SPRING HILL — Learning Hebrew is important for a child wanting to learn about Judaism, says Rabbi Lenny Sarko.
"English translations are nice, but the full breadth and depth of the Torah need to be appreciated through the Hebrew," Sarko said.
Sarko, who became the first full-time rabbi at Temple Beth David a year ago, will oversee and teach at the temple's Irwin Lieberman Religious School, which will resume classes on Sunday mornings beginning Aug. 19.
Registration is under way for children from preschool (ages 4 and 5) through post-bar/bat mitzvah age (about 14). The school, which has had as many as 42 students in its nearly 30-year history, is open to children throughout the community, Jewish or non-Jewish.
"Hopefully all Jewish families with children will encourage them to attend," Sarko said. "But someone who is not Jewish and wants to learn more about Judaism would be very welcome. They would feel very comfortable."
Lynn Budnick, who has served the school for 14 years as a teacher and sometimes as its principal, agrees with Sarko about having children learn Hebrew.
"It helps the children better understand what it is to be a Jew and how to become an adult of our temple at the age of bar or bat mitzvah," Budnick said, noting that children as young as 4 can learn some Hebrew, which helps them learn about Judaism. "I want to convey to the children my love of my heritage, Jewish traditions and how to be a caring Jewish person."
Language is just one component of the school; Jewish religion is the other.
"We'll talk about history and holidays, good deeds, Shabbat, comparative religions, literature, life cycles, everything involved from a religious aspect," Sarko said.
Classes are broken down by grades and age.
The preschool class is taught by Karen Darko and meets twice a month. It will focus on the basics of the Hebrew alphabet, a few Hebrew words and Jewish holidays. Students will have an initial exposure to a Jewish service and hear books read to them about concepts such as charity, hospitality and doing good to others.
Older students meet every week.
Grades 1 and 2 are taught Beginning Hebrew I, Shabbat, Jewish Holidays, Jewish Life Cycle Events and Jewish Person of the Week. Marlene Praglor is the teacher.
Grades 3 and 4 are taught by Helene Churgin. Subjects include Beginning Hebrew II, Concepts in the Torah, Beginning Jewish Prayer, Jewish History, Basic Jewish Literature and Israel.
Nova Cohen teaches Advanced Hebrew, Jewish Prayer, Mitzvot, Comparative Religion and American Judaism to grades 5 and 6.
Budnick teaches the bar/bat mitzvah class to children coming to adulthood in the faith, usually at age 12 or 13, when they each will participate in a special service. The class reviews and discusses Hebrew prayers that will be said during their ceremony, and the students learn the portion of the Torah they will recite and teach. They will also study the parts of a religious service and their participation in those services. Along with their weekly class, students meet individually with the rabbi once a week.
Budnick, who began teaching in 1964 at a temple in New Jersey and also ran a Hebrew nursery school, gives her students additional study time.
"I Skype (on the computer) with my students all the time," Budnick said. "I love working one-on-one. When we see the students respond and show an interest, these things make a teacher want to teach."
This year, for the first time, there will be a post-bar/bat mitzvah class, taught by Sarko, that will meet once a month, sometimes at the synagogue and sometimes in the community.
"The focus is on how to apply Jewish concepts in the secular world," Sarko said. "It's really about starting to do things more actively in the community."
Sarko also meets with each of the classes for some period of time each week of school.
The overall purpose of the school is to teach students how to apply their religion and learn how to be a Jewish person, Sarko said.
"It provides an outlet, not only for education, but for social interaction with each other as well as with church groups and other people in the community," he said.
It also teaches the students to be responsible.
"Judaism is very much about life," Sarko said. "Our focus is very much what you are doing during your life and the relationships between people. To be responsible, you have to understand it and learn what it is to be responsible for our neighbor, our parents and for each other — and how to apply that."
Part of the social interaction includes special outings and participation in the temple's holiday events.
Budnick said she is looking forward to the coming school year.
"It's my love," she said. "(One day) I would love to see our past students come back to share the pulpit with our rabbi."