Kudos to Us
Rabbi Barry A. Kenter on Friday, December 21, 2012 at 12:00:00 am
By all means use sometimes to be alone.
Salute yourself: see what your soul doth wear.
Sum up at night what you have done by day;
And in the morning what you have to do.
3 April 1593 – 1 March 1633
On a blustery day, good news – even great news – is always a way to send bright rays of sunshine into our community. Yesterday afternoon, the New York Metropolitan Region, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism informed us that our kehilla (congregation) is the recipient of four (yes, four!) kehilla recognition awards. We applied in four areas and received gold in all four categories!
· Religious School category: Religious School Programs and Curriculum, gold
· Jewish Art and Music category: “Remembrance Tallit”, gold
· Family Education category: “B’nai Mitzvah Family Program”, gold
· Commitment and Observance category: “Havruta learning”, gold
These awards will be presented at a forthcoming METNY Kallah K’tanah (mini-conference). Many people worked exceptionally hard to prepare the applications and submissions. Working together and pulling together we created documents and materials showing the vibrancy and the dynamism of our community. The recognition is well deserved. I am taking the liberty of sending you these materials. May we always go from strength to strength.
Kehilla Recognition Awards – Religious School Programs and Curriculum
In 2011-2012, the RS inaugurated an exciting and creative program, the impact of which is evident throughout GHC. The program divides the RS into an upper and a lower school. The upper school is where the most innovation is occurring, as it is based on a modern middle school approach. The students are not sitting in one room, learning from one teacher. Instead, teachers are assigned specific subjects and the students rotate through the classrooms, sometimes by grade and sometimes in larger groups. We worked to integrate the clergy into the curriculum, and thus the Cantor is a large part of the rotation. The students spend time with her learning prayers and singing songs. Additional changes include an updating of our curriculum and a focused expansion of school and community-wide programming. As a result of these changes, the RS community is buzzing with music and energy. The introduction of this program has dramatically strengthened the entire GHC community. The program: (1) encourages relationships between students of different grades as they combine classes and as they meet in our interactive school-wide programs; and (2) helps the RS to foster relationships with the GHC Early Childhood Center (the “ECC”) and with new and long term members of GHC through our exciting community-wide programs.
Curriculum and School Hours
The RS curriculum is built around six areas: God, Torah, Israel, Avodah, Kehila, and Tikun Olam. Each grade, using a spiral curriculum, incorporates developmentally appropriate related activities. Students begin RS in Gan (corresponding to Kindergarten) and attend classes through Zayin (corresponding to seventh grade). All students attend on Sunday. Students in Gimel - Zayin (and Bet, starting in January) also attend on Wednesdays. We have worked hard to ensure all students attend on the same days so as to build energy and further enhance our community.
School-Wide and Community-Wide Programs School and community-wide programs cover almost every holiday and celebration. From our Pesach program, “A Modern Exodus Dipped in Chocolate,” to our Lag B’Omer program, “Nature, Bows, and Arrows,” innovation and excitement abound. Our successful Yom Ha’atzmaut program, “the Israeli Melting Pot,” included a tour of the cultures of Israel with stops in Bukhara, Eastern Europe, Iraq, Morocco and the United States. …
A few weeks ago we had a Sukkah program during which the students rotated through various stations (food, prayer, decoration, etc.). One station was run by the ECC teachers and director. One would have expected the Gan kids, many of whom just graduated from the ECC, to be the ones embracing the ECC teachers, but it was not just them – it was the upper school students and parents who were so excited to see these educators again. What a nice way to strengthen the bonds of our community.
The lower school consists of Gan - Dalet. Our Gan and Aleph students, for developmental reasons, are in self-contained classrooms, with one teacher. The focus is the holidays, Bible stories and Israel. In Aleph, the children start the Ivrit B’Ivrit program, spending time speaking only in Hebrew. Our Bet – Dalet students, as a warm up to our upper school program, begin rotating through our teachers, and cover topics including Prayers, Music, Hebrew, the Bible and Holidays.
The upper school consists of Kitah Hay, Vav and Zayin and has distinct departmentalization – like a modern middle school. The students rotate three times on Sunday and three times on Wednesday, through the following areas: Modern Jewish History; Bible/Torat Chayim; Hebrew/Jewish Values/ Israel; Conversational Hebrew; T’Filah/Community; and Music/B’nei Mitzvah Programming. A chart depicting the schedule may be found in the RS Handbook, Exhibit 1, at pages 11 and 12. The schedule change, while a start, is not the only reason why our program has been so successful. We also worked on the curriculum. In fact, it was a curriculum overhaul that started the whole process. The teachers and director worked together to develop a vibrant and relevant curriculum and then worked to determine what instructional strategies would best facilitate the learning of this curriculum.
