Hebrew High School Graduation Day
By J. Kott-Wolle
Oil on Canvas, 24x36, painted 2019
Original photograph taken - 1986
If it’s possible for a child to be both equally compliant and rebellious in the same moment, that would describe me and my relationship to after-school Hebrew school.
I went to my synagogue's religious school for two and a half hours every Monday, Wednesday and Sunday from the time I was 6 until I turned 17. I hated every second of it but the obedient child in me never argued with my parents about enrolling year after year. The ‘rebellious’ part of me rejected literally every single ounce of information imparted there. I showed up, I tuned out the teachers and I socialized, I traded stickers and, not surprisingly, I doodled elaborate drawings in my ‘machberet’ (blue notebook). Somehow I still received a certificate of completion even though I learned almost NOTHING.
A couple of summers after my graduation I went on a teen tour to Israel. When I got to Jerusalem and saw the Kotel (Western Wall) I had no idea what I was looking at. I was overcome with emotion – most of it disappointment in myself for not paying attention at Hebrew School and for not knowing who I was or where I came from. It was Shabbat In Jerusalem when I came face to face with my Jewish illiteracy and at 19 I made a big decision. I wanted to make up for lost time and try to learn as much as I could about Judaism in college and beyond. And even though having children seemed a million years away, I swore to myself that my future kids would never feel as ignorant and stupid as I felt that day. That explains our decision to enroll them at Solomon Schechter Jewish Day School.