten and kindergarten children at the 53 E. Baltimore St. synagogue before becoming principal. She gets to substitute in the classroom from time to time, which she likes.

"There had been a sisterhood and a brotherhood here that had been very involved with the school, but they were both dissolved," Numbers said.

Now she is trying to improve parental involvement in the school to help her and the teachers keep things active and vital.

The job of principal is voluntary, Numbers said. But she added she is glad to contribute to the cause for which she feels very strongly.

A native of Easton, Pa., Numbers is a graduate of the University of Delaware with a degree in psychology. She earned her master's degree in education administration from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

She and her family live in Myersville, Md.

To complete the required 60 hours of education each year, children from pre-kindergarten through 10th grade attend class Sundays from 9 to 10 a.m. and on Wednesday nights.

"We rely heavily on the parents, making sure we are all on the same page," she said.

"When a child of a member reaches the pre-kindergarten age, a letter goes home each year until they are through the 10th grade," Numbers said. "No one turns us down."

One has to be a member of the congregation to attend the school, she said. The school is as old as the congregation, which has been at its present location since 1892.

The youngest students start with the alphabet, recognizing the letters and then the vowels, Numbers said.

"We don't teach conversational Hebrew, but instead prayer Hebrew," she said.

By third grade, students should be able to recite a few simple prayers. After third grade, the students strive to become more fluent.

The students of that age can open a prayer book and be able to read well, she said. Then the progression continues to more elaborate and difficult prayers.

"The Torah has no vowels. Many learn with the vowels and then we take them out," Numbers said.

Sunday school, which follows the religious school each Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon, is where the children of the congregation learn Bible stories, the history of Judaism, and about traditions and holidays.

There are about 30 children in Sunday school right now, Numbers said.

Between the two schools, the faculty consists of about 10 members.

Children enrolled in the religious school are aiming for their 13th birthday, when they become a "son or a daughter of the commandments." These ceremonies are called bar mitzvahs for boys and bat mitzvahs for girls.

On June 19, Numbers and her husband, Scott, will be watching as their eldest child, Leah, celebrates her bat mitzvah. In a few years, son Evan, now 9, will take his turn.

For more information on Congregation B'nai Abraham's Religious School, call 301-733-5039. The office is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

"Leave a message for me specifically about the school and I will call back to explain how it works," Numbers said.

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