They Just Don’t Make Sunday School Like They Used To

Hey, it’s not the 1950s anymore. The Jewish Enrichment Center has “no more desks, no more [work]books, no more teachers’ dirty looks!”

What does a Jewish environment that grows out of children’s ideas look like?

No more desks: Instead, the Jewish Enrichment Center has blocks and games and clay and scarves and paint and stories and imagination and enthusiasm and songs. We live in a bayit (home) – Beit Shorashim (The Shorashim “Roots” House) and Beit Nitzanim (The Nitzanim “Buds” House) – that children decorate with Jewish artwork and live in Jewish ways within it. And each bayit (home) is filled with hands-on Jewish items to explore and Jewish activities that spark children’s curiosity and questions. Over a period of several weeks, educators partner with children to develop questions and ideas into long-term projects. And then our cycle begins again, with new materials and ideas to explore.

No more [work]books: Instead, children explore 4-5 Jewish themes every year in a multi-layered, hands-on fashion. Themes are experienced on five dimensions:

  1. Biblical
  2. Rabbinic
  3. Historical
  4. Cultural
  5. Personal

Children’s interests influence the exploration and projects. In this way, not only do children become Jewishly literate, but each theme sets children in relationship with an evolving Judaism, from the Bible to today. Children acquire skills and attitudes for taking charge of their own ever-evolving relationship with Judaism, and become comfortable doing so.

The goal of Hebrew language learning at the Jewish Enrichment Center is, in essence, to stuff children full of Hebrew phrases, so that Jewish ideas and Hebrew phrases echo within children’s heads and become a lens through which children think and speak. Ivrit (Hebrew) is integrated into the afternoon. Children learn Hebrew phrases at kibud (snacktime) and pegisha (daily meeting), and Hebrew texts are incorporated into each theme. The Hebrew writing center is always open, where educators work with small groups and children explore written Hebrew. Every day ends with communal Shirah/Tefillah (Singing/Prayer). Parents are encouraged to join with their children for the singing.

No more teachers’ dirty looks: Instead, children and educators partner together to engage intellects, bodies, and senses to explore Judaism and Hebrew language. Educators recognize children’s needs to socialize or let out energy, especially after school, before being asked to listen to each other or grapple with ideas. Community is a value that we work on every day, by practicing tools and skills to solve and prevent problems, and by focusing on compassionate communication. Educators seek to understand the passions and sensitivities of each child, and to have each child be known to the group.

No, it’s not Sunday school like it used to be. In fact, it’s not Sunday school at all. It’s an empowering, communal, enriching, Jewish experience for children. It’s the foundation of a lifetime of Jewish engagement.



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