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entries tagged with: Risa Tannenbaum


Temple Sinai program targets unaffiliated Jews

Educators unveil new initiatives

For some time, Risa Tannenbaum and Sara Kaplan have been concerned about the children in their congregation who — after going through Temple Sinai’s early childhood program — might “miss some Jewishness” during the year before they enter kindergarten.

To create a “bridge” for these children and, said the two educators, serve both their own congregation and the entire community, they have created a program at the Tenafly Reform synagogue, “reaching out to the unaffiliated in the community who might want to have a taste of Judaism.”

Tannenbaum, director of the shul’s early childhood center for the past three years, describes the new venture as “a free pre-K parent/child interactive holiday program for unaffiliated families in the community.” The monthly sessions, for 4- to 5-year-olds and their parents, provide a way for families to “dip their feet” in Jewish life, she said.

The synagogue — which, she said, is fully subsidizing the program and has already hired one teacher — “is very excited about it.”

Kaplan, who has served as Temple Sinai’s director of education for 14 years, noted that the program, including stories, arts and crafts, and movement and dance, is likely to draw both parents from interfaith families and those Jewish parents who simply want to know more about Judaism.

It will also allow parents to meet the rabbi, cantor, and synagogue educators and visit the kindergarten. Tannenbaum and Kaplan said they hope this will “drum up” students for the kindergarten program and spur families to join the synagogue.

Sara Kaplan, left, the shul’s director of education, says it’s important to work on values. Parenting is a challenge, says early childhood director Risa Tannenbaum, right. Courtesy Temple Sinai

“It’s less threatening to learn with your children,” said Tannenbaum, pointing out that no previous knowledge is necessary to attend.

“Parents need encouragement,” added Kaplan, suggesting that even in families with two Jewish parents, the further away one moves from the generation of Jews “who brought over their Jewishness” from Europe, the bigger the gap in their Jewish knowledge.

In a further effort to reach out to the parents of early childhood students, this year, for the first time, Temple Sinai is making its parenting workshop available to this group. The synagogue already offers parenting workshops for the families of older students.

Inspired by the book “Blessings of a Skinned Knee” by Wendy Mogel, said Kaplan, she and Tannenbaum will put together a parenting program “based on Jewish values.” Joining them in leading the group will be congregant Richard Gallagher, a psychologist who heads the parenting program at the NYU Child Study Center.

While designed for parents in the early childhood center, “it will be open to anyone who is a religious-school parent with a child in elementary school,” said Kaplan, pointing out that unlike the new holiday workshops, the parenting program will charge a fee.

“Parents are looking for educational programs suited to their needs,” said Tannenbaum. “They need more support and we will offer it through this program.”

Kaplan pointed out that parents often come to her and Tannenbaum for guidance.

“We’re the first line of defense,” she said. “Parents question how, when they have so much, they can say no to their children. It’s important to work on values.”

“Parenting is a real challenge,” said Tannenbaum. “It’s bar mitzvah versus soccer games. Parents need language and support. They want to be more grounded.”

If parenting programs are offered to them when their children are young, “they won’t have to struggle later on,” she said. “They’ll be much more secure as parents.”

Among the topics the workshop will discuss is “downtime from all these gadgets,” said Kaplan, noting that many parents spend less time today talking to their children than they do talking on their cell phones.

“They don’t realize that they’re not communicating,” she said.

The group will also talk about Shabbat and the value of sharing a Shabbat dinner.

“We want to give tools to parents,” said Tannenbaum, noting that parents will receive transliterations of blessings and will be talked through the choreography of home Shabbat observance — for example, “covering your eyes and what to do with your hands” after lighting candles.

Tannenbaum said she has heard parents say they don’t go to services because they don’t know what to do there. The new programs, she said, “will try to create a comfort level for parents” that may help address this problem.

For further information, call the Temple Sinai religious school office, (201) 568-3075.


Synagogues unite for Shabbat

Shabbat Across America celebrated March 4 locally and globally

It’s a weekly event that comes once a year. Shabbat Across America, now in its 15th year, puts Sabbath services and meals on the calendar for more than 600 synagogues of all denominations across the country and beyond.

The March 4 event is being celebrated in at least 10 area synagogues in a variety of ways, including a “Tot Shabbat” for children 5 and under (and their parents) at Temple Sinai of Bergen County in Tenafly, a potluck dinner at Temple Beth Or in Washington Township, and a catered dinner for 175 at the Jewish Community Center of Paramus.

Shabbat Across America is project of the National Jewish Outreach Project, founded by Orthodox Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald in 1987.

“The first time we had 5,000 people participating in 50 locations. It’s grown by leaps and bounds. This year we expect 40,000 people to participate, in more than 40 states,” he said.

The program has spread to Canada, and this year to Liverpool, Germany, and even Cuba, where Drew University professor and Hillel adviser Jonathan Golden is taking 15 students to visit the Jewish community and celebrate Shabbat.

“Shabbat Across America underscores the importance of creating sacred time,” said Buchwald.

“We didn’t actually create Shabbat,” said Buchwald. “The Almighty created Shabbat. We’ve been proud to help market it for the Almighty.”

The Glen Rock Jewish Center will offer a special service starting at 6 p.m. for “people looking to learn a little about what goes on at a Shabbat evening service, with English, Hebrew, and transliteration,” said Rabbi Neil Tow. At 6:30 p.m., there will be a traditional Sabbath dinner, with more than 100 people expected to attend. Each table will hold materials for a discussion of teachings about Shabbat over the centuries. Full services will begin at 8 p.m., followed by an oneg and dessert.

“My hope is that this shorter service will give everyone a taste of what it’s like to be together in prayer on Shabbat, and hopefully people will choose to come back and be with us,” said Tow.

At Temple Sinai, Shabbat Across America coincides with the synagogue’s monthly Tot Shabbat program, which regularly features a Shabbat meal, a short service that includes songs and a story, and a craft project.

To mark Shabbat Across America, “We asked our families to invite a guest,” said Risa Tannenbaum, director of the synagogue’s early childhood center. The children will be making “Shabbat bags” to take home the texts of blessings for the candles, challah, and kiddush, as well as two candles and grape juice, “so they can celebrate Shabbat in their own home the following Shabbat.”

At the JCCP, Shabbat Across America “is more of an inreach event than an outreach event,” said Rabbi Arthur Weiner. Most participants will be congregants, some regular Shabbat attendees, some not.

Weiner expects 175 people to attend the synagogue for the program, which begins with candlelighting at 5:30 p.m followed by services and then a catered dinner. The services “will have more of an emphasis on teaching as well as a big emphasis on participation” compared to the center’s standard Friday night services.

“Shabbat Across America is a very important program, one of the few outreach initiatives out there that really cuts across denominational lines,” said Weiner. “Every synagogue does it their own way, which is wonderful, but encouraging synagogues to do programming on such and such a date is tremendous,” he said.

Other participating synagogues in the area include Temple Emanu-El in Bayonne; Clifton Jewish Center; Cong. B’nai Israel in Emerson; Temple Beth Sholom in Fair Lawn; Temple Emanuel in Franklin Lakes; Cong. Adas Emuno in Leonia; Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel in Maywood; New Milford Jewish Center; Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood; Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge; and the Jewish Learning Experience in Teaneck. For an up-to-date list, go to

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