Germantown Jewish Centre Gets Itself Into a JAM


Germantown Jewish Centre hosts a fun-filled family-centric Rosh Hashanah-themed celebration.

On erev Rosh Hashanah, the youngest members of Germantown Jewish Centre will be learning about the Jewish New Year, the creation of the world and diversity in the most kinetic way possible. The grounds of the synagogue will be filled with kids and their families dancing, moving and shaking as they participate in the second annual JAM, or Jewish Arts and Movement program.    
The event is sponsored by Judge Harold Berger, a senior partner at Berger & Montague, P.C., who is a member of the GJC. He started JAM at GJC on Rosh Hashanah last year. JAM, which is steeped in Jewish values and centered on Jewish holidays, aims to attract young families to synagogues.
“JAM’s success has prompted us to rethink the ways we can make our other programming more accommodating to families as well,” said Nina Peskin, executive director of GJC. “The changes we’ve made with the needs of young families in mind have resulted in more family participation in our regular programming. JAM has been an incredible boon to GJC.”
When the sun goes down on Sept. 13, music educator Chana Rothman and ZoomDance, a Philadelphia-based organization promoting creativity in children through dance, will collaborate with Rabbis Adam Zeff and Annie Lewis of GJC. Using the book, In Our Image: God’s First Creatures, as a guide, they will merge music and dance in concert with learning. 
Zeff, who was on sabbatical in Israel last year, said families often feel isolated and awkward at events, but the hope is that JAM will bring people together and allow them to connect not only on a Jewish level, but socially as well. 
With Berger’s support, he said, “we were able to create this program. We don’t make up a community because we’re all the same; we’re each different. We think that diversity makes us stronger.” 
The program is a proactive way to combat the notion that the High Holidays can be difficult for young children. Sitting at a table for an extended period of time can make kids antsy and this lets them have fun, Zeff said. 
Rothman, who plays guitar and sings, creates family programming at GJC. She hopes to build on last year’s event, which drew around 100 participants. 
“I think they [the parents] really appreciate that it’s a different type of program,” Rothman said. “As a parent, I’m always looking for something engaging to do with my kids.” 
Children will be clapping and dancing as the program based on the book teaches them about the various qualities animals passed on to humans. For example, cheetahs give people speed, snails allow people to take things slowly and monkeys give people the chance to have fun and jump around. 
JAM isn’t Berger’s first initiative aimed at improving synagogue rolls. In 2008, he created the Harold and Renee Berger Synagogue Network for Young Families to develop new approaches to attract members. 
JAM is funded by a donation from Berger to the Centre’s 75th Anniversary Endowment Campaign. The Jewish Learning Venture, which is a nonprofit based in Melrose Park that aims to connect people to Jewish life, partnered with GJC to co-sponsor one of the JAM programs, but is not the funding source for this programming.  Since Berger founded the Network for Young Families, 16 synagogues have joined. 
What Berger has done is not only beneficial for synagogues, but to all Jews in Philadelphia, said Rabbi Philip Warmflash, the executive director of JLV.  
 “We’re trying to get a culture in the community about business engagement not as a program, but as a general way of doing business,” Warmflash said.  
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