Congregation Anshei Israel is revamping its youth and family education models, tearing down silos, and merging them into a new program, aptly called B’Yachad (together). This new name builds on the synagogue’s tagline and vision: “Living Y/Our Judaism Together.”
Religious school programs evolved post-World War II in America’s suburban sprawl, explains CAI’s Rabbi Robert Eisen, “for families to give children a Jewish education. It’s time to reexamine the goal and use the time to experience Jewish life.” After many months of research and study of best practices, Eisen says that he, Cantorial Soloist Nichole Chorny, and Rabbi Ruven Barkan, education and youth director, envision a broader framework to “experience things the way we live them,” to best serve the community. Kerri Haeflinger, the parent havurah chair, was instrumental in providing feedback from parents and support for these changes, Chorny adds.
“It is a more organic approach to Jewish life and Jewish education,” Eisen continues, explaining that as life has changed, new approaches to finding Jewish life adapt. “We move from ‘We’re going to teach you,’ to ‘We’re here to help you toward the things you need for spirituality.’ We’ve changed the way we develop initiatives, and holiday observances are more fluid. We recognize the fragmentation of the congregation and work to provide more gateways for access. We picked the outcome we want; we have a picture of what the graduate of this program will have completed. We’ve put the pieces into place to make that happen — by responding, not reacting. The goal is to bring people to the experience and the community.”
The model integrates the synagogue’s programs for youth and families throughout the congregation: USY (youth group), Mishpaha (family education), and Shabbat and holiday programs, Chorny explains. “This shift toward the experiential brings together families throughout our congregation, those whose children are in religious school or attending the Tucson Hebrew Academy,” she says. B’Yachad programming will include a new spiraled curriculum, Barkan adds, that is more flexible. “It cumulatively builds, so it’s not, for example, the same holiday lesson every year. It builds on a foundation.”
Experiential learning, community building, and individualized attention for each student will continue with Tuesday afternoon and Sunday morning supplemental school every week and “Shabbat’s Cool” monthly. The program will include periodic experiential days designed for CAI’s THA students to join in community building, learning, and fun.
The program further empowers madrichim (teen leaders) to take on increased leadership roles throughout the synagogue and serve as role models for living Judaism, says Chorny. “Younger students look up to them as b’nai mitzvah tutors and leaders of services on Shabbat mornings, empowering the madrichim to teach and create community.”
“It is learning from a different direction,” Eisen adds. “If the madrichim have to teach it, they have to know it. It becomes an opportunity for them to reflect, in a safe environment, and choose how to live.”
The program will launch on Sunday, Aug. 18 with a kick-off event for all youth and their families. Information and registration will be available at www.caiaz.org, or from Barkan at 745-5550.