Jewish parents have good reason to be interested in public school test scores released by the California Department of Education on Aug. 31, although they may need help deciphering them.
The idea that a significant number of American Jewish children would come to attend Jewish day schools would have seemed unimaginable no more than 40 years ago, and the notion that thousands from Reform Jewish homes would attend such schools would have seemed even more fantastic. After all, the public school was the major institution that facilitated the entry of upwardly mobile immigrant Jews and their children into American life throughout the major part of the 20th century.
At Sinai Akiba Academy recently, Bryna Vener vigorously conducted close to 100 first- through-eighth-graders in a passionate rendition of "Hava Nagila" as students danced in their seats. If the atmosphere was celebratory, it was because the assembly was a dress rehearsal for the orchestra's 25th anniversary concert and alumni reunion June 10, when graduates will return to fete Vener and her remarkable group.
For Vera Haim, teaching Jewish children about their religion, history and culture gave her life a deeper meaning. For 17 years, the 53-year-old Israeli-born educator taught at Jewish nursery schools throughout Southern California, most recently at Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills. Nothing made Haim happier than helping young students develop self-esteem and a curiosity about their roots.
But her dream job held the seeds of a nightmare. Earning just $15,000 annually and with no health-care benefits, Haim landed in dire financial straits after she and her husband divorced last year. Unable to support herself, she had to move in with her 31-year-old son. In short order, she left Kol Tikvah and nearly doubled her income by opening a home day-care business in her son's house.
"The Children of Willesden Lane: Beyond the Kindertransport: A Memoir of Music, Love, and Survival" by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen (Warner Books $23.95).
Vienna, 1938. In the city of Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven and Strauss, 14-year-old musical prodigy Lisa Jura looks forward to a promising career as a concert pianist. Hitler has other plans. With the breaking of glass on Kristallnacht, Jura's dreams are shattered.
There were no books about Jewish children when writer Lesléa Newman was growing up.
"I was hungry for a book with characters like [me] to make me feel valid and normal, and to make me think there wasn't something wrong with my family," because it lacked Christmas trees and Easter egg hunts.
Today's schools tend to have only limited resources for music instruction, and Jewish day schools are no exception. And in an American Jewish community dominated by Ashkenazic-descended households, Sephardic culture remains a mystery to many Jewish children. Happily, the Maurice Amado Foundation has stepped in to address both of these problems.