Category Archives: Youth Education and Programs

Religious School News June/July 2020

Find Your Jewish Joy has been the motto of our Religious School this past school year.  In planning the year and developing the programming, your teachers and I worked hard to cultivate a sense of joy, so that when we began Sunday School you would be able to feel it.  This group of madrichim is a particularly joyful and spirited crew, so I knew they would have no trouble finding and expressing their Jewish joy!  With both groupings of people, we talked a lot about what kind of joy comes from being a Jew.  We brainstormed ways of making our teaching time exciting and enriching.  But, to no surprise, the real joy came on the first day of Religious School when all of the students came streaming in to Unger Hall.  They were ready to buy their bagels and sing out loud!

As much as we prepared to find joy, the students were already bringing it!  Quickly we realized that as much as the students were going to learn from us, we were going to learn from them–and that is as it should be!

As weeks turned into months, the joy factor only increased.  With Kitah-led family services, classroom learning and Kehila Tephila, the ruach grew and grew.  Participation in all of these areas was fantastic!  Adults wanted in as well and our wonderful Religious School Committee developed Kibbitz Café for the grown-ups!  There was an exciting vibe that was happening downstairs at Congregation Beth HaTephila.

When we are cultivating a culture it’s difficult to see beyond the immediate effects.  Our knowledge was growing, friendships were being made and our connection to our faith was strengthening.  However, as we discovered, that was not the greatest outcome of the school year.

As it became clear that COVID-19 was a reality and we were going to be in quarantine for the last few months of the school year, no one could predict what would happen next.  I feel so proud and honored to be working with people who are so passionate about what they do and recognize the value of community that is an essential part of our roles.  Our staff began working hard and diligently to provide fun and thoughtful Judaic content that would carry us through the rest of the school year.  We knew that families may decide that with the new quarantine situation, there might not be the time or space in their lives to take advantage of the activities.  But the teachers continue to produce.  We also agreed that there may be a time, once the school year ends that families may be looking for additional enrichment to occupy their time and the teachers have been glad to provide!

And, our Religious school families continued to show up.  Whether to Friday Night Shabbat Services, Havdalah with the Jonases, Kehila Tephila or Laila Tov on Wednesday evenings, many of our families were seen, showing up and even calling out to each other through the comment section!  It was a complete joy to watch as all of the Kitah Bet students shouted out to one another via Facebook Live!  It was at that point that I saw the real payoff of finding our Jewish joy!  When we find our experience to be joyful and meaningful, we are motivated to show up and connect with one another, even during a time of separation.  Finding our community as it transitioned into a new paradigm is very Jewish and I am so proud and grateful to have watched this happen!

Seth Kellam,

Director of Religious Education & Sacred Music

Religious School News May, 2020

As you may know, the word Seder, the same word we use to describe our retelling of the story of Pesach, means “order.”  In addition to Passover, we also have a Tu Bishvat Seder.  As Jews, order and routine are very important to us.  We follow a calendar that directly connects us to our yearly observance order.  As part of the order of our day, we are invited to pray three times—morning, afternoon and evening.  And when celebrating our Shloshim Rigalim, our three major festivals—Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, we have certain routine practices that we follow, as well.  We even include the counting of days between observances, such as the counting of the Omer that we are currently participating in, as part of our routine.

Recently (maybe it does not feel quite so recent) we have been stripped of much of our order and routine.  School and education, including Religious School and Midweek Hebrew, have been rendered almost unrecognizable.  Our roles at home have changed.  We not only need to be parents now, but also preschool teachers, elementary school teachers, and so on.  Our families are looking to us for added activities and in our house, at least, a lot more food!

Part of what we try to do, even though sometimes it seems futile, is to create a Seder for our days and for our lives.  We are struggling to maintain some type of structure that serves the needs of our little ones and allows us to meet the needs of our home and/or work.  It’s so hard!  I hope I am not the first to say this, but we are doing it!  Even when we meet with resistance or tears, we are seizing an opportunity that our modern reality often does not afford us: time with our children.  You may end a day saying, “That was awful!”  But your children will remember this time very differently.  I honor the work that everyone is doing and believe that, in the end, our families will grow closer.

You are not alone.  We are all feeling the daily aches and pains of trying to be more than we signed on for.  In efforts to connect us and remind us that we are all in this together, we have been creating some fun, family-friendly live opportunities on Facebook.  If you haven’t done so already, please be sure to request admission to our Religious School Facebook group, so you can join in as we come together on Wednesday nights for our Laila Tov Service, Saturday nights for Havdalah, and Sunday mornings for Kehila Tephila.

Our faith reminds us that order and community are our history and our future.  Thank you for continuing to co-create this beautiful community of ours.  I, for one, look very much forward to continuing to serve you and your families.

