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July 5, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JULY 5, 2013 By Julie Wiener New York Jewish Week .p Edward Schnitzer remem- bers his father dropping him off every week for Sunday school and hanging out at the men's Club while the kids sat in a classroom. "I dont remember any of it with the family together," he says. But for his daughters, who are 10 and 7, Hebrew school is family time: Schnitzer and his wife, Cindy, join the girls--and about 30 other families in Temple Shaaray Tefila's Masa programin the basement social hall for a two-and-a-half-hour session, participating in activities and discussions, singing and sitting together for a prayer service in the sanctuary. Masa, an alternative track within the Upper East Side temple's religious school, appealed to the Schnitzers not just because of the family togetherness, but because, with fewer sessions required than the traditional pro- gram, it's convenient. "It seemed to be a little more interesting than regu- lar Hebrew school and it fits better with modern kids' schedules," Cindy explains, noting that were it not for Masa, her older daughter ,woUld have to come in twice a week. Instead, she partici- pates in the family sessions and schedules a weekly one- on-one Hebrew-tutoring ses- sion provided by the temple. With technology enabling 21st-century families to customize seemingly ev- erything in their lives, and with Jewish education just one of many priorities in most households, part-time religious schools are strug- gling to compete for time and attention. Masa (Hebrew for "jour- ney") is one of many new efforts to offer more options and flexibility, with the goal of making Hebrew school more convenient, flexible and meaningful for busy kids a'nd their families. "We want Judaism to be something that is valued and manageable, and not in constant conflict" with other activities, says Mindy Davids, the Reform temple's director of religious school and educational innova- tion. "We also want to have parents involved and to build community." Masa, which started five years ago, grew out of Shaa- ray Tefila's participation in Re-imagine, a UJA-Federa- tion of New York initiative, and its successor Lomed, which is run out of the Jew- ish Education Project. Also known as the Coalition for Innovating Congregations, Lomed provides consulting, grants, networking opportu- nities and other assistance to help area congregations (more than 50 currently participate in it) share infor- mation with one another and make'heir religious schools more engaging and effective. Like Masa, many of the new models emerging from Lomed offer a more flexible, customized and, at times in- timate, experience that gets kids out of the classroom. Community Synagogue of Rye developed a "havurah" 'Family Time' Hebrew school option, in which small learning," so that partici- saythatMasa'sintimacyand Masa, particularly because groups get together in peo- pants can discuss texts and parental involvement has - "we met a lot of people we pie's homes or other places conceptsatanage-appropti- made it easier for them to wouldn't have met other- outside the synagogue, ate level, make friends than it would wise." Queens' Forest Hills Jewish Currently offered for kin- be iftheywerejustdropping However, he is "not sure" Center is experimenting dergarten through fourth their kids off each week. his children are "learning with a "concierge" model, grade, Masa is expanding Another issue besides the fundamentals." in which staff meet with to include fifth grade next community is whether chil- Towards the end ofthe last each family to learn about year, and Shaaray Tefila is dren get a consistent or session, when parents meet their interests and needs, trying to decide whether rigorous education, intheShaareyTefilasanctu- then introduce them to like- to continue it into middle Because it meets rela- ary to give feedback and ask minded congregants and school. Thirty percent of tively infrequently, Cindy .questions, several ask iftheir appropriateJewishactivities, families with children in Schnitzernotes,"Whenyou children are covering all the North Shore Synagogue in the Masa grades opt for miss a week or two because same material as their peers . Syosset, Long Island, cre- it. Tuition is the same as you'reoutoftownyoumiss in the traditional Hebrew ated "Mosaic," an alternative for the traditional Hebrew ahuge chunk. You lose a bit school. track in which, in exchange school, although it costs the of the structure and con- Davids respondsthat "it for participating in an array synagogue more to operate, sistency. But it more than doesn't correspond exactly," offamilyprojectsandtemple "If you count the parents makes up for it otherwise." but that ifa child participates activities, kids can go to as learners, we're serving Seth Nadler, who partici- in Masa throughfifth grade Hebrew school once, rather more people for less money," pates in Masa with his son they will come out with than twice, each week. Davidssays."Butifyoudon't and daughter, says he likes roughly the same skills and However, Lomed's focus count the parents, it costs is less on structures and more per student." scheduling, than