Families and Public Spaces: A Perfect Fit at Chanukah Time


As a mother of three children – Gabrielle, 7, Katie, 4, and Max, 2 – Lorelei Miller of Doylestown thinks about meaningful ways to bring Judaism into their lives and has found the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's public space holiday programs to be a perfect fit.

Last year, Miller particularly enjoyed a Purim celebration at a Toys 'R Us store with "The Hat Man," Larry Oxenberg, and a Chanukah celebration at the Oxford Valley Mall. "I was impressed that programming included both a craft and an educational component," she said. "The animated and interactive presentation by The Hat Man held the attention of all my children."

Over the last few years, public space holiday programs held at various locations throughout the Philadelphia suburbs have become an increasingly popular way for young Jewish families to share in the traditions.

According to Roberta Matz, director of the Bux-Mont Region and coordinator of outreach for Federation's Center for Jewish Life and Learning, bringing the holidays into the public domain fits perfectly with the center's priority of reaching out and connecting with young Jewish families.

The concept of public space programming began a decade or so ago on a national level by the Jewish Outreach Institute in New York, explains Matz. In recent years, Federation has joined with local partners, including synagogues, Kehillot, Chabad and the Jewish Outreach Partnership, to bring the richness of the holidays in multi-faceted ways to the community in the course of their daily lives – integrating such programs into places that people would normally frequent.

Programs at Many Places

Other programs have included Sukkah Building Workshops at The Home Depot; apples and honey served at supermarkets, along with greetings for a sweet New Year; apple picking at local orchards and storytimes at Barnes & Noble bookstores and libraries. In fact, with Jewish Book Month taking place from mid-November through December, Jewish content programming will be ongoing at area libraries.

"Rather than offering one program here and another there, we are designing lots of programs at lots of places," said Matz, adding that for many unaffiliated families these interactive celebrations may be their only connection with the organized Jewish community.

Miller describes the program as "fun, informative, stimulating and valuable." "As a convert to Judaism, I always want to learn new things and always want to be around Judaism," she said. "The programs show children to be proud of who they are. We are getting together with others that share similar beliefs and this is important to me. When you're in the public school system and you don't have your child in Hebrew School or Day School, you can still give them a rich Jewish education."

For the Jewish Family

"It reaches out to those who are unaffiliated and offers a unique opportunity for parents to spend time with their children doing something Jewish as a family," said Jill Friedman Rosen, whose two children attend the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Jewish Day School. She hopes people will take home a small piece of what they have learned and expand upon it.

Sheila Kowit, co-chair of Bux-Mont's Young Adult Outreach Committee, said: "Programs like this are an ideal opportunity for people to connect in an easy, non-threatening way. It's really nice to have a community gathering to celebrate the holidays."

Kowit has also observed an "interesting yet unintended" by-product: "Not only are these celebrations enlightening and educational to the Jewish community, they have also raised awareness among the general public about Jews and Jewish holidays."

More info? Call Roberta Matz at 215-646-4500, Ext. 102.


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