The 8th grade Religious School students walk down the hall and approach the Beit Midrash for their Tuesday night class. The sense of anticipation in the air is palpable as they draw closer and closer. They turn to enter and feel a presence in the room. A very strong presence. Is it a prophet? An angel?? The Shekhinah???
Nope… it’s just Mr. Garcia preparing for their Comparative Religion class.
Every week my students come to class not quite knowing what to expect. And from what they have told me and their parents, they like it this way. For most of them, their Bar/Bat Mitzvah has come and gone and they now stand at the proverbial threshold of childhood to adulthood. This is the time when many kids truly begin to form their identity – both personally and spiritually. Unfortunately, this is also the time when so many of our students sadly fade away. Not only from Religious School, but from Temple altogether.
So my approach to this class is simple but hopefully thought-provoking and exciting:
I want them to fall in love again with Judaism.
Through learning about the world’s major religions (Judaism, Christianity. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism), my students are learning the seven basic elements of religion – God & Faith, Authority & Leadership, Revelation, Celebration/Ritual, Salvation, The Meaning of Life, and Core Values. It is important for them to be able to know and relate to people of other faiths. But more importantly, this is an opportunity to also show them the stunning spiritual beauty and intellectual depth of Judaism and to hopefully help them forge a new and deeper relationship to their faith.
We do this through conversation, debate, exercises, and spiritual experiences. So not only are they learning the basics of these various religions, they are also being exposed to some of their practices. From Yoga to meditation to visualization to mindfulness, they are enjoying a deeper taste of spirituality. However! This is all done in a way as to show them that they do not have to go to other faiths to experience these things. Judaism offers ALL these practices and more! So everything we learn and experience in our class returns to a deeper and more satisfying Judaism.
It is my hope that what they learn and experience in our class will reconnect them to our millennia-old faith and become travel partners for them as they travel through that threshold and onto the rest of their lives.