Kollel teams with religious, day schools for new campaign

BY ELIZABETH SLONIM MACANUFO, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Rabbi Shaya Mintz of St. Louis Kollel has found a new way to get kids — from all streams of Judaism — to connect daily with Jewish tradition.

Rabbi Mintz , St. Louis Kollel’s program director, has worked with area Jewish day and religious schools to introduce the Shema Campaign, engaging children to say the prayer, which many consider the most important in Judaism, on a daily basis. Students mark their progress on a Shema calendar, and at the end of the campaign, participants are treated to a celebration at the City Museum.

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Rabbi Mintz said the Shema Campaign complements the educational programs St. Louis Kollel, the “thinktank” of 13 Orthodox rabbis located in University City, currently offers for adults and students.

The Shema Campaign continues Kollel’s four-year-old partnership with Jewish Unity Live, a community campaign to encourage members of the community to study the Torah or another inspirational text. The 2009 efforts begin with the Shema.

And the campaign fits with Rabbi Mintz’s goals for Kollel.

“I want to unite Jews from across the spectrum in an educational program,” he said. “The Shema is the banner of the Jewish people. The prayer is one of the first things we teach our children when they begin to speak. It’s so essential.”

The program is geared to children of all ages. “The Shema is so small, just one paragraph,” Rabbi Mintz said. “We teach the prayer in kindergarten, but use it to give middle and high school students more depth of philosophy about God and the Jewish people.”

So far, Rabbi Mintz has nine schools participating, including United Hebrew Congregation religious school, Shaare Shalom (a joint religious school of Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel, Shaare Zedek Synagogue and Traditional Congregation), the Jewish Community Center, Aish HaTorah Sunday School, Torah Prep School, Bais Yaakov High School of St. Louis, the H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy, B’nai Torah Sunday School and Jewish Student Union.

Each of the participating institutions agreed to begin the Shema Campaign in January. Students receive a folder containing the Shema and a calendar. Participating children are to say the prayer every night with their parents, then mark their progress on the calendar. At the end of the month, the students turn in the calendars to their schools. The City Museum celebratory party will follow on Feb. 8, with a short Shema program and a juggling act. Attending children will receive a wristband as a reminder to say the Shema throughout the year.

Jewish educators from the St. Louis area are also looking forward to the Shema Campaign. Michael Raileanu, Shaare Shalom Religious School director, believes the program “takes Hebrew school out of the school and into the home. The campaign is simple and meaningful and in one great package.” Pre-kindergarten through seventh grade students will be participating. Raileanu hopes to impress upon the children that “saying the Shema before you go to bed is a great, simple ritual to add more meaning to your life.”

Forty-five kindergarten students at United Hebrew Congregation will participate in the Shema Champaign. According to Cheryl Whatley, religious school director, the program works well with the existing curriculum. “They’ve been studying the Shema and learning how to say it and the meaning of it and why we say it and when we say it. We encourage them to say it everyday of their lives. Bedtime is a good time to do that.”

The community aspect of the Shema Campaign also appeals to Whatley. “It’s available for families in every congregation, regardless of movement. These kinds of things cross over our differences,” she said. “The Shema is fundamental to all of us.”

Rabbi Mintz is excited to bring the Jewish community together for a positive cause. “We’re celebrating a Jewish ritual that we’re all so familiar with,” he said. “The Shema is the most essential thing Jews have in their Jewish identity.”

For more information about the Shema Campaign, call St. Louis Kollel at 314-726-6047. Children unaffiliated with a congregation may also participate and can receive an information packet by mail.