Tag Archives: FES


19 May

Over a year ago, I sat in the congregation with my daughter on my lap one Shabbat morning. As a clergy-person, I rarely sit with my family in the congregation, so this was a special occasion. While Johannah regularly attends Tot Shabbat, this was the first time she had ever been in a “main” service on Shabbat morning. Only two at the time, she made it through about 15 minutes of the service before her attention span waned and I sent her home with her dad.

In those 15 minutes, I had a profound realization.

I asked myself, “When will we ever have pancakes?”

You see, in my dreams for my Jewish family, I want my family to “do” Shabbat. I want them to light candles, eat dinner, and sing songs on Friday night. I want them to know the Shabbat morning service and hear Torah read often. And I want to have a morning, too, where we keep our PJs on late and have pancakes.

“What about when she is a kindergartener?”, I thought. If I do cultivate a family that goes to synagogue on Saturday, when she begins Religious School on Sunday mornings as a kindergartner, we will never have pancakes.

I looked around the room. The kids present were, by and large, our 7th graders whose class meets once a month on Shabbat. I looked around again, for the most part, the adults were the parents of the 7th graders and of the many musician kids participating in the service. Those are two HUGE success: 7th grade families and musician families deeply engaged in Shabbat morning worship. But where were the other families? Don’t they know that congregational Shabbat is awesome?

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the head of our Reform Movement has called for a move towards audacious hospitality. We should be unabashedly welcoming, which includes thinking about how we can best engage people and make sure that we regularly put ourselves in their shoes. This leads us to audaciously ask, Are there families who might be better served by a different model of religious education? Perhaps there are more families like mine who want Shabbat together in synagogue and pancakes on Sunday.

At the URJ Biennial in December 2013, Rabbi Elka Abrahamson of the Wexner Foundation said, “Synagogues should lock the doors on Sundays.” I actually stood up and cheered. Synagogues should move the rhythm of Jewish life back to Shabbat. Period.

Now, I am not championing the end of Sunday Religious School. At Temple Beth El, our religious school is strong and vibrant. Our students learn an amazing amount, our teachers love the kids, and our kids have national record-breaking engagement throughout synagogue life. Our Sunday school serves our kids very well, but I wonder if there is another way that we might serve some of our families with young children better.

So, we have decided to launch an experiment next year to find out. Let me introduce you to the Family Experiential School at Temple Beth El.

The Family Experiential School at Temple Beth El will be a new option for kindergarten families in the 2014-2015 school year. To be clear: Kindergarten Families will have the choice between our amazing Sunday Religious School and the new FES.

The Family Experiential School is a Jewish living program designed for kindergartners and their families, that will guide the entire family through the process of incorporating Jewish practice, learning, and community into the core of who they are. Participants in the FES will build deep relationships with other families over study, prayer, and social action in the classroom, in the kitchen, and around the dinner table.

The Details:
17 Saturdays from 8:30-10:30 AM Shabbat morning programs will consist of one hour of parents’ instruction and children’s instruction in separate classrooms. Babysitting will be provided for other children during class time. The other hour includes musical and participatory Shabbat morning services and a healthy kiddush snack.
8 Sundays for two hours Sunday programs will include 4 sessions in the kitchen learning Jewish values and ideas through cooking together. The other 4 sessions will be family social action projects where we work to repair the world.
8 Shabbat Dinners Each FES family will join a Shabbat Supper Club comprised of other kindergarten families. Each month, you will plan your own Shabbat dinner together in one another’s homes or the location of your choice. The year will begin with an opening Shabbat Dinner at Temple Beth El. The FES will partner with you to establish and enhance your home Shabbat observance.
Tuition is $625 per kindergarten student. This includes all course materials for parents and kids, salary for our outstanding staff, and babysitting for other children during one hour of Shabbat morning school. This is the same amount as Sunday Religious School.
Youth Group FES tuition includes the $25 registration fee to participate in our kindergarten youth group KATANTY K/1.
Youth Choir FES children are welcome to participate in Youth Choir on Sunday mornings from 10:30-11:00 AM with our Sunday Religious School students.
Tuition Assistance We have tuition assistance available for the FES program, just like Sunday Religious School. We will work with every family to make participation possible.

Some of the feedback that I’ve heard so far about the FES is that it sounds like a huge commitment. In reality, the commitment isn’t substantially different from Sunday Religious School hour-for-hour. In fact, the Shabbat Dinners are the only additional time. What is different is that the schedule is not predictable (though it is set for the year already) and that at least one parent, but hopefully whole families, must participate in the program.

We need at least 12 families to choose the Family Experiential School in order to offer this pilot year. If your family would like to know more about the FES or you know a kindergarten family that we can reach to for either the FES or Religious School, let us know! Everyone at Temple Beth El is excited to bring kindergarten families into the center of synagogue life, through either program and in whatever way is most appropriate for them.

I hope that our first year of the FES helps one group of kindergarten families next to find more time together, more time for Torah, and more time for pancakes.

~Cantor Mary R. Thomas