Shlicha's/Shaliach's View

Fun and education a winning combination

Guy Gelbart

More than 250 Tucsonans attended the Weintraub Israel Center Heartbeat of Israel series second Sukkah Shake on Sept. 27. This successful event was cosponsored by the PJ Library and the Tucson Jewish Community Center. Normally I would not write about a past event, but this case is different. Not only was the Sukkah Shake a success by the number of participants; it also offered significant educational components.

Rabbi Yehuda Ceitlin from Chabad of Tucson taught children and their parents how to shake the lulav and say the Sukkot blessings and explained the symbolic meanings of the four species. PJ Library volunteers read stories about the holiday. Videos were presented to show the spirit of Sukkot as celebrated in Israel.

Families enjoyed a free dinner and a planetarium experience about the stars. Scott and Julie Zorn led holiday songs in both Hebrew and English. We all had a great time as a Jewish community celebrating together in an open, fun and friendly atmosphere.

Engaging young Jewish families is always a challenge; many people believe the only way to reach those families is by offering all fun and no education. The problem with this approach is that without educational activities, when the fun is over there is nothing left. Others believe that Jewish education should be strict; kids should learn the Hebrew prayers by heart. The problem is that many young families will avoid that approach.

The success of the Sukkah Shake suggests a third option — offering a fun event combined with many educational opportunities — where each participant ends up creating his own mix of fun and education. While a child is in the jumping castle her father is watching a video about Sukkot in Israel. While a kid listens to a PJ Library story about Jewish values, his mother is reading information about the holiday, which she gets to take home.

Throughout the past year and going forward into this year, the Weintraub Israel Center Heartbeat of Israel series has gone through and will continue to experience a significant shift, adding many fun family events like the Sukkah Shake. The intention is to engage many more young Jewish families in our community, as well as foster a strong Jewish identity with Israel at heart.

Our family fun Chanukah party, Tu B’Shevat arty party, the kids’ section at the Israel 65 festival on April 21 and the Israel Scouts friendship caravan will be coming up. We will also continue our tradition of high-quality free lectures. On Oct. 29, we will host the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, and in November we will host Prof. Adina Bar El, an author and expert on Hebrew and Yiddish literature. In January we will host photographer Gil Cohen Magen, who will share his amazing journey into the internal Chasidic courts of the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel.

This year, to allow more participants to take part in our programs, we are seeking sponsors to help us continue the Heartbeat of Israel series. Event-naming opportunities are also available for sponsorship.

For more information, contact Jennifer Ferrell at 577-9393, ext. 133, or israelcen [email protected]

Guy Gelbart is Tucson’s shaliach (emissary from Israel) and director of the Weintraub Israel Center.