Congregation B’nai Jacob Embraces Younger Families

Students in the parent/child program. Photo courtesy of Congregation B’nai Jacob

Leslie Feldman

Congregation B’nai Jacob, a 112-year-old Conservative synagogue in Phoenixville, uses every opportunity to engage new members, both young and old. It believes Its outreach and connection to young and school-age families is one way to ensure a vibrant Jewish community for years to come.

CBJ’s Macy B. Solomon Religious School serves students in kindergarten through seventh grade and has seen steady growth in the last few years. While the program was growing, Andrea Zavod, the religious school director, knew there needed to be a way to welcome young families to the community and establish a program to serve as a feeder system for the religious school.

“The best option to help us attract young families was to offer a parent/child program,” Zavod said. “The congregation had a program several years earlier in which my daughter, now 14, attended. I saw how that early introduction to the community made it a natural transition for her to enter the religious school program.”

Zavod revived the program in hopes of engaging young families and initiating that relationship with the synagogue and its educational offerings. To lead the program, Zavod approached congregant Bekah Starr, who had expressed interest in working with the religious school. Starr spent a few years as an associate director for the PJ Library in New York and as a coordinator of a kids kallah, so with her experience in engagement and education, Zavod knew she had a strong leader.

“It was a win-win. Bekah was new to the CBJ community and was looking for a way to engage, and I knew her experience and enthusiasm would be great assets,” Zavod added.
With a shared vision, Starr and Zavod set out to plan the first program for Chanukah in December. They had nine children come to that program.

The classes are geared toward affiliated or non-affiliated families with young children, ages 2 through 6. Programs are centered around Jewish holidays and festivals and include hands-on exploration of ritual objects such as menorahs, dreidels, groggers, story time, and arts and crafts. The hour-long program also allows for social interaction among the parents and children — relationships that help foster a sense of community and connection.
“I always make a point of dropping into these programs, and it’s the highlight of my Sunday morning,” Rabbi Jeff Sultar said. “The children’s bright eyes and enthusiasm always inspires me for the rest of the day.”

A parent/child program art project. Photo courtesy of Congregation B’nai Jacob

CBP President Mark Snow added that the dedicated religious school staff has created a positive learning environment.

“Additionally, we have seen great parental engagement through our Education Committee. Bringing back our parent/child program has helped us address our objective to offer expanded programming that attracts and young families.”

There were three parent/child programs this past year, which attracted seven families and, going forward, there will be four programs during the academic year.

“We schedule the parent/child classes to coincide with religious school programming for the respective holiday celebrations,” Zavod said. “After the parent/child class, families can then join the religious school program activities as an introduction to the school program. This provides parents with an opportunity to get a taste of the religious school programming.”
Planning for next year’s programs is underway, along with efforts to find more avenues to reach neighboring communities with information about the programming. Anyone interested in learning more about the parent/child classes can contact Zavod at [email protected].

Leslie Feldman is a Philadelphia-area freelance writer.


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