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Rabbi treks around the globe to observe HBHA dual-track Jewish studies program

HBHA Head of Jewish Studies Rabbi Avi Weinstein (from left), HBHA Head of School Howard M. Haas and Rabbi Barak Cohen met to discuss the opportunities of replicating the HBHA model in St. Ives, Australia. Not pictured is Rabbi Daniel Rockoff, HBHA Matmidim program director.

Raised in Davenport, Iowa, Rabbi Barak Cohen never expected his career would take him all the way to Australia, only to bring him back to the Midwest in order to research Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy’s renowned dual-track Jewish studies program. Rabbi Cohen is bringing the knowledge he picked up in Kansas City and at other North American Jewish day schools to Masada College, a K-12 Jewish day school located in St. Ives, Australia. Masada’s goal: To implement a dual-track Jewish studies program similar to that of HBHA.

The HBHA program, which offers parallel Jewish studies tracks, effectively made the only Jewish community day school in Kansas a true melting pot to best serve the K.C.-area Jewish population. HBHA currently offers Mitkadmim, a Jewish studies track designed to meet the educational needs of both liberal and traditional Jews who reflect diverse practices within the home, and Matmidim, the Jewish studies track created six years ago for families who wish for their children to receive a day school education taught according to Orthodox norms. 

“This is the only model of this program in North America, and as far as we have been able to determine, it is the only program in the world. HBHA has done a tremendous job bringing all Jewish children together and utilizing resources well,” said Rabbi Cohen.

“The unique components that have made it successful in Kansas City has attracted a great deal of attention,” said Rabbi Avi Weinstein, head of Jewish studies at HBHA.

St. Ives, located approximately one hour from Sydney, Australia, has a similar sized community to Kansas City. Rabbi Cohen was initially brought in to serve the growing Orthodox community in St. Ives, but with the long commute to and from Sydney daily for their children, they realized they needed to find a solution for their childrens’ education closer to home. 

“All of us in St. Ives — whatever our practicing beliefs — recognize we need to have a school to build community, especially if we want new people to move there. I hope to be able to accomplish the same sense of community that has been maintained in Kansas City at HBHA,” said Rabbi Cohen. 

For those working on the ground with the dual-track studies program, the visit was a rewarding experience. 

“It was very refreshing to hear from someone else in a very similar situation, where they have similar challenges and opportunities,” said Rabbi Daniel Rockoff, who, in addition to his work at Congregation BIAV, serves HBHA as Matmidim program director. “During his visit, Rabbi Cohen spoke with many HBHA Matmidim families. It was nice to hear families are really happy and enthusiastic about what we’re doing. They love being part of HBHA and being part of one community.”

“After speaking to the Rockoffs, Matmidim teachers and parents, we are excited to begin our own program, called Torah Stream of Masada College,” said Rabbi Cohen. 

School begins Jan. 30, and the Torah Stream program will be implemented in stages. The St. Ives community will introduce the model with composite K-first grade and second-third grade classes. They will build upon the program from there, adding grades one at a time, just as HBHA is doing. 

“HBHA took a conservative approach to incorporating the second track, adding one grade level each year, and continually evaluating how the tracks are working individually and in tandem with each other. It’s been quite a success and I wish for the same success at Masada College,” said HBHA Head of School Howard M. Haas. 

“The sense of community is the most beautiful example of the positives of this program. We don’t have to be separate … we can embrace and celebrate our differences and maintain a tight community. I will try to re-create that in St. Ives,” said Rabbi Cohen.