by Beverly Socher-Lerner
I’m working on an exciting project that will add a new dimension to Jewish life in Center City. We are building a meaningful and vibrant learning community through our daily afterschool, camp, and family learning experiences where we ignite joy for whole family Jewish engagement. Our work is driven by a few principles:
- Children are naturally curious and want to learn
- Parents want to interpret Jewish tradition for their own families
- Urban life needs Jewish infrastructure
1. Children are naturally curious and want to learn
Supporting children as they ask questions and discover the world is one of the most empowering things we as a community can do. When our children can ask deep, probing questions about themselves, Judaism, and our world, they have a strong start toward the skills that will help them make meaning of the world throughout their lives. At Makom Community, we explore child-generated questions through art, drama, music, and play.
These social-emotional skills we focus on also help our students to form friendships and be part of community throughout their own lives. They are the same skills they will need to make decisions today about whether to start a new project or take a few minutes to relax. And our students, at Makom Community are all engaged in thinking and communicating about their own emotions and processes as they play and explore in our fun and safe environment.
2. Parents want to engage deeply with Jewish tradition and be empowered to interpret that tradition for their children.
Parents love to have something to share, to give their children the most they can in every way. We believe that there are deep benefits to children seeing their parents engaged in Jewish learning. One feature of Makom Community family programming is this: Some element of the program is taught to at an adult level. The children are still in the room. They might be playing with the silks we’re getting ready to use or heading to the snack table, but they hear what we are discussing in adult terms. After a couple minutes of sharing and grappling with a Jewish idea at an adult level, I step back and ask the adults to interpret that idea in a way that makes sense for their family.
This process sends a powerful message that we all have more to learn from Jewish tradition and that it is deep and compelling throughout our lives. Parents and grandparents—whether or not they had one kind of Jewish education or another themselves or whether they are even Jewish themselves—become the interpreters of Jewish tradition for their own children. This brings the thoughts and perspective of every parent into the conversation.
3. Urban life needs Jewish infrastructure.
Philly is a great city. I LOVE it here. Naomi, my wife, and I both moved to Philly when I began pursuing my masters at Penn. We fell in love with this city and want to stay here to raise our kids, one day. Makom Community represents the kind of learning and family environment that we want for our own children—empowered, deep, and personal.
I see wonderful people working to make their neighborhoods better, more livable. Jewish infrastructure is one of the things we need to add to Philadelphia for more families to be able to stay living in the city. That means affordable access to Jewish life and Jewish education, having high quality and affordable care available after the school day, and it means a thousand other things, too. But one thing at a time…
The need for childcare after the school day provides an INCREDIBLE opportunity for immersive Jewish learning, where the rhythms of the day and year are those of the Jewish calendar. These rhythms also mean that Jewish children and families have lot of opportunities to meet and build relationships with each other.
After being active at Hillel, doing alumni work with Birthright Israel, creating quality learning and dynamic school environments as a synagogue Education Director in Maryland and in New Jersey, and dreaming about opening my own school for decades, I’m excited to be building this new community in Center City at such an exciting time.
All this excitement will be happening out of our new home base at 21st & Chestnut—we’re renting space in the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia. Our afterschool program runs Monday to Friday from 3-6:30pm, and we also offer vacation camps during school breaks and on snow days. To learn more, go to www.makomcommunity.org.
Beverly Socher-Lerner looks forward to hearing from you!