Go West, young Torah-observant Jews!


Yeehaw!
 
The wait is finally over for members of Young Israel of Century City, who were eagerly anticipating the theme of the annual program “brochure,” which was kept secret until its publication last week.
 
It’s … Old West.
 
The Young Israel of Century Gazette is printed on antique-looking brown paper with sepia-toned photographs and illustrations, such as revolvers, spurs, snakes, lizards, playing cards, an animal skeleton and a pitched wagon (with the words “Torah to Go” written on the canopy). The main headline of the Gazette is “YICC Transforms the West! Read All About It,” shown with a grainy, blurred-edge photo of the Modern Orthodox shul, located on Pico Boulevard in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.
 
While many synagogues around the country offer adult education programs and brochures, Young Israel of Century City is one of the few to package it in a humorous, stylized brochure. Last year the brochure was designed as a National Geographic magazine. Past themes have included the National Enquirer, a museum tour, and “soul food,” featuring a diner design.
 
“We felt that if you package your program in a sophisticated fashion people will pay attention,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin, who instituted the catchy brochures in the first years of his arrival, some 22 years ago. Not only do congregants anticipate the unveiling of the brochure (at Kol Nidre), but Muskin gets requests nationwide from other rabbis who are inspired by his design and by his programming.

The brochure — created with Jeff Coen of JDC design — is just one component of the process, which takes hundreds of hours, beginning with planning speakers, guests and events one year in advance.
 
The coming year’s events range from the intellectual (Yaffa Eliach, a Holocaust scholar, and Gil Graff, a Jewish historian); spiritual (Rabbi Asher Zelig Weiss, a rosh yeshiva from Jerusalem, and Rabbi Yitzhak David Grossman, the “Disco Rabbi” who is chief rabbi of Migdal Ha’emek); political (AIPAC’s Jonathan S. Kessler, and Rep. Henry Waxman [D-Los Angeles]); cultural (author Hallie Lerman, cultural critic on returning to modesty Wendy Shalit and musician Rabbi Shmuel Brazil).
 
Why put so much effort into adult education?
 
“It says in the Talmud if you learn Torah from one person you haven’t learned Torah,” Muskin said. The programs “generate an intellectual and spiritual excitement.”
 
On the back page of the brochure is a photograph of the original founders of Young Israel of Century City standing in front of the first shul, which really does look like a log cabin, even though it was from the 1970s.
 
Which brings up the age-old question: Why is it called Young Israel of Century City when it’s clearly not located there?
 
“I asked the same question when I came,” Muskin said of his 1986 arrival as the first full-time rabbi, 10 years after the synagogue’s inception. It turned out that the name Young Israel of Los Angeles was already taken. Ditto for Young Israel of Beverly Hills (Young Israel of Century City is Beverly Hills adjacent, anyway).
 
“They decided on Century City because you can see the Century City towers from the synagogue,” Muskin said.

Jewish Studies Bug Bites Parents, Too


Eighteen months ago, when Lenard Cohen’s 4-year-old daughter was enrolled in the family’s congregational preschool, the Philadelphia-area father of three decided to go back to school himself.

He signed up for the Florence Melton Parent Education Program, a Jewish adult education course for parents of preschoolers.

Raised as a Reform Jew, Cohen said he was on the “lower end” of the observance scale when he signed up for the course, which meets once a week, 30 weeks a year, two hours at a stretch, for two full years.

His goal, he says, was to “increase my knowledge of Jewish practice, Jewish history and Jewish ethics, and to be able to pass it on to my children better.”

The course has done that and more, he says, bringing together a group of parents with disparate backgrounds and experiences.

“We’re all there because we’re parents of preschoolers and we want to learn,” he says.

With a number of recent studies showing that preschools have a profound effect on the Jewish life of the entire family, and that greater linkage is needed between preschools and the rest of the Jewish educational and communal network, educators and philanthropists are engaging in new initiatives to bring parents of Jewish preschoolers into the process.

Some of those initiatives are formal, such as the Melton program, which operates in 15 cities, and some are more informal, involving interaction and greater outreach between parents and their children’s school.

“There’s a sense of fragmentation,” says Lyndall Miller, coordinator of the Jewish early childhood education certificate program at Gratz College in Melrose Park, Pa. “Parents don’t have models of how to parent. People don’t talk to each other about how they can build relationships with their children. Schools must become communities, and they don’t know how.”

