“There’s something about [a] place”… where Shabbat is so nice that we celebrate it twice… in one week! That’s how it is with a select few of our Kindergarteners every week. Our highly coveted “Shabbat Squad,” comprised of one member from each full day Kindergarten/Transitional Kindergarten class, serves as Shabbat Ambassadors to our Senior Adult program. Their mission is to bring a Shabbat celebration, complete with blessings and decorations, to our Seniors’ program down the hall in the Weinberg rooms Thursday mornings at 10:00. Now, we know that Shabbat truly begins at sundown Friday nights and ends sundown on Saturday nights, but we take some “artistic liberties” in order to share a Shabbat experience with a program that only runs Mondays – Thursdays!
When I explain the Senior Adult program to my wide-eyed Kindergarteners I try to make it sound relatable for five year olds. I tell them it is sort of like day-camp for grandmas and grandpas or great-grandmas and grandpas. It is a fun daily program filled with exercise, meal time, music, movies and special events. “It sounds like what we have,” Sam, a recent Shabbat Squad Ambassador, told me. To me, finding commonalities breeds empathy and takes away any of the fear of the unknown or performing for strangers.
Another commonality, a love and appreciation of the celebration of Shabbat, bonds the Seniors and the “seniors of our school.” Who doesn’t love singing, dancing and the adorable authenticity of five and six year olds? The smiles on the faces of the students are matched only by those on the faces of their audience. Children are natural performers. How often have we all heard, “Watch me do a split!” “I can sing ‘Let it go,’ listen!” or the ever-popular, “Look what I can do!” My Shabbat Squad expertly leads the blessings and sings original sentiments of gratitude in the “Thank you, G-d” song. When the children thank G-d for things like “pizza,” “puppies,” and “my family” we all melt at their candor and unadulterated innocence.
I can’t tell you how many times I have been stopped in the hall to be told, “Oh, Ms. Randi, (my child) was pretending to be you up at Shabbat. He and his sister were arguing over which one was you and which one was Ms. Beth. He had a guitar and everything.” I feel truly honored that my love of celebrating every week with our school community carries over to my students’ lives outside of the JCC building. During Shabbat Squad the ambassadors truly get a chance to channel their inner Ms. Randi and Ms. Beth. They craft a Shabbat experience from top to bottom, from soup to nuts. They decide what songs to sing, what order to sing them in, how the table should look and who should take what part.
We plan out “the agenda” at a private planning meeting in the café on Mondays at 1:00. When I pick up my squad from their classrooms they are anxiously awaiting this special tete-a-tete! It all feels very official and special to my squad. I come prepared with my notebook and ipad and document and photograph our conversation. We discuss decorations, color schemes, art work, and floral arrangements; I have been told “Trader Joe’s is the place to get roses.” It is a true meeting of the minds and we all work together to dream, craft and design.
When you empower children you immediately find them invested in and anticipating the experience. I can personally tell you that the whole JCC community anticipates this weekly experience and feels a sense of celebration, renewal, and pride with every passing Thursday!