“Shabbat Club” Engages Children and Families With Unique T’fillah Experiences
by Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal
What do colored stickers and ice cream have to do with enhancing Shabbat experiences for families and making it more likely that they will come to synagogue? A lot, if our experience this year with Shabbat Club – the name given to our Shabbat services and programming geared at families – is any indication.
Shabbat Club was born out of a desire for increased participation by children and families in Shabbat programming at the synagogue. It also fit into the educational goals of our religious rchool, to give the children and families real world experiences with what they are learning in the classroom.
The first thing we did was to create a regular schedule for Shabbat Club — the first Friday and Saturday of every month — and publicize the schedule. This is important because it allowed families to know exactly when things were happening and to plan their schedules accordingly. We made Saturday morning attendance a mandatory part of religious school, but opened Shabbat Club up to any families in the community who wanted to attend. We have had a good mix of religious-school and day-school families in attendance.
Once they are in the room, the second thing we did was to create a service that was meaningful and engaging for both kids and adults. Children have to see that what they are learning in religious school or day school is relevant to their lives, so they are the ones who lead the Junior Congregation service. We have a board with the names of all the prayers velcro-ed onto it, and as the children come in, they choose the prayer they want to lead. We don’t do every prayer, but we do enough to make the services feel complete; we also read three small aliyot of Torah. We conclude with the mourner’s kaddish at the end, so that any parent who needs to say it feels that they can.