Category Archives: Religious School News

Religious School News September 2020

What is Religious School?

 Is it attending class to better understand the history of our people and learn our Shabbat liturgy?  Yes!  Before COVID 19, when and where was Religious School?  Was it Sunday mornings at Temple?  Yes!

And, while the answers above are accurate, they are not complete.  Religious School is so much more.  Our Sunday morning Religious School sessions are an opportunity for our children to build the fundamental tools to be Jewish.  However, that is not where our practice of scholarship begins and ends.  As adults we know that, as with anything, with the right care and attention, Judaism continues to grow beyond the threshold of the hallowed halls of our Religious School.

Through prayer, through discussion, through avodah, we continue to be students of our faith.  However, the convenience of a fixed location and time for our learning has made our development as learned Jews limited.  When we place all of our education eggs in one basket, we celebrate in a communal experience but miss a holistic experience.  Currently, we find ourselves in a reality where congregating at a specific location is not in the cards.  And, while we grieve the loss of that type of interaction, it opens us to other possible experiences.

This year, Congregation Beth HaTephila Religious School is going to take advantage of additional possible learning experiences.  These learning experiences will enable our children to grow in ways that we are not able to achieve solely on Sunday mornings.  Just as Jewish experiences are scattered throughout our days and weeks, so will Religious School.  Of course, we will be meeting in our remote classrooms on Sunday mornings, but we will also be congregating for additional services throughout the week.

Our understanding of the Maariv practice will grow as we join together on our Facebook Religious School Group on Wednesday nights for Laila Tov.  We’ll develop a greater understanding and appreciation for Havdalah during our once-a-month Havdalah Live (also on Facebook).  And of course, our rousing Kehila Tephila on Sunday morning leads us through beautiful and fun elements of our morning prayer service.

It is very easy and convenient to perceive Religious School to be a “one-stop shop” on Sunday mornings.  However, necessity to grow as a community and continue learning has allowed us to invent some pretty awesome, educational and communal experiences that you will be able to (and as an RS student, required to) attend.  This fall you will be encouraged to find Religious School throughout our days and weeks, just as our Jewish calendar cycle promotes.  See you there!

Seth Kellam,

Director of Religious Education & Sacred Music


Religious School August, 2020

Our great sage, Hillel, used to say, “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving person-kind and drawing them close to the Torah.”  He also used to say:

אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי. וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי. וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתָי:

“If I am not for myself, who is for me?  But if I am for my own self only, what am I?  And if not now, when?”

Now is one of those times for which our people have prepared.  Mi anachnu?  Who are we?  We are people who recognize hard times.  And we meet those hard times armed with all of the traits that we have curated for hundreds of years.  We have a history with them.

When leaving my house as a teenager, my father often said, “Remember who you are and whom you represent.”  We are a people who recognize the strength that we draw from being part of a community.  The world looks different right now.  We are more physically separate than we have been in a century.  Now is the time that we expand the reach of our community with the love that we learn as the disciples of Aaron.  We open our hearts, we open our eyes, we open our ears so that we can be rodef shalom, pursuers of peace.

I imagine that you are probably feeling the same confusion and uncertainty about what the fall will look like as I am.  But I want you to know that I am working day in and day out to ensure that no matter what, CBHT Religious School will continue to provide your family with the high-quality, Jewish educational experiences you’ve come to expect and depend on.  To that end, I would love to hear from you with questions, suggestions, and concerns you have about our upcoming school year.  Please email me directly:

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but one thing I am sure of is that all of the values that are intrinsic to the Jewish experience (our strength, security, sense of nurturing, etc.) are rooted in being a part of a community.  Everything that we do next year will build on a foundation of kehillah.  I look forward to continuing to create this Kehillah Kedoshah, sacred community, with you!

Seth Kellam,

Director of Religious Education & Sacred Music

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