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Jewish Learning in Supplementary Schools

Why is this important?

Supplementary schools are significant in that they reflect the family’s engagement in Jewish community and, when effective they lead to adolescent Jewish experiences that have been shown to influence long-term Jewish engagement. Rising day school costs and other factors may well be causing a shift of some from day schools to the less-expensive supplementary school. In general, the social scientific literature is skeptical about the long-term impact of supplementary schools.1 Scholar Jack Wertheimer notes that “A great deal of new thinking is informing efforts to reverse deeply entrenched stereotypes about the alleged tediousness and shallowness of supplementary Jewish schooling…Educators strive to ensure that students enjoy rich experiences in school, and work hard to mix formal and informal educational elements so as to make school time more enjoyable.”2 UJA’s WOW! Initiative is designed to catalyze this kind of new thinking in supplementary education in Toronto, through seed funding for innovative projects and professional learning.

What are the trends?

Overall, data points to declines in enrollment among those in grades 1-7, consistent with the 3% annual decline in comparable enrollment in North America. But the decline is driven not only by shrinking numbers of Jewish children in grades 1-7, but by a slight decline in the proportion attending supplementary schools. Enrollment at the kindergarten level has remained level. It is noteworthy that just 14% of school aged children in the GTA are enrolled in supplementary school, even amidst the pressures of affordability challenges in the Jewish day school sector.

Whats new?

Over the last several years UJA Federation of Greater Toronto has invested in several relevant endeavours in this area, including the WOW! Initiative, PJ Plus, Jewish Teen Board of Greater Toronto, Makom Afterschool located in the downtown core, and Shoresh Outdoor School focused upon Jewish environmentalism. These investments are designed to catalyze innovation in the field and engage new learners in supplementary Jewish education.

How are we doing?

Relative to other North America Jewish communities, the field of supplementary Jewish education in Toronto remains a work in progress.


[1] Steven M. Cohen. The Impact of Varieties of Jewish Education upon Jewish Identity: an Inter-Generational Perspective. Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI). 1995: http://www.bjpa.org/Publications/details.cfm?PublicationID=202. Steven M. Cohen. The Differential Impact on Adult Jewish Identity. AVI CHAI Foundation. 2007: http://www.bjpa.org/Publications/details.cfm?PublicationID=3052.

[2] “The Future of Jewish Education,” by Prof. Jack Wertheimer, December 15, 2009. http://jcpa.org/article/the-future-of-jewish-education/. Accessed November 23, 2016.