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Community Voices: Helping our kids grow socially and spiritually through community engagement

Dan Berman

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In Judaism, mitzvot are the actions we are supposed to take and the purpose of observing them is to make us better people. To improve ourselves and those around us — becoming more kind and caring.

For the students of the Temple Beth-El Raymund Family Sunday School, this often boils down to two concepts: empathy and community.

The impact of coronavirus on students’ ability to learn together in classrooms extended beyond public schools to our program as well, forcing creative solutions to reinforce these concepts. Helping our youth learn and develop socially, emotionally and spiritually safely through online learning, and maintaining community engagement, became the priority.

With support from TBE leadership and guidance from Alice Paquette, former senior manager of learning and development at the Florida Aquarium, we were able to design and implement a dedicated, virtual learning platform for our program. While not a complete substitute for in-person learning, our “seekers” were able to maintain their development without significant disruption. Our teachers also used the adjustment and technology to offer a variety of breakout sessions from “Jewish Holidays through Cooking” to “Secular Music Through a Jewish Lens.” Other classes like “Action and Advocacy” and “It’s Okay to Kill? What the 613 Mitzvot Say” are tailored toward community action, social justice and self-identity.

We have also sought to maintain some of the wonderful traditions developed over the nearly 100-year history of Temple Beth-El. One of these is “Mitzvah Day” to be held this year on April 18. In collaboration with the Sunday School, congregation and the on-site Early Childhood Center, Mitzvah Day chairs Molly Auld, Joshua Bean and Will Conroy coordinate events to promote volunteerism and community spirit. This year the St. Pete Free Clinic and Menorah Manor are among the organizations being supported. More information on these events can be found here.

Our program has also continued to stoke and support the passions of our seekers. Emma Solo, a seventh grader, runs Bubbe Cakes, a baking business. Emma donates a portion of her sales to the Lev La Lev orphanage in Israel. We coordinated with Emma and her mom Allison to create and deliver cakes to our teachers, as an appreciation for their hard work and adaptability. We arranged to donate 100 percent of the costs for this to the orphanage, quite the mitzvot. For the holiday of Tu’Bshvat, which celebrates nature and trees, we offered a safe, in-person paper airplane design activity. Using recycled paper, we discussed the importance for caring for our local community and the environment around us.

Temple Beth El’s Raymund Family Sunday School intends to resume in-person education in the fall, but will maintain its virtual program platform. Registration for the 2021-22 school year is now open at www.templebeth-el.com/registration21 for K-10th grade. Classes begin in September, with year-round optional Hebrew language tutoring and family programming available to enrolled families. Temple Beth-El also offers optional synagogue trial memberships to new Sunday School families.

For more information, please visit the links above or email dan@templebeth-el.com

Dan Berman is Director of Education and Family Programming at Temple Beth-El.

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