Seth Kellam,

Director of Religious Education & Sacred Music

Religious School News – April, 2020

The word Kesher means connection.  In our Religious School, we have named our B’nai Mitzvah class Kesher.  It makes sense.  The Bat or Bar Mitzvah year is the time when many of the concepts that have been illuminated during the past years of Religious School are solidified.  One of the earliest middot that on which we focus when our little ones enter Sunday school is the Mitzvah of giving tzedakah. During the Kesher year, in preparation for their Bat or Bar Mitzvah, the students are putting together their Mitzvah Project.  These projects are typically geared towards Tikkun Olam or repairing the world.  This actualizing of past concepts is a way of connecting with Jewish adulthood.

The intensification of their Hebrew studies connects our students to a language that was used, not only in liturgical settings, but with modern day Israeli life.  And, of course, the reading of the Torah and Haftorah portions connects our students to the wisdom of our ancestral fathers and mothers, not to mention the spiritual connection to our faith.

Kesher (connection) is an essential component of becoming recognized as an adult member of a community.  One must both create opportunity to connect, as our Kesher class has been doing, and, be engaged in connective opportunities by our kehillah.

The experience of becoming a Bat or Bar Mitzvah is a unique privilege.  One that comes with a lot of hard work and a great deal of effort.  As a community, we must embrace our B’nai Mitzvah class and welcome them into our congregation as new members.  One way to do so is to attend their B’nai Mitzvah services.

Our younger students are also encouraged to attend as a way to begin their connection to this privileged experience.

If you haven’t attended a Bat or Bar Mitzvah this past fall, use this Spring as an opportunity to attend any one (or more) of our nine upcoming Saturday morning services.  Please check the congregational calendar for more information.

Seth Kellam,

Director of Religious Education & Sacred Music

Religious School News- March 2020

There may be occasions when, after Religious School, you find your children singing prayers, with words you know, but tunes that are unrecognizable!  You may think, since when did we start yelling out, “1, 2, 3, 4!” during Oseh Shalom!?  Since when does Mi Chamocha start with the phrase, “I’ve been wading in the velvet sea?” Isn’t that a Phish song!? Or, I had no idea that the Shema started with “Fathers and Mothers!?”

You may wonder where all of your old melodies went, and is it ok that we have brand new tunes with additional lyrics–some in English!

It is okay.  One of the most exciting elements of the Reform movement is the wealth of music that is coming out.  Starting with Debbie Friedman in the late 1960’s, the Jewish music world has been evolving to engage as many people as possible.  Having come from the Jewish camping world, I happen to have my musical radar attuned to what is being created to fit the youth.  And, as Debbie Friedman said, “The Youth Shall See Vision.”  With more and more music to choose from, our Religious School students are not only captivated, but they have a clearer vision of what wisdom our Fathers and Mothers have provided for us.  Our students and campers are also using this clarity in vision to understand and even direct us to what it means to be a wholesome and educated Jew.

But, don’t worry, we haven’t left our past behind us.  The old tunes are still here.  Just a few weeks back, during Kehila Tephila (Beginning at 9:30 AM every Sunday morning that school is in session), we sang every version of Mi Chamocha we could think of.  We discussed what Mi Chamocha means, its origins and where it falls in the Torah.

It is true that Judaism is a religion of traditions.  However, our traditions are dynamic and alive.  Our traditions aren’t confined to only one time period.  Our traditions are not all misinai (from Sinai).  Our traditions continue to be invented and reinvented so that we can be a growing, dynamic people.  See you on Sunday!

Seth Kellam,

Director of Religious Education & Sacred Music

Religious School News- February 2020

I have vivid memories from my childhood of being sick with the flu on cold winter days, gazing out the window from my bed, staring at the bare trees.  I remember, in the hazy state that only a real flu can produce, watching as the tree limbs of the several, ancient oak trees swayed and the empty branches created new geometric shapes when layered on top of each other.  When would I feel better?  When would this never-ending winter end?!

And then in February, Tu B’Shevat would come around.  More thoughts of trees!  Still bare!  I would fantasize longingly about climbing the giant pine in my backyard or finding relief in the shade given by a tree on a hot summer day.  It became almost unbearable.  Right then in February, all I wanted was to be at camp or running through the sprinkler, like any good child of the ‘80s!  Thanks a lot, Tu B’Shevat!

The reality of those midwinter fantasies was that I was simply experiencing my love and appreciation for trees and all they gave us.  As a child, trees meant play.  As an adult, trees mean so much more.  I’m reminded of the vulnerable state our environment is in.  And how every tree counts!

This year at Beth HaTephila Religious School we will let both sides of this story fuel our celebration.  Thanks to Jenny Mercer, we will be planting a new tree at our Temple.  As a new tree enters the Earth, we will sing to it and decorate it with thank you notes as we welcome it to our beautiful community!  Please visit our new tree and be sure to thank it.  And if you feel like it, sing to it as well!

Seth Kellam,

Director of Religious Education & Sacred Music