1: Excerpt, Rosa Mordecai’s account of early Philadelphia Sunday schools, circa 1850s.
Rosa Mordecai (1839-1936) was raised in an important nineteenth-century Jewish American family in Washington, D.C. She was devoted to merging women’s spiritual lives as Jews with their secular lives in America. Mordecai’s account of the Philadelphia Hebrew Sunday School, which was established as the first Jewish supplementary school of its kind in 1838 by Mordecai’s great-aunt Rebecca Gratz, is one of the most thorough primary sources that exist on the subject. This excerpt describes the kind of instruction children received from Gratz at the school.
Suggested Activity: Discuss the following questions with your students: What are the aims of the lesson Miss Gratz teaches? What are the methods she employs? In what ways is this scene similar to religious school education today (in your experience)? In what ways is it most different? What kind of content do you imagine was papered over in the Christian Scripture lessons? If you had to adapt Christian materials for a Jewish classroom, how would you go about it today?
Source: Rosa Mordecai, “Rebecca Gratz and America’s First Jewish Sunday School, 1838,” in The American Jewish Woman: A Documentary History, ed. Jacob Rader Marcus (New York: KTAV Publishing House, 1981),135-143.