Torat Chayim is a new area of the curriculum. The units within Torat Chayim are designed to allow hevrutah (partner or group) study before an all-classroom discussion. Study is based on various Jewish texts carefully selected to encourage discussion of “big ideas” and “essential questions” and to relate these traditional sources to experiences and issues facing middle-school students today. With hands-on experience and investigation, students learn to pay attention to the ideas behind ritual observances. One goal of the program is to allow all students to join in the conversation about living a Jewish life, drawing not only on traditional Jewish texts, but also on contemporary resources, such as newspaper articles and web pages. Another goal is to increase the students’ facility in cooperative learning – to learn the Jewish culture of learning in a community setting. Please see the newsletters, Exhibit 3A and 3B, for more details about specific topics covered in the Torat Chayim class. Please also see Exhibit 5, a photo of a poster created by a Zayin student as part of Torat Chayim.
Not only does this schedule facilitate an instructionally rich program, it helps with staffing, as it allows the RS to hire appropriate teachers who teach in their areas of strength. Who better than the Cantor to teach the tefilot? Who better than a native Hebrew speaker, to teach conversational Hebrew? Many of our students have expressed delight in the new organizational structure of our RS. Our Hay students particularly enjoy switching classrooms as it gives them a taste of what it is like to attend middle school. This joy translates to a renewed interest in learning, at a critical time as they begin to work toward their b’nai mitzvah and taking their place in the larger Jewish community that is GHC.
We have worked very hard to create a curriculum and organizational structure to engage our students at the RS. It has worked. Enrollment is up, children are happy, parents are happy. If you came to GHC on a Sunday morning you’d hear the joy and enthusiasm in the hallways. If you listened even closer you would also hear the bonds of our community growing and strengthening
Kehillah Recognition Awards: Jewish Art and Music – Remembrance Tallit
Evelyth Lewis was an integral part of our Kehillah. She was involved in almost every aspect of our synagogue: as a volunteer in the office, maintaining our Yahrzheit records and mailing out reminder letters; as membership chair of Sisterhood, tirelessly sending out membership forms and maintaining our membership database; as a "regular" at Shabbat services and our weekly adult education "Bible and Bagels" class; and as a driver for other seniors unable to drive themselves to the Synagogue or to doctor appointments. She delighted in seeing our children join us for Adon Olam and watching them grow to become Bar/Bat Mitvah. When we unexpectedly lost her, we wanted to create something that would honor her memory and be a lasting reminder of all that she represented. After much thought, it was decided that we would dedicate a special Tallit in her memory to be used as the Huppah for the children's aliyah at our Simchat Torah Services and celebration.
Since Evelyth was involved in so many activities in our community, we wanted to give everyone a chance to be involved with this project. Our Sisterhood purchased a large tallit, and all of our kehillah members were given the opportunity to have their children's and/or grandchildren's names embroidered on the tallit. The embroidery was done by hand by several of our Sisterhood members. The result is a beautiful Huppah which is held over our children for their aliyah, and held over our Hattan Torah and Kallah Bereishit as they are escorted down the aisle for their aliyot. Since the names are embroidered to the underside of the tallit, the children can look up and try to find where their name was sewn in. The Huppah was first used for Simchat Torah 5772 (2011). It was quite a scene to see each of our children looking up and shouting "I found mine, I found mine."
We were fortunate to have Evelyth as a part of our community and are thrilled that we are able to honor her memory with an item that will be used for many years to come, with the ability to add names as new children are born or families join our synagogue, and creating an object that is truly hiddur mitzvah.
Kehilla Recognition Awards: Family Education Programming
Bar/bat mitzvah is not just a key milestone in the life of a child, it is a key milestone in the life of the child’s family. Among the members of the Greenburgh Hebrew Center (“GHC”), we have families with a wide range of Jewish backgrounds, education and practices. Our children are actively engaged and involved in Jewish education for many years before becoming b'nai mitzvah and while we encourage ongoing parental involvement, often parents have not actively been participants in the religious and spiritual life of our kehillah during their children’s Religious School years. Rabbi Barry Kenter, Cantor Janet Leuchter and our Religious School Director worked together with lay leadership to develop an experiential program to engage not just our upcoming b'nai mitzvah students but also their parents. The new B'nai Mitzvah Family Program was introduced in the 2011-2012 school year. Our hope was that, in the process of exploring ways to prepare for the simcha, we would foster a life-long commitment to Jewish learning. The overlapping goals of the program include:
o creating a deeper connection between the families and the clergy/professional team;
o engaging the b'nai mitzvah students and their parents in studying the parasha of the day;
o deepening the community bond that had already been established between families whose children had been studying for years together and including members of the congregational family whose children attend day schools; and
o whetting the appetite of the students to continue on in Hebrew High School and in other aspects of synagogue life as teenagers.
