EXCERPTS from an article that just appeared in Jewish Week:

Home Is Where The Lesson Plan Is (01/12/2001)
Steve Lipman - Staff Writer
Tzvi Anolick and his wife Rachel teach a full range of secular and religious subjects to their children. With them are Tehila, 22 months, and Esther, 7.

There was a brief interruption of math lessons in a living room in Passaic, N.J., one recent morning. Sitting on the floor, Rachel Anolick was teaching Esther, 7, about addition and subtraction with linked plastic blocks. Up the stairs bounded Tzvi, Rachel’s husband, from the basement, where his office is located — where he had just received a phone call.

“Our daughter who was homeschooled got a $500 scholarship for the spring semester,” he declared to his wife and a visitor.

The daughter in question is Chana, 19, now a sophomore at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. Chana, who has a 3.8 grade point average, studied at home, learning secular and religious subjects from her parents, during her last three years of high school.

During the last five years, all four of the Anolicks’ school-age children — their youngest, Tehila, is 22 months old — have received some or all of their education at home.

With liberalized state laws across the country, a growing number of Jewish families, including many in urban centers like New York City, have turned in the last decade to homeschooling, a movement usually associated with rural, fundamentalist Christians.

“It’s a real false stereotype,” says Janie Levine Hellyer, who started homeschooling her children in Olympia, Wash., 25 years ago and published a national Jewish homeschooling newsletter. “The fundamentalist Christians are well organized and get a lot of press.

“The first modern homeschoolers,” she says, “were probably hippies,” dropping out of mainstream American life a generation ago.

No official statistics on the number of Jewish homeschoolers are available, but the figure is surely in the “thousands,” including a many religiously observant families — young Lubavitch couples serving as emissaries in isolated areas were homeschool pioneers — and a rising percentage of non-Orthodox households, Hellyer says. “It has grown across the board. I get calls from families who homeschool Jewish subjects only.”

Jewish parents teaching their children is a longstanding Jewish tradition, with biblical roots, Hellyer points out. “Especially for girls” — who for centuries received a minimal Jewish education — “it’s probably more traditional than anything we do today” in some parts of the Jewish community.

Although many Jewish families who live far away from established Jewish schools and trained Jewish teachers turn to homeschooling or hire private tutors, the practice is also common in New York and its suburbs.

“It’s there. It’s a reality,” says Jonathan Woocher, executive vice president of the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA).

The reasons for switching from mainstream schools to homeschools varies from family to family, observers say. They include less academic pressure on children, more individualized attention, and general concerns of safety, sociability and finances, which tend to be far less than in day schools.

“For me it was philosophical,” says Rachel Anolick, a native of Cincinnati and psychology graduate of Stern College for Women. “I didn’t like the pressure on them. I didn’t like the hours they were in school.”

She and her husband, a computer programming consultant who has rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University, decided to homeschool their children in 1995 — Meir was in third grade, Betzalel in sixth. Chana, then in ninth grade in a day school, started homeschooling the next year.

The Anolicks teach a wide range of subjects: math, science, history and other age-appropriate secular topics, Hebrew, Torah, tefilah and related Jewish studies. Tzvi handles the bar/bat mitzwah lessons.

The parents scour bookstores and catalogs and on-line listings for texts and curricula, discuss mutual problems with homeschooling neighbors and chat-room peers. “You don’t need ‘teaching skills’ to be able to teach,” Rachel says. Around her are brimming bookcases and cases of educational toys. As she speaks, Esther brings over some artwork she’s been coloring at the dining room table, and Meir is upstairs reviewing astronomy cards.

Hours are flexible; schooldays start with morning prayers and usually go past dinnertime. In a family environment, every meal, every conversation, even television shows, can be a learning experience.

“We’re more ‘unschooling,’ ” a branch of the movement that emphasizes students’ individual motivation, says Rachel.

“The kids can learn at their own pace,” says Janie Levine Hellyer, whose family lives 65 miles from the nearest day school. Her three grown children, she boasts, are endorsements of homeschooling’s success: “All of them went to college.” Standardized tests, essay and personal interview make up for report cards. “All of them are observant.”

Officials in mainstream Jewish educational organizations have praise, albeit limited, for homeschooling.

“I personally applaud all parents who involve themselves” in their children’s Jewish education, says Chaim Lauer, executive vice president of the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York. “Parents can do certain things better than anyone else. They are the models for spiritual and religious values.”


The Anolick children go for art and swimming and karate classes at local schools. The family, active in their synagogue, visits other shul members for Shabbat meals.

“I’m not stepping away from the community,” Rachel says.

Is homeschooling for everyone?

“Obviously not,” she says. “Everyone is different. It’s not for someone who doesn’t want to have their kids around all day.

“My parents,” Rachel says, “thought we were nuts when we started. Now they are very supportive.”

For Rachel, homeschooling offers the opportunity to see a child struggle with and learn some concept, whether in math or Torah. “The best part is seeing the growth and development of your child daily.”

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