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Announcing Our New Shabbat-Based Youth Education Program!

Thank you to all the parents and teens who participated in our Youth Education House (of worship) Meetings!

I am very excited to introduce you to PTS’s newly designed Youth Education program. Launching this fall 2019, the new program builds on existing strengths and adds new elements to create a learning environment for our PTS youth that helps create healthy Jewish adults while it inspires and educates. As you will read, the changes are many, each one designed to help students connect more deeply with one another as well as engage in a meaningful Jewish practice.

Thank you to all the parents and teens who participated in our Youth Education House (of worship) Meetings! During these conversations, I began by sharing my perspective on the overall goals of the Youth Education program and where we have been falling short of reaching those goals. Your feedback about what has been working and what can be improved has been a critical component of crafting our new program.

In partnership with an incredible task force, I closely evaluated the feedback and designed a new Youth Education program that I am thrilled to launch this fall! Here are some of the key components that will drive our new program:

Living Jewishly
I believe that we learn best by doing, and our new Shabbat-based program is designed so that all of our students can learn through authentic Jewish experiences. We know how busy our families are and that you have to make lots of choices during the weekend. With our new program, we are asking families to prioritize being at synagogue on Shabbat, which also opens up Sundays for family time (and other activities).

Relationship Building
Establishing relationships is a critical component of being part of a community! The number one feedback we received from parents was a desire for more relationship building, both among students and parents. From big changes, like Shabbat dinner, to tweaks in the classroom, we are making many intentional choices to help facilitate relationship building in our programs.

Youth Mental Health
Through Panim-el-Panim, our synagogue’s social justice initiative to address the issue of teen and young adult mental health, we know how deeply personal and pervasive this issue is in our community. I believe that Judaism, and specifically, the gift of Shabbat, offers incredible wisdom to help all of our students build a healthy relationship to stress. Shabbat is not just about resting. Shabbat is about creating healthy boundaries in the 24/7, all-access world we live in. Shabbat is about creating space from the homework, tasks and stress of daily life in order to reflect on our larger purpose in life and regain focus for the coming week.

Parent Involvement
We heard a lot of feedback about parent involvement, ranging from a desire to know what’s going on in the classroom to more hands-on involvement as well as a desire for parent education. Our new program will offer more opportunities for parents to get involved here at PTS, while also empowering families to create more Jewish moments at home.

Student Choices
Our time with students is limited and it’s impossible to teach everything. I believe that the greatest gift we can give our students is a love of Judaism and the tools to continue pursuing Jewish knowledge and connection beyond the classroom. To that end, our students are much more likely to be engaged learners when they have a voice in what they are learning. We are redefining the ways in which our students have ownership over their Jewish education experience.

Introducing our New Youth Education program!
Chaverim (Friends): PreK – 2nd Grade & Kesher (Connections): 3rd – 5th Grade – Fridays, 4-6pm

  • 4:00pm – 5:30pm: Students learn in classes*
  • 5:30pm – 6:00pm: Parents and siblings are invited to join students in the Sanctuary to welcome Shabbat with a short Kabbalat Shabbat service
  • Most Fridays, we’ll have a Shabbat dinner at 6pm. Families are encouraged to stay for dinner and, if they choose, also our congregational worship service at 6:30pm
  • Once a month, we’ll send you home at 6pm with challah, grape juice & candles, and a special activity for bringing Shabbat into your home
  • Kesher students will continue learning Hebrew in small weekday groups with no more than 5 students per group

*Chaverim will continue to learn in grade-based classes. Kesher will learn in mixed-grade classes, as follows:

  • Instead of dividing students by grade and having a set curriculum for each grade, we are creating tracks to give families a choice in their students’ focus.
  • There will be three overarching tracks for our Kesher program:
    • Tanakh (Bible)
    • Avodah (finding sacred connections with God, the community and self)
    • G’milut Chasadim (acts of loving kindness to make the world a better and holier place)
  • Each track will have six rotating classes that switch each semester, over the course of three years, so that no student will repeat a class even if that student chooses the same track for all three years
  • Each semester, parents will help students sign up for a class in one of the three tracks. Students can mix & match tracks or choose all six classes from one track.

Zehoot (Identity): 6th – 8th Grade – Saturdays, 10:30am – 12:30pm

  • We’ll start the year with an offsite, middle school retreat focused on relationship building
  • Our new 6th grade curriculum will focus on middot (Jewish virtues) and becoming b’nai mitzvah. 6th grade students will start attending b’nai mitzvah in the spring to gain comfort and familiarity with the service
  • Our 7th grade curriculum focuses on social justice issues and the “mitzvah” part of becoming b’nai mitzvah. 7th grade students will attend b’nai mitzvah of their classmates during the school year as part of the curriculum
  • Our 8th grade curriculum will be updated to include learning about the connection between early Zionism, the Holocaust and Israel. 8th grade students will attend b’nai mitzvah of their classmates in the fall.

Chavayah (Experience): 9th – 12th Grade – Saturdays, 4-6pm

  • An elective-based program with an emphasis on project-based learning
  • Students will have two 45-minute electives each week
  • Students come together for dinner and havdalah from 5:30pm – 6pm

With this new Youth Education program, PTS will help families put Shabbat at the center of their Jewish experiences. We are confident that this shift can have a meaningful positive impact on your children and your family.

And, as with any change, I am certain that you will have many questions, both about the philosophy of the program and the logistics. Know that registration materials will be made available next month and will include additional information. And, if you have any other general questions or those that are particular to your family, please contact me. I want to hear from you.


Rabbi Molly Plotnik, Director of Education


With gratitude to the Youth Education Task Force
Jill Engel
Rabbi Dan Feder
Jenna Fisher
Josh Friedman
Brian Greenblatt
Katie Herstein
Darryl Leon
Darci Rosenblum
Doug Ross
Nicole Salama
Madeleine Steckley
Stuart Zussman