She’arim is a community of multi-aged learners with a mission of engaging Judaism as a portal: for creativity, for meaning-making, and for personal agency. Our name means “gateways,” and we offer transformative Jewish life experiences. We do so through a variety of soul, mind, and body-focused modalities.
She’arim believes in three pillars around which our curriculum is based:
She’arim is a community, where relationships play as important a role in learning as facts. She’arim values the close-knit community of students and their families – She’arim is like one big family, and that closeness is one of its great assets.
Along with Judaism and family, She’arim believes it is ultimately important for children to have enjoyable and meaningful moments while engaging with their Jewish community. Beyond any facts and words a child may learn in She’arim, we want to impart a love of Mishkan Ha’am’s community and a love of being Jewish.
She’arim meets once a week, on Thursdays, from 4-6pm.
She’arim is not like school; it is like camp.
Our Judaica curriculum is a combination of experiential learning and a Project Based Learning model. At the start of each 2-3 week unit, students choose a project from a packet of choices. Choices range from artistic projects (painting, ceramics, mosaic making) to social justice projects to cooking and baking projects and more. Students work in pairs or small groups. All projects are text based and creative.
Some project examples:
- Studying Pirkei Avot 6:1 which discusses ten things created on the eve of the first Shabbat at twilight, looking in Tanach/Jewish Bible for all those references, and then creating those ten items as cake art
- Studying the story of Moses and the burning bush and the idea that others passed this bush and did not notice anything, but Moses really looked deeply, and creating a burning bush lumier
- Studying the issue of fair trade chocolate and child slavery in cocoa bean farming, making a Passover Seder plate out of clay, and using Kosher for Passover fair trade chocolate to create models of the Seder plate items
Our beginning Hebrew students study the Alef Bet with a wonderful interactive program called Alef Bet Quest. This program tells the story of two kids traveling through Israel. In the classroom, students use a Hebrew workbook. At home, this is supplemented with online video games based on the workbook.
The rest of our Hebrew studies focus on prayers. We use a curriculum called “Hebrew in Harmony” which focuses on music. Students listen to a variety of traditional and contemporary melodies in order to deepen their experience of the meaning of the prayer. In the end, along with the ability to read a prayer, students start to have a relationship with each prayer.
Each week, our students engage with Tefillah which is a prayer experience. In Tefillah, more than just going through the prayers, we find entry points – ways in that are personally meaningful.
We start each year with a game that helps us to determine our “spiritual type” as described by theologian Corinne Ware. After this, our Tefillah time is dedicated to each of those types. We might chant a prayer for the Mystics, study an interesting aspect of a prayer for the Head group, sing a beautiful melody for the Heart folks, and bring in a concrete way to make the world a better place for the Social Justice oriented among us.
Rather than having a traditional prayer service each week, we engage in Prayer Conversations. We look at the text of a particular prayer, recite it together, and discuss its deeper meaning. The goal is to uncover our evolving relationship with each prayer. For example, we might read the Mi Sheberach prayer and then discuss how we feel about praying for healing. It is a safe space to explore our feelings and thoughts about all spiritual matters.
Our year is filled with special programs. Whenever a holiday falls on a Thursday, we are afforded the chance to observe that holiday together. This has included Sukkot, Purim, Yom Ha’Atzmaut, and Lag B’Omer.
Each year we celebrate Thanksgiving together with a program called Thanksgiving Seder, which is held in the home of one of our families during the regular She’arim time slot. In that program, we go through a full seder complete with a festive meal of snack foods that demonstrates the Jewish aspects of the American Thanksgiving holiday.
Our Tu B’Shevat Green Fair is a highlight of the year. Teams of students prepare tables dedicated to particular Green topics such as protecting polar bears from melting sea ice, planting trees to offset air pollution and deforestation, and comparing the merits of locally grown food vs. organic food. On the Shabbat morning closest to Tu B’Shevat, our students teach the whole congregation about their topic. They cover four areas: what is the problem, why is this a Jewish issue, what concrete steps can we take to help, and an interactive piece in which community members can engage in learning on the topic.
Each year on Purim, we film a movie or put on a play. Sometimes we focus on the actual Purim story and sometimes these are Purim Schpiels. For example, the She’arimers break into groups. Each group chooses a theme and then places the Purim story into that theme. Through this we end up with: Purim in outer space, Purim set to the music from “Hamilton,” and Purim in 14th century France!
Just before Passover, we hold She’arim in one of our family’s homes and have a cooking event. One year we made matzah from scratch. Another year we spent time learning about Kosher for Passover ingredients and then our chefs were given several ingredients with the goal of making a wonderful Passover dish in the time we gave them that would be voted Passover Dish of the Year by our panel of judges or Beit Din.
On Lag B’Omer, we have our annual carnival. This has included a water balloon Jewish trivia game, find and identify the Jewish symbol in a vat of shaving cream while you are blindfolded, a human size board game in which each square was a day of the Omer and contained a Judaic challenge, and more!
Twice each year, we come together for She’arim Fun Nights, which take place during Erev Shabbat services. Ahead of time, we vote on a movie. We begin by joining with the larger community for Shabbat dinner before breaking off as the adults attend the service and we attend to our fun and community building! We watch a movie, make our own desserts (such as Worms in the Mud – chocolate pudding with gummy worms and toppings), and play games. This is a super fun way to build community and experience the release and relaxation that is Shabbat!
We would love to talk about She’arim further with you or even invite you to see us in action! Contact Rabbi Lori Feldstein-Gardner, Education Director at email@example.com.