Feeling at Home in the Synagogue
Yachad Program for Jewish Identity coordinators across Israel bring hundreds of children into shuls each year for hands-on “introduction to the synagogue” tours and events, creating ensuring that this generation grows up understanding that they can enter a synagogue whenever they want, feel comfortable there and know that they belong.
“Every Jewish Israeli child should feel comfortable in a synagogue,” asserts Noam Haddad, one of the Yachad Program for Jewish Identity‘s three coordinators in the central Israeli city of Rishon LeZion. “Even if their family identifies as secular, they should know that the synagogue belongs to them, and that all of the items within it are part of their rich heritage.”
To this end, Haddad and many of his fellow Yachad coordinators bring hundreds of Israeli children into shuls each year for hands-on “introduction to the synagogue” tours and events. The children are encouraged to touch the Torah scrolls, become familiar with ritual objects like the aron kodesh and ner tamid, make themselves at home in the pews, and hear stories about the significance of the synagogue in Jewish life over millennia. “The idea is to creating positive associations for the kids with the synagogue environment, to help ensure that they don’t grow up feeling that the synagogue is out of their realm,” says Yachad director Betzalel Safra.
The benefit for the children is clear, but the program has also achieved an unexpected success: reaching many of the adults accompanying the children on the program as well, such as teachers and parent chaperones. Many report that the program has been a kind of reparative experience, making up for their past negative experiences in synagogues and other mainstream religious environments.
“So many Israelis don’t feel comfortable in the synagogue because they don’t really understand what happens there, or they think that it’s a place for observant Jews only,” says Safra. “But even those who have been alienated from Judaism over the years are able to reestablish their own connection to their heritage when they are brought back into the synagogue from this standpoint of warmth, fun and belonging.”