When I was growing up, I was not a big fan of being awakened on Sunday mornings to go to “Sunday School,” nor of going to “Hebrew School” on Wednesday afternoons. And when I started preparing for my Bat Mitzvah, I think I was more focused on buying the stiff crinoline petticoat I was allowed to wear under my skirt than I was on preparing to become a Jewish adult.
The world has changed—I’m not even sure if they make crinoline petticoats today—and with it there have been fundamental changes in synagogue life. At KAM Isaiah Israel the changes for our young learners have been profound, thanks to our creative Religious School Director, Lauren Reeves. KAMII’s religious school is called Shoresh, which is the Hebrew word for “roots.” The program and curriculum that Lauren has developed allow the youngest members of our congregational family to put down Jewish roots starting in kindergarten. Our learners are able to develop their Jewish identities and a sense of what it means to belong not just to the KAMII community, but to the larger Jewish community as well, through developmentally appropriate projects and discussions. In addition to a focus on Jewish identity and community, Shoresh emphasizes the importance of prayer, of working for social justice, of studying Torah, and of understanding Israel’s place as the homeland of the Jewish people. And by gathering to study together on Friday afternoons, kindergarten through 9th grade students get to experience Judaism on “Jewish time” instead of on Sunday mornings. Their joy in welcoming the Sabbath is evident when their parents and other family members join them for our weekly Family Shabbat Service that concludes Shoresh sessions on Fridays.
As their Jewish roots grow deeper, our KAMII learners can extend the branches of their Jewish knowledge in many ways. By becoming b'nei mitzvah and participating in confirmation they can put what they have been learning into action. For example, last year our 6th-9th graders studied the concept of “Chesed,” or acts of loving kindness. They then developed projects in their classes based on each group’s interests: the first group created care baskets with home-baked challah, an activity booklet, and a hand-written note, which they then delivered to congregants who had become housebound because of Covid. A second group initiated a walk-a-thon to generate donations to KAMII. The third group found online petitions that pertained to the Black Lives Matter movement that kids could sign and then they engaged their peers in discussions about the movement in order to encourage them to sign the petitions.
In my previous emails I’ve talked about our Mishpacha: Our Family. Our Future. campaign and how it is supporting the necessary work that is being done to restore and revitalize our sanctuary. I haven’t yet paid sufficient attention to the part of the campaign that speaks to “Our Future.” As KAM Isaiah Israel’s President I’m often asked to talk about the future of our historic congregation, and I’m sometimes challenged to predict whether there even is a future for congregations such as ours. But after attending a Family Shabbat Service or speaking with our Shoresh teachers and learners, I am confident that our future will be bright.