Simply making the effort to reach out is a crucial beginning, educators say.

Ina Regosin, founding director of the Early Childhood Institute and dean of students at Hebrew College in Newton, Mass., says that when she was director of a Jewish preschool 30 years ago, she’d routinely invite parents into the building when they dropped off their children, “to educate them, of course.”

The school sent home weekly newsletters for the parents to read, and held evening programs on Jewish holidays and other topics.

The best Jewish preschools today all engage in that kind of active outreach to parents, and try to make it part of the natural rhythm of family life.

“Whatever we do for the children we do for the adults,” says Helen Cohen, who 12 years ago founded a preschool at Temple Israel, a large Reform congregation in Boston. Teachers send home weekly newsletters on the Torah portion, with the Hebrew words translated and transliterated. They hold family Havdalah services, and send parents home with clear instructions on how to do the ritual themselves.

Taking part in a Jewish learning experience at their child’s preschool is a nonthreatening way for many parents with little or no Jewish education to increase their own knowledge and feel more at home with Jewish observance.

Sometimes preschools run separate, adults-only classes for parents to study Torah or learn Jewish parenting skills.

“Our families are so assimilated, a lot of them are not comfortable with the rituals,” says Shelley Smith, preschool director at Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue in Portland, Ore. “We create a safe zone for them to learn from the ground up, together with their children.

Sending kids home on Friday with “Shabbat boxes,” which typically include candles, transliterations of the blessings and challah baked by the child that day in class, is popular at many preschools.

“Who won’t hang the mezuzah your child made on the bedroom door?” Smith says. “Who on Friday night won’t stick candles in the Shabbat candlesticks your child made out of Play-Doh?”

At the Osher Marin JCC preschool in San Rafael, director Janet Harris stands in her front lobby every morning to greet the children and their parents. She shakes their hands and personally invites them to the school’s family programs.

The Osher Marin preschool is one of 12 schools involved in a pilot project by the Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative, which was launched in 2004 to develop models of preschools that bring the entire family into the project of Jewish learning.

Mark Horowitz, the initiative’s executive director, says that each school receives funding and coaching to deepen the Jewish and developmental content in the classrooms, and to build strong relationships with the parents.

Next year, the program will add 10 to 20 new preschools to the project.

“If we can create communities of Jewish families around these preschools, then they will want to continue their connection with Jewish education and institutions,” he says. “We will have created a craving for Jewish life. It might mean congregational affiliation, or membership in Jewish Community Centers, or Jewish day school — some meaningful way to continue the communities in which they have been flourishing.”

The Melton Parent Education Program is one of two formal initiatives to emerge in recent years. The program, based at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and run out of its North American office in Northbrook, Ill., is modeled after the successful Florence Melton Adult Mini-School curriculum.

“We promote pluralism, text-based study and interactive learning,” says Mitch Parker, director of the program for preschool parents.

“We encourage the parents to realize that what they learn in class is relevant to Jewish family life, and to take the lesson home. We don’t teach the how-tos, but the whys of Judaism and the importance of it.”

This spring, 450 parents are enrolled nationwide. And it’s having an impact.

More of those parents are enrolling their children in day school — the stated goal of the Avi Chai Foundation, which subsidizes tuition for the program. The program is also, in some cases, open to parents of children in the younger grades of day school.

And, Parker says, “We definitely see behavioral changes” among the parent-students. “They admit that after two years, they are doing more Jewish things.”

Deborah Bradley of Walled Lake, Mich., outside Detroit, is in her second year of the program. Her three children all went to a Conservative congregational preschool. The two oldest are now in day school, and the youngest will start next year. The decision to put her kids in day school “evolved,” she says, as she and her husband saw how much they were learning in preschool.

She decided to take the Melton program “not only because of my love of studying, but to be able to delve into topics my children were getting introduced to in Jewish day school.”

Her 10-year-old had been asking difficult questions about Jewish beliefs regarding afterlife, cremation and where she stood on abortion.

“I came in with good knowledge, but getting Tanach references was helpful,” she says, referring to the Bible. “It helps me communicate better with the kids.”

