Hebrew school is coming into people’s homes in Hamilton and Robbinsville this fall.
People “work very hard in the city and come home late at night, and their kids are very involved in sports,” said Chana Chaiton, who opened the Chabad of Hamilton and Robbinsville in October 2014 with her husband, Rabbi Yaakov Chaiton.
In response, Chana Chaiton said she hopes they will be able to create Hebrew school at home, this year individually but in the future in clusters, where kids of the same age in the same neighborhoods would meet together in one home for a general Jewish education based on a Chabad Hebrew school curriculum.
“We tried to create a model that could work for anyone, on their time, on their day, when they don’t have to drive anywhere or even show up early on a Sunday morning,” she said. “We were shocked to see that a lot of kids were really lacking in Jewish education simply because of demographics and timing.”
By early August, eight families had expressed interest in the program, and requests for more information were coming in on a daily basis, according to Chaiton.
The curriculum will focus on Hebrew reading, prayers, holidays, and Jewish pride, all presented in a hands-on way with “fun-based projects and food activities and things that appeal to kids. We want kids to like Hebrew school.”
It is open to youngsters between the ages of four and 11, and there’s a separate bar and bat mitzva program for those older than 11. The Chabad leaders are also willing to take on teens who want to learn — but that is not part of this program.
The program will be set up like a typical religious school, with two six-week semesters that follow the school calendar. Classes will begin Tuesday, Sept. 8, and will follow a preset curriculum. The cost is $185 per student per semester, with discounts for siblings and scholarships for anyone who cannot afford tuition.
Chaiton suggested that the Hebrew-school-at-home model might be especially appropriate for intermarried families who haven’t set religious education for their children as a priority.
Although there is Jewish infrastructure to attract more engaged Jewish families in other parts of the Princeton and Mercer County area, Hamilton and Robbinsville have not historically attracted Jews. While there are synagogues in the nearby Windsors, Lawrenceville, Princeton Junction, and Princeton, neither Hamilton nor Robbinsville had an institutional Jewish presence. There is little Jewish educational structure in the immediate area, other than what the Chaitons are creating.
According to Sperling’s Best Places, Jews comprise 2.2 percent of the 50 percent or so of families in both Hamilton Township and Robbinsville that identify as “religious.”
Sixty people showed up for a pre-Purim party the Chaitons held on a frigid Sunday with a snowstorm swirling. “People think there’s no one else Jewish in the area, and then they come to a function and see other people. Our goal is to build on that.”
The biggest challenge the Chaitons face is finding people and building trust. “People have to come to their own conclusion to support us and be part of it,” she said. “We are really trying!”