By Emily J Weitz
The launch of “Shalom Yeladim,” the second children’s CD released by Temple Adas Israel, took place last Friday in the shadow of the John A. Ward Memorial Windmill. Children sang wholeheartedly as Cantor Amanda Kleinman played the guitar: and many of these children knew every word by heart. The new CD is something to take home, to remember the teachings the educational programming at Temple Adas Israel instill.
About eight years ago, the temple released its first CD for adults, and Rabbi Leon Morris says it was a game changer for the congregation.
“It changed the worship experience at Temple Adas Israel,” he says. “Suddenly, people knew all the songs and were all taking an active part.”
It was a natural extension to then produce a CD with kids’ songs. Shabbat Shaboom is a weekly event that draws members and non-members alike together to sing catchy tunes and take a moment out of their hectic schedules to honor the end of the work week and the beginning of Shabbat, a period of rest. All winter, Shabbat Shaboom takes place at the temple, complete with snacks and sometimes a potluck. In the summer, it’s around the windmill on Sag Harbor’s Long Wharf that people gather.
“We realized that Shabbat Shaboom was a powerful educational tool,” says Dasee Berkowitz, who organizes the educational programming. “It was a way to inspire and be with families off season.”
The songs are easy to learn – so easy they’ll get stuck in your head and stay there all week. But it’s more than just getting together around a guitar.
“Everything that people bring is welcome,” says Berkowitz. “We ask questions, like ‘What do you want to say Hallelujah for this week?’ It validates people’s experiences.”
During Shabbat Shaboom, families engage with one another; they play together.
“But it’s not just about being loud and having fun,” says Berkowitz. “Children have a spiritual life and a soul and we want to help nurture that. We are teaching the children how to listen, how to be quiet, how to be connected to one another while learning some of the central prayers of Judaism.”
The first Shabbat Shaboom CD featured all the songs that are sung weekly at this ritual. But the second adds more explanation as well as some tracks that weren’t on the first CD.
“This CD includes all the blessings for Shabbat,” says Berkowitz, “so if families want to learn how to say the blessing over the candle or the challah, they can. There’s also Havdalah, a multi-sensory separation ritual that separates the end of Shabbat to the beginning of the week. A lot of kids love it.”
With this CD, families can actually do the rituals, or just hear about them so there’s a familiarity.
“It’s a desire for a Jewish literacy on our part,” says Berkowitz, “so that when they’re in another context they’ll be familiar.”
Since its inception five years ago, Shabbat Shaboom grew in popularity, and as it did, it seemed only natural to look at the whole educational branch of Temple Adas Israel.
“Shabbat Shaboom is the inspiration for a lot of the other early childhood programs,” says Berkowitz. “Last year we started B’Yachad, which then feeds into Hebrew school.”
B’Yachad is a weekly gathering where children and parents engage all five senses to explore timely stories from the Jewish faith. For example, at Passover, the group of three to six year olds acted out the story of Moses, parting the Red Sea and fleeing the Pharaoh to safety. They bake challah together; they read stories and sing songs.
“With all our educational programs,” says Berkowitz, “we want to offer different pathways for families to connect with Judaism and Jewish spirituality. It means something different for different people.”
The Hebrew school, for older children, was created by Leah Oppenheimer separate from Temple Adas Israel. It moved to the Henry Street location about ten years ago, and Oppenheimer still directs the program.
“There’s a heavy emphasis on food and storytelling and the arts,” says Morris, “and that is Leah’s inspiration.”
Once children complete their Bar or Bat Mitzvah, there’s a youth group that works on social justice projects and exploring spirituality. And the hope is that the connection to the temple remains strong over the years.
“We want to keep in touch,” says Morris. “I am taking all our college students out to dinner next month, since they’re around over the summer. I care about them. It’s not like we are only going to be talking about Jewish things. It’s so they can maintain a connection with the synagogue and with me.”
Berkowitz adds that the goal is to use the teachings of Judaism as a means to give children and adults a spiritual home, a place to explore the hard questions and a language to discuss them.
“There’s a particularism of the Jewish story that we want the kids in our community to know about,” she says. “Much of the work is being rooted in Judaism and applying the ideas, concepts, and ethics into their day to day lives and into the world at large.”