Another formal education program operates in the Boston area and western Massachusetts. Ikkarim, an adult learning program for parents of 1- to 5-year-olds, is run by Hebrew College and Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston. The Ikkarim program operates at several local synagogues. Focusing on Jewish text study, it targets parents of preschool-age children in its exploration of how Jewish values apply to contemporary family relationships.

Regosin of Hebrew College says that it’s critical to offer this kind of outreach to young Jewish parents, because they’re at the point in their lives when they’re making decisions that will affect the Jewish nature of their home for years to come.

“You’ve got families that are so open at this point, especially when it’s their first child,” she says. If the preschool experience is good, they’re more likely to continue that child’s Jewish education, and to send their younger children to preschool as well.

“When a young family makes that choice and walks through the door, it’s a tremendous opportunity,” she says. “If you have teachers and directors committed to strong Jewish education, they can have tremendous impact.”

 

Questions, Prayers and Shabbat Lights


Interfaith Questions

Why do bad things happen to good people? Or why do bad things happen to me? Dr. Aryeh Dean Cohen paraphrased these questions at an April 5 interfaith dialogue on theodicy or how to reconcile a benevolent God with evil.

The roundtable dialogue, “Jewish and Christian Perspective on Theodicy: How Could God Let Something Like This Happen and What Can We Do About It?” was sponsored by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California and the Fuller Theological Seminary, a nondenominational Christian seminary in Pasadena, and was the second interfaith discussion on a series of topics.

“We have so much to learn from our Jewish friends, who give us permission to lament and engage in arguments with God,” said Dr. Richard Mouw, president of Fuller.

Before Passover and Easter, rabbis and pastors listened to varying perspectives on how the two religions confront all the disasters occurring in the world.

“Can God’s justice be defended and should one even try to do so?” asked James T. Butler, associate professor of the Old Testament at Fuller. He said that it’s important to question, rather than accept things on blind faith or counsel others that it is God’s will.

“If we convey the fact that faith is strongest when unquestioned, we contribute to the spiritual infantilization of our neighbors,” he said. “We teach them to settle for the God we have, rather than God they read about…. Instead of discouraging those who suffer, we can be their voice.”

Cohen agreed: “Sometimes the only thing you can do is listen.” He said that at other times, “the only thing you can do is scream and yell and curse.”

But really, he added the question is not “why did God do this, but why did we do this?” When it comes to natural disasters like New Orleans or human atrocities like genocide, we can’t really answer the question of where God is. But “where am I is a question we have an answer to.”

Egalitarian but Spiritual

They say “two Jews, three shuls,” so why not one more alternative community?

That’s why a group of 20-somethings started PicoEgal, an egalitarian minyan where men and women, participating as equals, conduct an entire, uncut Shabbat and holiday service that incorporates singing and spirituality.

“The basic idea is to have a community with a davening in accordance with halacha that also has spiritual singing,” said one of the founders, Abe Friedman, a first-year student at the University of Judaism.

Modeled after New York’s Hadar congregation, which attracts some 300 people each week, PicoEgal is one of a number of recently established minyans here and around the world that don’t affiliate with a particular movement and don’t have a synagogue building. For now, the two dozen or so “members” of PicoEgal meet at apartments in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood on the first and third Saturday mornings of each month, but they are looking for a more permanent space to rent. However, unlike other religious communities that are looking for a permanent home — like Ikar, for example — PicoEgal has no plans to become a full-time congregation.

“We’re not a one-stop shop for everyone,” Friedman said. “We didn’t want this to be an entire community, so much as a davening community [that adds to] what was already available.”

In that same vein, PicoEgal is also starting a multidenominational Beit Midrash study program, beginning with a Torah portion class each Tuesday in May, taught by Orthodox, Conservative and Reform teachers.

“While there are many opportunities for Jewish learning in the area, there is a lack of learning opportunities across the denominations. We wanted to try and provide a neutral forum for Torah learning outside any establishment,” Friedman said.

Just One Candle…

First it was Shabbat; now it’s candles…. What’s next? Kosher?

Ten years ago, Shabbat Across America began its campaign to get as many Jews as possible to celebrate Shabbat for at least one weekend a year. This May, a new organization is promoting “FridayLight,” a campaign encouraging 1 million women to light Shabbat candles — that’s 2 million candles!

