An alternative approach to religious school
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Kol HaMishpacha: The Whole Family is an innovative, whole family approach to traditional religious school. It is a 16-week program that is designed to strengthen the partnership between Jewish family interaction and synagogue involvement.
Where else can you find parents and children doing the Hokey Pokey in Hebrew, acting out the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors, studying Torah together, filling bags with comforting items for homeless children, or sharing delicious pot luck with many other families? At Kol Hamishpacha, of course!
Kol Hamishpacha is a family education program in its third year at Congregation Rodef Sholom. Presently, about 75 families participate in the program for 2 hours twice a month. Additionally, they attend periodic services throughout the year. Unlike the traditional religious school model, children and parents attend religious school together and learn from master teachers and each other.
There are six groups: HaBonim (The Builders); Ivrit 1 and Ivrit 2 (Hebrew and Culture); Chalutzim (Pioneers); Tzofim (Scouts); and "Kol HaMishpacha in the Hood" (a home-based alternative for self motivated families)." The curriculum is much like the traditional Hebrew school: Hebrew, Torah, Jewish home life, lifecycles, holidays, Israel and prayer.
However, Kol Hamishpacha program allows for families to meet their children's educational needs in different ways. With both parents working, it was hard for the Herz family to get their two oldest kids to religious school two times each week. "It's been an absolute win-win for all," says Karen Herz.
A typical meeting for the temple-based groups includes a family activity based on the relevant curriculum, often followed by separate activities for parents and children. The parents might study Torah or discuss an aspect of parenting with a Jewish perspective, while the children participate in an art activity such as crafting a copper tzedakah box to be used at temple board meetings.
"My favorite thing to do at Kol Hamishpacha is learn Hebrew. I can write my name in Hebrew. I also love singing with Dan Nichols, and the crafts projects are fun," says six-year-old Adam Epstein, who has been in the Chalutzim group since it started three years ago.
The families form connections and bonds that so many of them sought when they joined the synagogue. Amy Kassiola, a Jewish educator who has taught in the congregation's Kol Hamishpaha program since it began, recalls the transformation of the Chalutzim group. "In our first year, we planned Israeli dancing at the opening event and couldn't even get the group into a circle. At the end of the year, everyone joined in with great enthusiasm and laughter--the transformation was obvious."
While Kol Hamishpacha has been well received and the numbers have increased dramatically from 20 families in the first year to 75 families this year, the religious school staff and board continue to look for ways to improve all aspects of this new and innovative program. According to Director of Education, Irene Resnikoff, "It's a work in progress. We're working on a plan for the next couple of years, and we're going to seek input from all members of the congregational community."