on"whole- Masa families meet two person" learning, in which or three times a month, and programs and individual, while the majority of ses- lessons are assessed based sions are on Sundays--the on how well they affect a Mitzvah Corps track runs child's sense of "knowing, in the late afternoon to ac- doing, believing, valuingand commodate families that go belonging." to a country home on the The emphasis is on help- weekends--several sessions ing kids and their parents throughout theyearhappen experience Jewishlife, forge on Shabbat. a sense of community, and Because of its relatively apply Jewish values and large size (240 chi.ldren in teachingstotheirday-to-day grades k-4 alone), Shaaray lives, rather than just learn Tefila is able to offer a menu about it as a subject, of choices that a smaller; Lately, the focus has been program would not be able on, as Lomed'sdirector, Cyd tosupportfinanciallyorhave Weissman, puts it,"sustain- a critical mass of people to ing innovation." make practical. Lomed "keeps us as a Within Masa, they can congregation pushing the select from two tracks to envelope," says Shaaray accommodate different Tefila's Davids, noting that interests and schedules. having a consultant is par- "Mitzvah Corps" focused ticularly helpful, on learning about and per- "It's nice to have an out- forming various mitzvot. sider look at things and say, The other track offered 'haveyouthoughtaboutthis this year, "Celebrations," or that,'" she says. Lomed focused on Shabbat and also "brings us together as holidays. Other tracks colleagues throughout the have included "Jewish New year and keeps us talking to York," in which families each other, learning about learn about New York Jew- what people are doing in ishhistoryandvisitvarious other congregations." sites, and "Family, Friend, On a recent Sunday, fami- Foe," focusing onwhat Bible lies in Masa's "Mitzvah stories and other Jewish Corps" cohort (another texts teach about these cohort, called "Celebra- different kinds of relation- tions," meets at a different ships. time) are gathered in the Even families that opt temple'sbasement, an air- for the regular Hebrew conditioned oasis from the school rather than Masa, unseasonably hot and humid can decidebetween a Sunday weather outside, morning and Tuesday after- Amusic teacher leads the noon schedule, or Monday group in singing "Mitzvah afternoon and Wednesday Goreret Mitzvah" and dis- afternoon one. cussing its meaning--taken The scheduling options from Pirkei Avot--that one make Hebrew school easier good deed leads to another to balance with other com- gooddeed, whileonetrespass mitments, parents say. leads to another. Each family Michele Kahn and Eileen then participates in a game, Levy, who participate in in which they have to match Masa with their 10-year-old Torah texts on little slips of son Aaron, say they joined papertorelatedmitzvot(like the program because "we caring for the earth, visiting tought it would be nice to the sick or "making Jewish do something Jewish as a foodchoices")onfiveposters family" and because Levy taped up around the room. wanted to make up for not Each poster represented the having attended Hebrew book of the Torah where the school as a child. text is found. However, "part of the "We don't expect the kids reason," Kahn says, is the to know what book of Torah scheduling. "There are so the quote comes from, but many activities for kids the exercise reinforces that nowadays. This made sense the mitzvot aregrounded in for us as a family." text," explains Sarah Lauing, All the options can some- who coordinates Masa. times undermine a sense of During the activity, community, however, with some parents join in with some Masa parents wor- their children, while others ried that at all-synagogue shmooze with one another, events their children don't While most of the Masa knowthe kidswhoare inthe time is spent with parents traditional Hebrew school and children together, the program. program also has "parallel On the other hand, others PAGE 13A knowledge as those who participate in the traditional program. The meeting winds down when the children, who have been in a separate activity downstairs, begin filing in, squeezing in next to their parents on the pews. Laminated prayer cards are passed out, and the group begins a short worship ser- vice, starting with the song, "Hineh Mah Tov." Roughly translated, it means, "How good it is when brothers and sisters sit down together." Julie Wiener is an associ- ate editor at The New York Jewish Week, from which this article was reprinted by permission. R U Looking for the 3 R's in Your Religious School? Reading Ruach Rabbi Reach Out to Temple Israel's Meitin Religious School  Fcebook Buildin S Community Since 1954 50 South Moss Road ,Winter Springs, FL,32708 407-647-3055 wv,, Dedicated To Serving Our Jewish Community Call on Central Florida's Exclusively Jewish Funeral Home for Details Regarding: Traditional Jewish Funerals Non-Traditional Services Interstate Shipping Pre-Arranged Funerals (Shalom Assurance Plan) Headstone, Grave Markers (Cardinal Memorials) 407-599-1180 640 Lee Rd. Orlando, Florida W.E. "Manny" Adams, LID Samuel P. (Sammy) Goldstein, Executive Director