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In some places, Jewish children have the chance to learn together with their Polish peers in public and private schools. They can also take separate classes on Judaism, the Hebrew language, and Jewish culture. These classes are normally organized by Jewish communities and various non-governmental organizations.
For example, Jewish classes are offered as part of the Sunday school "Cheder Gdańsk," which is run by the Jewish community in Gdańsk. This school is open to children and young people aged 5-15 who want to learn about Jewish tradition and customs, whether they’re Jewish or not.
Religion, history, Jewish culture, and the Hebrew language are also a major focus in courses and meetings run by various Jewish organizations in Poland. This includes Mojżesz Schorra in Warsaw, the Jewish Community Center in Krakow (JCC), the School of Ancient and Oriental Languages, and the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation. Jewish classes are also offered in the 47th High School S. Wyspiański in Warsaw, and the 6th High School in Gdańsk.
Recently, though, more private schools dedicated to Jewish education have emerged In Poland. According to the data of the Educational Information System, in the school year 2015-2016, the number of students learning in one of these schools was 58 in kindergarten, 312 in elementary school, and 65 in middle school.
These schools, like some public Poland schools, educate Jewish children in the tradition, culture, and values of the Jewish people, and offer Hebrew instruction. But unlike public schools, they offer a dedicated program in Jewish studies, along with a core secular curriculum.
Characteristics of Jewish schools in Poland
In addition to community programs, then, there are now dedicated private Jewish schools in Poland. This includes schools in Warsaw, Kraków, Poznán, Wrocław, Łódź, Gdańsk, Szczecin, Bydgoszcz, Lublin, and Rzeszów.
While these schools can differ in their approach and focus, they tend to share some key traits. We describe some of the main ones below.
- Small size: Most private Jewish schools in Poland are small. They have a small number of students as well as small classes. Many of these schools take advantage of small class sizes with lots of individualized teaching and one-on-one attention.
- Levels: Private Jewish education in Poland is only offered at the preschool, elementary, and middle school level. It isn’t offered at the high school level, mostly because there is little demand for this.
- National minority school: Private Jewish schools in Poland are considered minority schools. They thus have state support in the form of funding. They also use the core curriculum of the Polish Ministry of education designed for minority schools. This means that some subjects, such as Hebrew and the history and culture of the Jewish people, are compulsory.
- Learning Hebrew: While Hebrew is a compulsory subject, lessons aren’t taught in this language. Rather, they’re usually taught in the students’ native tongue, such as Polish or English.
- Culture and history of Jews: As mentioned these are compulsory subjects. Moreover, the curriculum of Jewish private schools is filled with the culture and history of the Jewish people. One of their aims is to build a national identity among children and youth of Jewish origin.
- Judaica and Jewish holidays: Students also study the main the elements of Judaism (“Judaica”), as well as the importance and manner of celebrating Jewish holidays. Schools aim to animate the cultural and religious life of students and their families. One way they do this is by organizing regular celebrations of various holidays and other religious events, such as Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) and Sukkot (a harvest holiday).
- Open admissions: Jewish schools in Poland accept not only Jewish children, but also children of other faiths. This allows kids with different backgrounds to learn about Judaism and the Jewish culture in Poland and in the world, if they’re interested.
- Tolerance: One of the most important values Poland Jewish schools instill in children is tolerance and respect for different religions, nationalities, ethnic groups, and cultures.
- Repairing the world: Children are taught to be socially active and responsible. They’re taught to be sensitive to human suffering and harm, as well as racism and intolerance. They’re also encouraged to find ways to combat these problems. This is a key part of the Jewish value of “Tikkun Olam,” the goal to repair the world.
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