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Shul-in! Feeling Like Family

by Pamela Barkley, Temple Beth Abraham

(The following is reprinted with permission from our upcoming March Bulletin.)

“I feel thankful this morning because …..I have so many nice Hebrew School friends.”
“I feel thankful this morning because …..last night I learned a lot about other people that I didn’t know as well before”
“I feel thankful this morning because …..I slept in a place with Torahs in it”
“I feel thankful this morning because …..I am here with friends spending time together.”
“I feel thankful this morning because …..I got to have fun with my grade.”

I could go on and on and on. Because each of the anonymous answers to “I feel thankful this morning because…” was genuine and heartfelt . All of these were written by 5th graders the morning of their shul-in. For those of you who don’t know, for about 10 years now we have invited the 5th grade to come to Temple on a Saturday night and sleep over. We start with havdalah, we play games, we eat lots of junk food, we watch movies, we hang out. And most of all, we form a community. There is one for the 6th grade as well and while all shul-ins tend to be fun, I must admit this past 5th grade one was in a class by itself.

Some of you may have heard about this new program we pioneered in the 5th grade this year. There are many components to it, but I am going to focus on one in particular. Since September, parents and children been coming to Temple on a monthly basis to learn and celebrate together. Sometimes this has been done during regular school hours, and we have parents and children working with one another. Other times, we have invited entire families to celebrate Sukkot in our sukkah, or Shabbat dinner on Friday night. What has become very clear is that by coming together frequently, and intentionally focusing on building relationships, we have in fact accomplished our goal of the 5th grade truly feeling like one, big family. And that is why this particular 5th grade shul-in was so special.

We always do a good job of helping the kids interact with kids who they don’t already know from school. But with this 5th grade, it was as if we didn’t even have to say anything – the kids themselves already were friends with one another across school district lines. They were already a cohesive group. They came primed to have fun with one another, accept one another, and take part in all that was offered. I have to say it was pretty magical. This 5th grade made me feel as if I was truly amongst a kehillah kedosha, a holy community.

I am eagerly looking forward to seeing what this amazing group of young men and women accomplish the rest of this year. They will soon be running a Yom Haatzmaut (Israeli Independence day) program for the entire K-4 school. They are going to take their enthusiasm, their newfound love of Israel, their incredible ability to work as a team, and help younger students learn about this important Jewish holiday. I cannot wait to see what they come up with!

Pam Barkley is the Director of Education at Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown, NY. She is often described as the girl with a loud voice and curly hair!

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