Parent-Child Learning programs are a Shabbat staple at many local shuls, and although they may follow similar concepts, each has its own unique twist.
According to Edward Rosenfeld of the Young Israel of Stamford, on every Motzei Shabbat from November through February, many youths between the ages of 3 and 12 gather at the shul for learning and pizza. “Rabbi Akiva Attar regularly leads the learning as parents and children review questions from the parsha, and then gather for answers, stories and a raffle for prizes each week,” he said. With the semi-annual changing of the clocks to Daylight Savings Time, the program now meets on Shabbat afternoons at 6 p.m., led by Rabbi Naftali Wolfe. Rosenfeld summarized, “The goal of our program is to develop a love for learning and to instill the habit of learning on Shabbos; connecting over text and our heritage is a great way for parents and kids to meaningfully spend time together, as well.”
At the Riverdale Jewish Center, a similar program for 40 students is led by the RJC youth directors, Eitan and Jordana Bar-David. The Bar-Davids explained that each winter weekend they gather 45 minutes after havdalah. “For the first 45 minutes, families learn anything of their choice. Then, the children join together and Rabbi Genack speaks interactively with them,” described the Bar-Davids. The RJC program has a raffle with prizes at the end of every program, and in addition each attendee receives a small prize. Pizza is delivered halfway through the night.
“The goal of the program is to provide a context for families to come together and have a set time and place to learn. It also provides the children with an opportunity to get to know the rabbi better, and for the rabbi to get to know the children better. We hope that both parents and children come to value the time they spend learning and talking together, and that they will even come to continue on their own when the program is not in session,” the Bar-Davids explained.
Malkie and Ilan Scher, the youth directors at the Young Israel of New Rochelle, described YINR’s two learning programs. The winter version is called Vishinantam, held on Saturday nights. Once the clocks change, the program occurs on Shabbat afternoon and is called Parent-Child Learning. “Our target age range is kindergarten to fifth grade, although all ages are welcome. Frequently older and younger siblings will join the programming, even though they are not the target age,” stated the Schers. “The goal of the program is to create a friendly learning environment where parents can build their relationships with their children in a meaningful and religious way through the study of the weekly Torah portion (parsha) and Jewish holidays.”
Malkie and Ilan create packets with a summary of topic questions and answers, usually related to the parsha or an upcoming holiday. On Saturday nights, they add extra puzzle or game sheets to build more interest, such as a crossword, word-search or gematria. In addition to a raffle ticket just for participating, each table can earn extra tickets for answering “table trivia” questions.
Prizes are a big part of the YINR program. The Schers said, “Each week, we give out five prizes and a YINR Winner token. The prizes are better than the usual prizes given out at our other programs to incentivize children to come to the more Torah-related activities. We hope the children learn to associate Judaism and Torah with fun and positivity, rather than solely associating it with school and tests. We want kids to realize that Judaism and Torah can be fun and interesting and can be learned by everyone—adults and kids alike. We want the parents to realize that Torah is not something reserved for teachers and rabbis to teach their kids but it’s an easy, meaningful and spiritually up-lifting method of building and strengthening a relationship with their child. By learning Torah with their kids, we hope parents realize that they can make a huge difference in how their child perceives religion. For example, if a child sees a parent learning Torah, the child will come to realize that this is something important and to be taken seriously.”
The Young Israel of Harrison has a small hour-long program catering to about five families, meeting each Shabbat one hour before mincha. Shul President William Fraenkel is the facilitator. Volunteers take different approaches, but generally provide the families with a text and a series of questions for them to discuss, using the text. The facilitator asks the families to discuss the answers they came up with to prompt additional discussion between groups. The Harrison program provides seuda shelishit for the attendees.
“The purpose of the program is to help parents and children make the best use of their Shabbos afternoon by providing them with an opportunity to learn Torah together. Sadly, nowadays, children often think that Torah is something that you learn with a teacher and not necessarily with the parent. We want to change that mistaken belief,” explained Yael Fraenkel of Harrison. “At the same time, we want to impose innovative questions that might not otherwise be addressed. For example, we recently explored the differences between the four questions as we know it from the Haggadah and as it is recorded quite differently in the Talmud Yerushalmi.”
Eight-year-old Raeli Sokol, of New Rochelle, stated, “I like going to the learning program with my dad (who loves the ices) and showing him what I learn in school. I also love the raffle.”
By Judy Berger