“By lighting up each and every Friday night, you will not only bask in a personal moment of inner peace but also connect to a larger community of women everywhere who together hold the power to foster global peace,” reads the Web site (www.fridaylight.org), which features a pale redhead in a Oriental robe holding a fat, yellow candle — definitely not a traditional Shabbat candle for sure.

“With the flicker of a million flames each and every Friday night, we can bring light to some of the darkest places on earth and usher in peace throughout the world,” it adds.

The New Four Questions

Why is law important in the Jewish faith? Why isn’t the bible enough? Why does the practice of Judaism seem to be different from what is written in the Torah? How can Jewish law relate to modern issues?

These and other modern-day questions about religion will be addressed in “From Sinai to Cyberspace,” a course from the Jewish Learning Institute, a Chabad adult education program presented at Chabad locations in 150 cities around the world. Each course, taught by Chabad rabbis, provides a textbook and is supplemented by audio-visual presentations. The courses also are available online.

“From Sinai To Cyberspace” examines the interplay of the written and oral traditions and how they impacted the development of Jewish law, creating a vibrant and flexible system faithful to its roots.

The course begins in early May at Los Angeles at Chabad Centers throughout Southern California, including Los Feliz, Studio City, Burbank, Sherman Oaks, Northridge and Pasadena.

For more information on PicoEgal, e-mail picoegal@gmail.com.

For more information on the Chabad course and locations, visit www.myjli.com/courses.php.

 

Intense Me’ah Gets High Marks


A Jewish adult education program is bearing fruit, according to a recent survey.

And now Me’ah — an intensive, two-year Jewish adult-education program marking its 10th year — is spreading from Boston across the country.

The name of the program, which means 100 in Hebrew, refers to the roughly 100 hours of study time participants spend over the two-year cycle.

Me’ah, which began in 1994 with 50 students in greater Boston, is also now being offered in Baltimore, Cleveland, Rhode Island, Florida, New Jersey and New York.

In separate conversations about Me’ah, its creators, David Gordis, president of Hebrew College, and Barry Shrage, president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, cite quality and location as the key to its success.

The program is held in neighborhood synagogues and Jewish community centers.

Gordis and Shrage are touting the results of a survey of Me’ah’s Boston-area graduates, who are moving into leadership positions in their Jewish communities.

Nearly two-thirds of graduates say the program had a major or moderate impact on their involvement in Jewish communal life. Close to half report increasing their charitable giving to synagogues and other Jewish causes.

“Adult education is up there with day schools [as far as] transformational opportunities,” Shrage said. “This is the right moment in Jewish history because there’s a huge longing for spirituality, community and a serious engagement with Judaism.”

Me’ah’s rigor and neutrality are appealing to a broad range of the American Jewish population, said Jack Wertheimer, provost of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. At the same time, he added, he would like to see a more sophisticated, outside, independent evaluation. The lack of such evaluations is a consistent issue with programs serving the American Jewish community, he said.

But Wertheimer applauded how Me’ah taps such resources as Jewish scholars for the benefit of the broader community as well as its transdenominational approach.

“The down side,” he said, “is that it may be too neutral and not sufficiently prescriptive to encourage involvement.”

Me’ah is one response to the controversial National Jewish Population Survey published in 1990, which alarmed the community about the long-term affects of assimilation.

“We were dealing with a population of people who by and large have been exposed to quality higher education and had become accustomed within their Jewish connections to be satisfied with mediocrity,” Gordis recalled.

Their prescription was a high-quality, academically rigorous curriculum taught by college-level professors during a two-year course of study using Jewish texts.

“We’re bringing the university to the synagogue,” said Richard Feczko, Me’ah’s national director. “It changes the relationship because it brings together elements of the Jewish community that normally don’t come together.”

Tuition runs about $1,200 for each student, about half of which is covered through subsidies from sponsoring Jewish federations.

If Me’ah’s approach sounds obvious now, there were nonetheless few offerings of this caliber when the program was launched, said Gordis and Shrage. Other adult Jewish learning either was episodic or was higher-level learning aimed at a small cadre of synagogue leaders.

“Me’ah begins the exploration at an extremely high level,” Shrage said. “You have the chance to change the zeitgeist.”

