Category Archives: Religious School News

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


Religious School News – January, 2020

Al Shlosha D’vorim “The world is sustained by three things: Torah, Avodah and Gemilut Chasadim

When considering the gifts of moral guidance that we, as parents and adults, can give to our children, we are provided with the most important concepts of all; Torah, the wisdom of our Creator and the sages that proceed us; Avodah, the work that satisfies our souls and makes a better world; and Gemilut Chasadim, acts of love and kindness!  These are the things that will sustain us as a people and quite frankly, sustain the world as a whole — not too bad for a framework!

The great news is that we all are committed to teaching these three things, whether you know it or not!  At home and at Religious School, we teach stewardship to the Earth and we teach the Golden Rule — we are teaching Torah!  At home and Religious School we teach prayer and gratitude to Gd — we are teaching Avodah!  And at home and at Religious School we teach kindness and sharing and acceptance — we are teaching Gemilut Chasadim!

Do you want to know how I know this?  The Religious School teachers and I get to watch your children embodying these middot (values).  We watch it in the way they honor things sacred, in the way they work on their Tephila and certainly in the ways they treat one another.  As a community we see it in their self-advocacy each Sunday when they fill out the leaves in the back of Kehila Tephila.  With these leaves they are recognizing and celebrating their own moral successes.  The self-celebration motivates our children to perpetuate and further embody these values!

This year we added an opportunity to celebrate one another with an acorn, a seed.  This kind of recognition serves as a seed on which more great things can grow.

Mitzvah Tree
Mitzvah Tree by Meg Winnecour

And, with anything Jewish we want to enact Hiddur Mitzvot, we want to beautify our commandments!  CBHT Religious School is so fortunate to have the beautiful artwork of Meg Winnecour!  In celebration of our awesome children, Meg has painted a beautiful Mitzvah Tree, on which we will hang out Mitzvah leaves full of Torah, Avodah and Gemilut Chasadim!

Thank you, Meg, and thank you Mitzvah Makers!

Seth Kellam,

Director of Religious Education & Sacred Music

Religious School News December, 2019

I have such wonderful memories of Friday Night Shabbat Services when I was a child.  Putting on my blue blazer that I had just outgrown.  Playing with my father’s tsit tsit or laying my head on my mother’s lap while listening to our Rabbi give his d’var.  They are such soothing memories.  I remember early on my mother telling me to close my eyes during the Shema and telling me that Erev Shabbat felt very spiritual to her.  We shared a lot in those brief moments while turning to the next page.

As I got older and made my way through Religious School, I recall explaining what I assumed was new information to her.  I shared with her that in fact the Shema was more than the recitation of that one important sentence.  I remember her nodding as if she were learning that for the first time!

So much of what I gained during services, in addition to an added closeness with my family, was framing my Religious School education.  I was able to put into action some of the rituals I was learning on Sundays, put into practice the Hebrew I was learning on Wednesday evenings, and talk out my inferences about our faith with my mother and father.

My Religious education did not end at Hebrew School dismissal, but rather was lifted, framed and actualized during Friday Night Services.  This is the case for every Jewish child who attends Religious School.  Of course, Shabbat services are a time to decompress.  Our people have made a commitment to separate the Sabbath from the week.  However, education and scholarship are also built into the joyful experience of Shabbat.

Regardless of whether you are attending a Family Service or any other service, enjoy this opportunity to snuggle up to your Yeladim and share with them, what you know, see what they understand, and celebrate the joy that comes from the convergence of your knowledge, their knowledge and knowledge provided by our Avot v’Imot.

Seth Kellam,

Director of Religious Education & Sacred Music

Religious School News – November 2019

What is the best gift you can give your family following this Holiday Season?  Perhaps something that is delicious and sweet?  Something that looks and smells delightful?  Something that can last forever?  What about something that bops when it stops or whirls when it twirls?  I’ve got just the thing!

Kavannah!  Kavannah is intention, aim or goal.  And it can be as tasty as you desire.

As referenced during Kehila Tephila, kavannah or conscious intention, is on what we build growth.  When we are together as a community in prayer or learning, we create a communal kavannah.  Whether we are participating in a prayer or meditation of Shevah (praise), Bakashah (petition), or Hodayah (thanksgiving,) we are working off a clear intention.  Wouldn’t our home lives be even more fruitful if we were to have clear goals?

Consider an activity you can do at breakfast or dinner or bedtime by engaging in a conversation about kavannah.  Creating intention about how we conduct ourselves inside and outside of the home might be something to consider.  Perhaps the way we treat our family members, even when we are cranky, might be a powerful exercise.  Or even homework and housekeeping goals could be significant.

Kavannah about how we treat ourselves can be extraordinarily significant.  By setting an intention about limiting negative self-talk, we can not only identify a goal but it might help one become more conscious about when these sorts of thoughts are happening!  I believe celebrating oneself during successes is a great habit to create.

What about kavannah outside of our homes and our minds?  How about kavannah around how we want to participate in our local or global communities.  I know that Rabbi gave us a lot to think about during her sermon on Rosh Hashanah.  How can we make this world cleaner and safer for those around us?

No matter the intention that you create, the act of making it a family activity is extremely powerful.  Allowing your children to see that as adults, we are aware and recognize that we can do better can be empowering.  Supporting each other and being accountable is essential.

Don’t worry if the conversation doesn’t go as smoothly as you envision, but envision it none-the-less.  If we get that type of thinking started early in life and as a family, I believe we will all be creating and receiving beautiful gifts following this beautiful season that will last throughout the year.

Seth Kellam,

Religious School and Sacred Music Director

Religious School News- October, 2019

When I first entered the Beth HaTephila Religious School seven or eight years ago, I did so as an opportunity to develop my song leading skills, grow my repertoire and support my dear friend Lauren Rosenfeld.  I had no idea what kind of transformation would occur!

In entering the building (it was the old school building, if you can remember that!) I was overcome by the juxtaposition between the physical environment and the spiritual environment.  Despite outdated spaces, the warmth that enveloped me was unavoidable.  My desire to return, week after week, grew into an obsession!

When, after being relocated at the JCC during construction, we finally entered the new Religious School space, all the elements of a perfect environment were cemented.  A beautiful space, filled with beautiful people doing beautiful work!  This microcosm of a beautiful world had been created for our children.

As I sang during our rousing Kehila Tephila or walked from class to class with my guitar slung over my shoulder, I couldn’t find any other description for what I was experiencing, than MAGIC.  Magic is what continually brought the students and teachers back, week after week.  But what, I wondered, made that magic?

The answer came to me in song—Kehila–community!  There was a sense of community that began each day through song and enrichment and continued, not only for the next two hours, but for the entire week, until we met again.

The power of meeting together, to start our day, laugh a little, sing a lot and set powerful intentions made a group of over one hundred students and family members into a community that was strong beyond comprehension.

This year we moved Kehila Tephila into Unger Hall.  We now sit in a semi-circle so that we can see each other and sing to each other.  And, we make a formal invitation to all family members to come, be a part of what makes Beth HaTephila Religious School so special, so powerful and so magical.  And by being a part of it, you will help us grow and sustain this beautiful thing.

Seth Kellam

Religious School and Sacred Music Director