By Deb Silverthorn
DeReKH, the Dallas Regional Kehillah High Sunday school for eighth- to 12th-graders, is a collaboration among congregations Anshai Torah, Beth Torah and Shearith Israel. It will open Sept. 30 at Anshai Torah in Plano.
The Hebrew word for “pathway,” DeReKH is meant to be a kehillah, a community of more than 100 bright, committed participants dedicated to building a vibrant Jewish future for the next generation.
The program, which is open to the community, will run from 10 a.m. to noon each Sunday through May. Faculty includes Rabbis Michael Kushnick, Adam Roffman, Ari Sunshine, Stefan Weinberg and Elana Zelony, and longtime Jewish educator Evan Bernstein. Along with the rabbis, the participating congregations’ religious-school directors, Sarah Lipinsky, Beri Schwitzer, and Sharon Wechter, are coordinating the program.
“We’re inspired by the tradition that synagogues are places where people can feel secure and comfortable,” said Anshai Torah’s Kushnick. “We’re excited to have teens from throughout our own congregations and those who aren’t affiliated come together to learn and grow, to build friendships and an understanding of where they come from, who they are, who they can, should and will be as the next generation of Jewish leaders in our community.”
DeReKH will build on the strong foundation of each of the congregations’ existing high school programs. Students will study a diverse curriculum that explores core areas of Jewish identity and belief.
“Learning doesn’t stop in the eighth grade — not in math or science and not in Torah, Hebrew or the studies of our culture,” Shearith Israel’s Roffman said. “Our ability to understand changes as we grow. These years are critical to be involved in learning not what to think about Judaism, but how to think as a Jew. Learning to see the real world through a Jewish perspective helps teach our teens to make Jewish choices into adulthood — not just about ritual observance, about everything.
“We’re thrilled to bring a larger combined group of wonderful students together for this authentic experience in Jewish learning,” Roffman added. “This is an opportunity to learn with rabbis and teachers in addition to those in our home shuls, and we each have an immense respect for one another and the richness of our experience.”
Each week begins with brunch, followed by core and elective curricula offering comparative religion, arts, athletics, digital media, Jewish cooking, Holocaust studies, Talmudic stories, Modern Hebrew, current events and popular culture and more. Eighth-grade students will learn together, with ninth- through 12th-grade students separated for their core classes, then intermingled for electives.
“Bringing the kids together in one building is important for them to know and to have each other. By the teachers, staffs and rabbis of the three congregations coming together we are modeling the importance of community — we are community and we are one,” Anshai Torah’s Wechter said.
All connected to the program strongly believe that as important as the educational component is, so too the social connection is paramount in bringing together young adults from various congregations and those whose families are not associated.
Teens will participate in hands-on tikkun olam opportunities. The program will also provide sessions on Jewish college prep, Israel advocacy, Jewish “big ideas” and Zionism. Special programming will allow them time with leaders shaping the future of Jewish Dallas.
“DeReKH is going to be fun, it’s going to be learning, it’s going to be laughing, and it’s going to be doing all of that together with the best education we can provide,” said Shearith Israel’s Lipinsky. “This is a new direction and new leadership for our teens’ best interests and growth in so many areas and we are all very excited to begin.”
DeReKH’s eighth-graders will learn about combating social and economic injustice, and about southern Jewish culture and history in the Lower Ninth Ward and French Quarter of New Orleans.
In 10th grade, they will walk the path of their great-grandparents through the gateways of Ellis Island to the streets of the Lower East Side and experience the newest innovations in Jewish communal life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
As seniors they will join their peers from across the country and across the world on the March of the Living, re-enacting the rebirth of the Jews from the ghettos and the gas chambers to the streets and the sanctuaries of Jerusalem in the Promised Land.
“Coming together, we’re bringing our best and sharing with our students, rather than competing. Together is always stronger and in our Bible Belt, to realize and know the community that is your common ground, where people ‘get’ you, is helpful,” said Beth Torah’s Zelony. “In these formative years, when teens are awakened emotionally and facing ethical decisions of their own for the first time, it’s important to have, in addition to their parents, a strong core to lean on and learn from.”
“We want to scream our enthusiasm and energy for DeReKH from the rooftops. We want to fill the Jewish toolboxes of our teens and provide them with the wherewithal to last their lifetimes,” said Beth Torah’s Schwitzer. “We want to give an education, help fulfill each child’s Jewish journey and do that as a partnership. The planning and coordinating of this has been a dream. Our whole team couldn’t be more ready or more excited for the bonding, enriching, and uniting that is coming to our community.”
The DeReKH registration form is available at bit.ly/2MKIhhi. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.