Terry Rosenberg heard Shrage’s motivational speech about Me’ah about nine years ago when her synagogue, Beth Elohim in the Boston suburb of Wellesley, was looking to revitalize its synagogue life.

“It was five minutes that changed my life,” Rosenberg said.

Shrage prodded the group, Rosenberg recalled vividly: “‘How come you have no problem if I asked you to distinguish between a Rembrandt and a Monet, but you’re not embarrassed that you don’t know about Rashi or Maimonides?'”

Rosenberg was so inspired that she organized a Me’ah class for Beth Elohim. In its first year, 1997, it attracted 50 members, who were divided into two classes.

“We realized that we wanted a Jewish identity which meant more than bagels and lox and High Holiday services,” she said.

Many of the Beth Elohim graduates now are active leaders in the synagogue. Rosenberg now co-chairs the organization’s committee on Jewish continuity and education, which is the funding source for Me’ah.

Richard Pzena could easily be the poster face for Me’ah: After he heard from a friend who works at Hebrew College that Me’ah might be expanding beyond the Boston area, he organized a group in his synagogue, Temple Sinai, in Summit, N.J.

“It struck a chord with a lot of people. You create bonds with your classmates and really learn on an academic level. Most of us went to Hebrew school, which was like pediatric Judaism,” he said.

Eighteen people enrolled in the first two-year class. By the time they held an open house for the second class, 25 people signed up.

Pzena, 46, who runs a small money management firm, caught the Me’ah bug. Post-Me’ah, he’s a member of his synagogue board, and sits on the investment committee of the United Jewish Appeal as well as Me’ah’s advisory board.

“If you look at our group of synagogue leaders, there’s a lot of overlap with Me’ah graduates,” Pzena said. “Some were already involved, but others had a desire to be involved and saw Me’ah as an entree.”

Election Education


Democrats and Republicans may have done their best to get out the vote, but nothing quite does it like making it part of the school curriculum. At schools around the city this week, regular classes were suspended so that kids from elementary to high school could dip their young toes into the political waters.

On election day at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills, the student council ran a polling place in the gym for pre-first- through eighth-graders, complete with official booths and “I voted” stickers. In the weeks leading up to the elections, kids as young as 5 learned to identify the major candidates and older kids learned about the electoral process (something about “electoral universities” sixth-grader Rebecca Asch said) and the issues at stake in this election.

All that came into play last week when seventh- and eighth-graders participated in mock debates before the rest of the school.

Students who had prepared position papers as part of an assignment for Hal Steinberg’s history class presented ideas on health care, taxes, the war in Iraq and social security. They delivered impromptu responses to their peers’ offerings, and were able to be a little more forthright than the actual candidates. Here, Sen. John Kerry (Simha Haddad) said President George W. Bush’s ego and his need to finish his father’s war drove him to make unwise decisions. Bush (Daniel Lazar) said it wasn’t fair to tax rich people for money they worked hard for.

“It was interesting because we could see both sides of the issues, which are difficult, in ways we could understand,” seventh-grader Benny Gelbart said.

And lest we think this is just some quaint academic exercise, Steinberg sees it otherwise.

“Some of these kids will be voting in just six years,” he said. “This gives them a chance to see that every vote is important.”

Sunday Best

For several years now synagogues have been scheduling adult education classes on Sunday mornings in a sometimes successful attempt to challenge the parental ritual of dropping the kids off at Hebrew school and then killing two hours at Starbucks or the gym.

This year, National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) — the people who brought us Shabbat Across America and Read Hebrew America — is taking that a step further, introducing the Great Jewish Parenting Challenge. NJOP has collaborated with shuls nationwide to offer its signature crash courses in Hebrew, Judaism, Jewish history and the holidays on Sunday mornings.

“There are a lot of congregations within this one congregation, so we offer things when people are available,” said Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica, which is participating in the Sunday morning Parenting Challenge.

The five-week Hebrew reading course, which will kick off the program at Beth Shir Shalom, is also being offered at dozens of Los Angeles-area shuls at different times during the week. So parents who are loathe to give up those two hours of freedom on Sunday morning can opt to schlep out on a Wednesday evening instead.

The first part of Beth Shir Shalom’s Great Jewish Parenting Challenge goes from now to Dec. 5, and students can join midcourse. Call (310) 453-3361 for more information. For other locations, call (800) 444-3273 or visit www.njop.org.

