By Libby Herz
“The first time I went to Released Time,” said 9-year old Sara of Marine Park, “my instructor spoke about Abraham, and I remember thinking, ‘I didn’t realize Abraham Lincoln was Jewish!’” Sara has been attending Released Time every Wednesday for the past three years. “It was only after a few weeks that I learned that the Abraham my instructor was referring to was Abraham our forefather, and not the 16th president of the United States!”
For public school children, Released Time serves as a crucial connection with Judaism. “Most of the kids who come to Released Time have zero knowledge of Yiddishkeit,” said Dovi, a Released Time instructor. “In the hour we take these children off-site, they learn about Hashem, brochos, shabbos, and yomim tovim.” Released Time, a.k.a ‘The Wednesday hour,’ opens the children’s eyes to their rich Jewish heritage, leading them to take pride in their Judaism.
In 1941, the Frierdiker Rebbe saw the need for a program where children learned more than basic Hebrew and bar mitzvah preparations. Therefore, he initiated Released Time to instill Jewish pride and values in children who wouldn’t otherwise have a connection to their heritage. Seventy-five years later, Released Time is running strong, and growing stronger. Today, the program boasts summer and winter camps in addition to Shabbatons where the children experience Shabbos for the first time in their lives. The children also attend Purim parties, receive Chanukah home visits, enjoy Shavuos ice cream parties, and travel to the Lag B’omer parade with their instructors.
These experiences deeply impact the students’ lives. In fact, many of the children become inspired to learn in yeshivah full time. “Last year, 65 students transferred from public school to yeshivah,” said Rabbi Saadya Engel, the program coordinator. The children who remain in public school also create close connections to Yiddishkeit. “They take pride in keeping shabbos, putting on tefillin, and lighting shabbos candles,” said Dovi. “And they keep in touch with their instructors for years to come.”
The positive effects of Released Time spread to parents as well, who often connect with Released Time instructors through their children. “The parents are curious and want to learn. Many are excited about the opportunity to study, take on mitzvos, and feel close with Hashem,” said Shneur, an instructor in Mill Basin. “I sometimes spend hours speaking to parents about Hashem, Torah, and Jewish identity.”
The Rebbe often spoke with the students of Released Time, and called it a zchus gadol – a huge opportunity – to touch these Jewish souls. In a private letter, the Rebbe told an instructor that, “all the souls in Gan Eden, even the soul of Moshe Rabbeinu, envy you for making brochos and saying pesukim with these children.” Since 1941, over 250,000 Jewish lives have been transformed through Released Time.
Today, there are approximately 200 instructors serving 85 schools. In the Metro New York Area alone, instructors engage and educate over 1,000 children. Every Wednesday, enthusiastic instructors travel to public schools all over Boston, L.A, and New York. The instructors take groups of Jewish children out of class and shepherd them to the local shul where they daven, say sh’ma, make brachos, and learn Torah. The cost of the program, which includes transportation, trips, treats, programs, Jewish items, and more, is $500,000 per year.
Your generous gift to Released Time will benefit countless Jewish children.