(Editor’s note: This is another in a recurring series of columns about people who are making a difference in Jewish education.)
On a recent Sunday morning, the sanctuary at Temple Sinai was filled with quiet talking and sleepy faces clustered in small groups.
Then Family Aseyfah started and everything changed.
By the time the music soloist, Sara Stock Mayo, ended the third round of Oseh Shalom, the room was filled with singing voices, dancing bodies and smiling faces.
Family Aseyfah, which is Hebrew for assembly, is Temple Sinai’s monthly family service for the parents and students in religious school. Jessica Neiss’ daughters Moriah (kindergarten) and Ellia (second) are usually dragging her to religious school rather than the other way around.
“My kids give me a hard time if I don’t come to Family Aseyfah with them,” Neiss said. By bringing parents and children together, Family Aseyfah “helps my kids see that prayer is important to me. I walk the walk; it backs up that we all care about it.”
Music is the biggest draw to Family Aseyfah.
Susanna Finke loves seeing her daughters get into the music by singing and clapping. Every week includes familiar prayers and a new song is always taught.
It’s not just the kids who get into it, another mom, Rachel Rosenfeld, said. “I come every time; it’s like camp for me.”
There is another focus for Family Aseyfah as well. It creates an atmosphere where families can connect to Temple Sinai, other parents and staff members. Mayo is joined by song leader Noah Diamondstein; Rabbi Jamie Gibson often plays guitar or teaches; and Rabbi Ron Symons will tell a story or bring his puppet, Sheli. Teachers, as well as other Temple Sinai staff are milling about the room making personal connections with each family.
This atmosphere provides an opportunity for the whole family to be welcomed into the synagogue while providing a way to connect for those who may not know how to jump into the Temple Sinai community. It makes coming to other synagogue programs, which are highlighted before Family Aseyfah finishes each week, more comfortable.
At the end of this Sunday service, as the kids prepared to leave the sanctuary and walk to their classrooms, their mood had changed. There was energy crackling through the room and palpable excitement for what would come next.
“Family Aseyfah focuses the kids mentally on why they are here at the very beginning of the day and prepares them to focus on what is happening,” Finke said.
What a wonderful way to begin a morning of Jewish learning.
(Melissa Werbow is an educational consultant at the Agency for Jewish Learning. Her work is part of Shinui: Igniting Change in Jewish Education, a consortium of the Jewish education communities of Cleveland, Houston, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. A Signature Grant from the Covenant Foundation funds the Shinui project. Werbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)