‘Tis the Season …

…to worry about church-state separation. With December just around the corner and Chanukah coming quite a bit earlier than Christmas this year, the wink and nod behind the generic “holiday” celebrations becomes even more disingenuous, especially in public schools and other government settings. The Anti-Defamation League has some balanced and detailed information on its Web site on what exactly constitutes breaches of the church-state wall, and which public decorations and celebrations are and aren’t allowed. An example: Singing Handel’s “Messiah” — good. Singing 23 Christmas carols without so much as one dreidel made out of clay — not so good. Hanging a wreath on the teacher’s lounge door — joyous and welcome. Hanging a crucifix with “Jesus Loves Me” on the third-grade bulletin board — try again.

For more information, look under the “Religious Freedom” menu on the left-hand side of the home page at www.adl.org.

Positive Parenting

Just as in any other profession, parenting requires the input and knowledge of experts and the group networking and support a good conference can provide. Recognizing that need, the Orthodox Union, with funding from The Jewish Federation, is holding its third annual Positive Parenting Conference on Nov. 14.

“There may be challenges to our parenting where our own resources, based upon our experiences and our own education, may not give us enough to be able to effectively deal with issues,” said Rabbi Sholom Strajcher, dean of the Emek Hebrew Academy-Teichman Family Torah Center, which is hosting and co-sponsoring the event.

Experts will address issues such as helping children deal with anger; the consequences of overindulging children; monitoring Internet access, friends and afterschool activities; dealing with religious differences within a family; and the emotional and academic issues linked to learning disabilities.

The conference will be held Sunday, Nov. 14, 8:45 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Emek Hebrew Academy-Teichman Family Torah Center, 15365 Magnolia Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Admission is $10 in advance (via mail) and $15 at the door. For reservations and information, call (310) 229-9000, ext. 6.

You can reach Julie Gruenbaum Fax at julief@jewishjournal.com or (213) 368-1661, ext. 206.

A Hands-On Holiday


Teachers have known for a long time that hands-on projects can bring a message home better than any lecture or study session.

And perhaps there’s no holiday on the Jewish calendar that better lends itself to creative manual labor — for kids and adults alike — than Sukkot, which comes this year on Sunday night, Oct. 4, and extends through Tuesday, Oct. 13.

Jews around the world observe the biblical fall harvest festival, which commemorates Israel’s sojourning in the desert, by spending a week eating in — or even living in — huts with vegetation as a roof. In addition, four species of plant — palm, myrtle and willow branches, and the citron, or etrog — are used in synagogue and home rituals.

The holiday is often a time when families and friends gather to build and then enjoy the sukkah, sharing meals and parties in the highly creative and individualized structures.

Here are the stories of a congregation and a family who took the opportunity to invest themselves physically and spiritually in the fall festival that ends the month-long High Holiday cycle.

It May Be Small, But It’s Kosher

Like many, Esther and Avraham Brander designed and built their own sukkah, decorated it and invited friends over to share in the holiday.

What makes their sukkah unique is that it is 5 feet high, and Esther is 7 years old and Avraham is 8.

The brother and sister, with help from their 4-year-old brother, Yaakov, used 3/4-inch plastic pipes with connectors for the frame, and fabric for the walls.

“They get very excited about things that are their own,” says their mother, Batyah Brander, assistant English principal of Ohr Haemet, a girls high school on Robertson Boulevard, and wife of Asher Brander, rabbi of the Westwood Kehilla.

Batyah helped the children puzzle the pieces together and secure the connectors to make sure the structure was steady. She estimates that the youngsters, who attend Toras Emes day school on La Brea Avenue, did 80 percent of the work on their own.

They also chose a kosher spot in the yard, where no trees hang over the 4 1/2-x-10-foot structure — and where the sukkah is out of sight of the family’s full-size sukkah.

Esther and Avraham are accustomed to these types of projects. They make their own challah and recently started making grape juice, stomping on the fruit (through plastic bags) and bottling it with their own labels.

“I never have to yell at them to come to the table for kiddush, because it’s their own grape juice,” Brander says. And on sukkah-building day, they got their homework done in a flash.

“They learned a lot more than if we just built it ourselves and let them sit in it,” Brander says.