Why do Jews play with dreidels? How do you make a latke? And is a shofar some sort of trumpet?
These are some of the questions Chabad of Loudoun County plans to answer in its brand new Hebrew school.
Loudoun Chabad Co-Directors Rabbi Chaim Cohen and Yehudis Cohen said there is a gap in local Jewish learning that they’re hoping to fill with their educational program called JUDA (Judaism through the arts). Students will meet on Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon to learn about Jewish religion and culture through games, crafts and prayer. Classes start Aug. 29.
Yehudis Cohen said the goal of the program is to help kids develop a “deep love and pride in their heritage” so Jewish culture will continue to be passed on through the generations.
“It’s underestimated how important [it is how] our children feel about Judaism, because how they feel is going to really determine what they do as adults with Judaism,” Yehudis Cohen said. “If they didn’t have a good experience, they’re not going to pursue it. They’re going to leave the religion. But if they have a positive, loving, warm, fun experience, they’re going to want to continue.”
Yehudis Cohen said her Hebrew school experience growing up centered around sitting behind a desk and jotting down notes. The problem with that model was a lack of creating excitement and passion among students, which she said led to kids forgetting all their lessons.
So she wanted to take a more “hands on” approach for Chabad of Loudoun’s program. Students at JUDA will participate in activities like building a sukkah, making care packages for Israeli soldiers and learning basic Hebrew.
“It’s fun. It’s interactive. It’s exploration. It’s tangible. And so kids come and they know it’s going be a fun, exciting day, every single Sunday,” she said.
The school will launch with three classes led by Chabad volunteers and staff: Mini JUDA for ages 2-4, JUDA Adventure for ages 5-7 and JUDA Pioneers for ages 8-10. So far, about 15 kids have signed up. The school will be limited to about 20 to 25 students at first, with plans to add more students and older age groups in the future.
The Cohens have had the idea for JUDA long before they founded Chabad of Loudoun in 2018.
“When we moved here, everybody asked us, ‘When are you opening up a Hebrew school? We want a Hebrew School. We want a Hebrew school,” Yehudis Cohen said. “And so right away, we understood that there was a need for it.”
But the timing never seemed right until now. Originally the couple planned to launch JUDA in September 2020, but after the pandemic hit, they pushed back their start date to the following summer.
The school will meet at the Ion International Training Center, an ice skating rink in Leesburg. Rabbi Chaim Cohen said they’ll use the facility’s classroom space until they can find a space large enough for them to use long term.
“It’s a gorgeous, beautiful facility, with classrooms and party rooms that are just perfect for what we need,” Rabbi Chaim Cohen said.
Tuition is $1,150 and there is a $75 registration and a $50 book fee. However, Rabbi Chaim Cohen stresses no child will ever be turned away if they can’t afford it and scholarships are available.
As the Jewish community in the county continues to expand, Rabbi Chaim Cohen sees JUDA expanding along with it.
“[JUDA] is going to be really big because Loudoun is growing,” Rabbi Chaim Cohen said. “Families are recognizing that their children are growing up without basic Jewish knowledge, basic Jewish education. The children of today are Judaism’s stronghold of tomorrow. And how are we going to make sure our kids know about what our values are [without] more hands-on education?”
For more information, visit jewishloudoun.com/juda.