The program consisted of four classes each 1-1/2 hours, held on Sundays from November 2011 through March 2012. The classes were scheduled during Religious School hours in an attempt to make it more convenient for the parents to attend. Each session was comprised of two parts, family presentations and clergy led study. A vibrant egalitarian Conservative Jewish community in Westchester County, embracing our traditions while actively participating in our changing world.
For the first part of each session, two or three families, both student and parents, gave a 10-minute presentation concerning the parasha for the day of their simcha. Each family needed to prepare for this, thus opening an important dialogue between parent and child and providing an opportunity for greater personal understanding of the biblical text. At home, each member of the family could discover what the words meant to them, how they could relate to them and make them contemporary, thus giving them an opportunity to study together, helping to enhance the meaning of the bar/bat mitzvah for the family unit. The type of presentation, such as a skit, an art project, an oral presentation, a Q&A, a game show or an initial discussion of the student's d'var, was left to the individual family and therefore reflected each family's creativity and learning style. After the presentations, Rabbi Kenter answered questions about the material before the class continued on with the second part.
During the second part, at each class a different professional staff member facilitated an interactive and engaging educational activity around one of these key Jewish concepts or values; Tzedakah, Jewish values (Middot), Wrestling with God, and Israel and Zionism. The type of interactive experience varied from class to class. In one session, havruta style groups consisting each of two families (students and parents) discussed biblical text and explored the meanings from the different perspective of students vs. parents. In another session, the females, also both students and parents, studied as one group and the males as another. We are attaching the handouts to this submission that were distributed by Rabbi Kenter and Cantor Leuchter concerning Middot and Wrestling with God.
The pilot program was a resounding success based on the positive feedback we received from the families. These are among the comments we received from different parents: “It was a great learning experience to share with the other families”, “It helped me see what was involved in studying the parasha” and “I definitely feel less anxious than I had about my son's bar mitzvah”. At the end of each session, the discussions were still going on even after dismissal time. The program has been scheduled for the current school year 2012-2013 and even before the first session has begun, we have been told that several families who heard about it last year eagerly anticipate participating this year. The positive effects of this program may have contributed to the fact that the number of students who enrolled this year in our Hebrew High School increased over the prior two years. We look forward to continuing that trend.
Kehilla Recognition Awards Submission: Commitment and Observance
… To enhance our kehillah’s experience of study as prayer, for the past year we have been incorporating havruta learning to into our regular celebration of Shabbat and most especially into our Rosh Hashanah prayer/study experience. Both last year and this, on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, after completing the initial sections of the Musaf Amidah as a kehillah, upon reaching the special sections of Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot, we divided the congregation into three distinct groups, based on where people were sitting. In the first year our Rabbi, Cantor and Religious School Director facilitated a revolving havruta among the three groups on the three sections. This year, our Rabbi, Cantor, and our ECC director led the havruta on Teshuva, Tefillah, and Tzedakah. Each of the smaller groups was broken onto smaller pairs, triplets or quartets to address several leading questions. Members of the kehillah were asked to work in havruta for several minutes, discussion followed. After ten minutes the shofar was sounded and the facilitators moved to another section of the kehillah.
To prepare the congregation for this enhancement of services, several divrei Torah were delivered by the Rabbi, the theme of havruta was included in the rabbi’s report to the president and the Board of Trustees, havruta study became part of regular Shabbat services throughout the year and part of our school curriculum and programming with pre-Bnai Mitzvah parents.
Most of our congregants were unfamiliar with haruta study when it was introduced. Initially, when people were asked to discuss the question at hand with a partner, there was a period of silence before they got started, and their comments were tentative when the groups rejoined for a congregation-wide discussion. Over the course of the past year, however, people have become more comfortable, do not hesitate to turn to the person sitting next to them to begin studying the issue (which also builds community, as well as commitment and observance), and have become more confident and engaged in the discussions. In this manner, we have expanded the opportunities for active involvement in services to include everyone, regardless of their comfort level with the Hebrew components of the services. This also brings a new method of spiritual understanding and engagement to the members of our kehillah, while at the same time reconnecting them with a meaningful aspect of our traditional.