Congregation Beth El-Ner Tamid (CBENT) in Broomall and Congregation Or Shalom in Berwyn are joining forces with their respective Sunday schools to create Or Tamid.
This may not be as momentous as when a Hershey dairy farmer named H.B. Reese decided to mix chocolate and peanut butter together.
But for the folks at Congregation Beth El-Ner Tamid (CBENT) in Broomall and Congregation Or Shalom in Berwyn, joining forces with their respective Sunday schools to create Or Tamid is exciting news.
The move will enable both synagogues to maintain their own identities while offering their children not only additional resources but opportunities to make friends.
“It’s not a merger. It’s a blend,” said Ellen Glassman, CBENT’s longtime educational director and program director. “Knowing what the Jewish community is like, many congregations are going this way.
“We’ll be blending students on Sunday, and the weekday programs will stay in their own synagogues. We’ll take turns Sundays in increments of two months, which will really allow the kids to get a home base.”
On Sept. 11, the 17 Israeli and 23 other students from Or Shalom, many of whom live a good distance from Berwyn, will trek to Broomall, where they’ll continue until sometime in November. Then they, along with CBENT’s 59 students, will return the favor.
And so it will go throughout the school year.
“I look at it as something positive for both synagogues,” said Or Shalom Rabbi Jacob Rosner, who credits Educational Director Na’ama Yarden for laying most of the groundwork. “On the one hand, we’re able to maintain our identity by keeping our Tuesday program where we can teach our own curriculum and philosophy.
“On the other hand, our kids are being exposed to many more kids to make more friendships and be more a part of the Jewish community.
“It was very important to us we be an equal partner, which one of the synagogues we spoke with would not agree to. The fact they were open to being equal partners and their philosophy in learning is close to ours was huge. They, too, are seeing diminishing returns as far as the number of kids are concerned, so it’s mutually beneficial for us to get together.”
According to CBENT, the discussions got underway about two years ago, were tabled while Or Shalom pursued other avenues, then resumed at the end of 2015.
“We reconnected last December, and by mid-June the board had voted,” Glassman said. “It makes so much sense to do it.
“They don’t have a cantor, so Sandy Bernstein will be that for them. We didn’t have a song leader, a music specialist like they do with Miriam Leshem. We’ll have a joint education committee, and the two rabbis [Rosner and CBENT’s Barry Blum] will lead minyans.
“This is way more than just blending. It’s a true collaboration.”
Prior to this, CBENT and Or Shalom, located 6 miles apart, had done some occasional joint programming. That’s how the idea of making it more permanent evolved.
“One year, Ellen and I decided to do a few events together,” recalled Yarden, a native Israeli, who will continue to teach her one class at Or Shalom entirely in Hebrew. “We felt after that tryout we could do more than that and the parents felt good about it.
“So we started talking seriously about a joint program. One thing Ellen and I realized when we worked this summer on combining curriculums and on the calendar was that our ideas and message of teaching are so similar. Our background of education theories and the way we see how a religious school should be run are similar. Our personalities work well together.”
That gives the newly created Or Tamid a little bit of everything.
“We each bring something exciting and different to the table,” Glassman said. “She brings Israeli dancing to the mix. I bring a creative program and experiential learning. Kids learn hands-on through games and other approaches.
“This should provide a much richer learning environment. We want them to feel Jewish and be proud they’re Jewish.”
So they’ll sing songs and sound the shofar on Sept. 11 to signify the start of this new relationship. That will be followed by a short ceremony, a special science performance from the Franklin Institute and a barbecue after class.
“I’m very optimistic,” said Yarden, who like Glassman, will retain most of her staff. “I know there will be some parents and kids suspicious and overwhelmed. I know with any change comes some difficulty.
“But I’m hoping the energy we’ve tried to send over to our members will bring them in with a good feeling and a motivation meet new people. It’ll be a very special day.”
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