Monday nights are special for Eadin Jacobs, a fifth-grader in Reno, Nev. That’s when his house is temporarily transformed into a Hebrew school for one. As the only Jewish kid in his elementary school, it’s one of the few times he gets to immerse himself in Judaism without feeling awkward or different.

Eadin is part of “Hebrew at Home,” a new model of Hebrew school in which children receive a customized Jewish-studies lesson on a given night of the week in their own home.

According to his mother, Sharon Jacobs, the individualized approach has allowed her son to learn more than he might in a traditional Hebrew-school setting. While many students may focus a great deal on the Hebrew alphabet, her son, who has already mastered Hebrew reading, is able to focus on other Jewish subjects.


Sarah Cunin, associate director of Chabad of Northern Nevada, explains that they adopted the model in response to a simple logistical issue.

The Jewish community in the Reno area is estimated at around 3,000, although no more than 1,000 are officially affiliated with a Jewish communal organization or synagogue. That meant that their pool of potential Hebrew-school students is no more than several dozen. And in a ski town like Reno, most children hit the slopes on Sundays in winter, leaving few students to attend Sunday school. Finding a weeknight that worked for everyone was equally challenging.

That prompted her daughter, Rochel Cunin, to start “Hebrew at Home,” where she and another instructor visit each child at a time convenient for families.

She notes that an unexpected dividend of the program is that it infuses a Jewish atmosphere into the home. Siblings, parents and grandparents are all drawn into the lesson, which often become a family affair. She has also observed that, with undivided individual attention, the children reading Hebrew more quickly than they had been when part of a group lesson.

For fifth-grader Eadin Jacobs, his home on Monday nights is temporarily transformed into a Hebrew school for one.
For fifth-grader Eadin Jacobs, his home on Monday nights is temporarily transformed into a Hebrew school for one.

Learning about the Basics

Eadin says that he especially enjoyed learning about tefillin (he is building up his fluency in the prayers and general Judaic knowledge in preparation for his bar mitzvah), as well as the lessons that involved preparing and eating homemade treats: the units on kashrut and blessings before and after eating food.

He also fondly remembers one lesson that ended with him and Rochel Cunin playing basketball (“she’s good,” he reports) as a reward for his achievements.

Many of his studies also follow the JewQ track, which provides students with a broad knowledge of Judaism and may even land them a spot at a national competition in New York. An initiative of CKids (the Chabad Children’s Club), JewQ is an international Torah competition that challenges students not attending Jewish day school to learn independently under the guidance of their local Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries.

This past year, Cunin and a fellow instructor were out teaching in two or three homes just about every night of the week, except Shabbat. Enrollment for this upcoming year is even greater as word of the program has spread.

The Jacobses have been telling others about the program and encouraging them to sign up. And in just a few years, Eadin will have a fellow student. His younger brother, Max, is currently a student at the Chabad-run preschool. And after his graduation, he, too, will begin learning Hebrew at home.

For Sharon Jacobs, the program, along with online schooling, is just what her family needs. “I grew up on the East Coast and went to day school,” she says. “There’s nothing like that here for my boys. That’s why this program is so important to us. It helps Eadin know who he is, what he believes and who his people are.”