A Reflection about Mishpacha

Karen and I wanted to reflect upon our experience in the Mishpacha Family Alternative Learning program. We were in our 2nd year of this program. We had been Californians for nine years now, and it took more than seven years to find the religious and spiritual connection that felt right and fit for our family. 

Congregation Or Ami has given us a sense of extended family and has filled a void that had been missing since we left the East Coast and lifelong relatives and friends. It started with Friday night services. While we have not been regulars, we have enjoyed the experience and plan (hope? pray?) to participate more in the New Year. 

Mishpacha has also been an important addition to our Or Ami experience. We had lacked an activity where we could connect with our children on issues that are important to people of all ages. While we have learned a great deal about many Jewish issues since joining Mishpacha (I must have slept through much of my Jewish education as a young person), the thing that we seem to like most is that we never know what to expect next from the Mishpacha Coordinators, the Rabbis and the entire Mishpacha faculty. From improvised skits (the Ellis Island one at our first Mishpacha session last year was a favorite of ours) to guest speakers to arts and crafts classes, each Sunday is sure to bring something unique. 

Most people are quick to find fault and express displeasure, and to express it loudly. We wanted to thank the Or Ami staff and all Mishpacha participants for making our family learning program a great experience for our family. 

Mishpacha Learning is Like a Carousel

Rabbi Burt E. Schuman taught, "Jewish learning is like a carousel: You can get on at any point and continue the ride."

What a concept! Just when my husband Adam and I thought our Sunday school days were over, we were given the opportunity to participate in Mishpacha and whoosh, we were “back in the saddle again.” But really, who amongst us couldn’t stand to squeeze in a little extra learning about our Jewish holidays, values, beliefs, and about G-d? Certainly, we as parents are our children’s first teachers and it is the attitude that we convey toward learning that sets the stage for our children’s lifelong learning. It’s a pretty darn big order to fill and frankly, my husband and I are thrilled to have our rabbis, knowledgeable teachers, and our peers to help us in this important endeavor.

The Mishpacha program provides the perfect arena to learn about, discuss, and interpret many concepts that we as parents may have missed in our own upbringing, both Jewish and secular. Mishpacha has afforded my husband and me the invaluable experience of side-by-side learning with our two children. We are helping them become careful observers and active contributors to the Jewish way of life. (Plus, there’s a mid-session snack involved!) It is a recipe for success, one that we are happy to cook up twice a month.

Family Learning by Kevin and Robin Palm

Family Learning by Kevin and Robin Palm

We appreciate the Mishpacha Family Alternative Learning program for the fact we learn as a family. While it is tough to rally out of the house on Sunday morning, it is powerful to us that we learn as the kids learn instead of just dropping off at Hebrew School.

We appreciate the age appropriate breakout sessions, such that the kids learn from their teachers and the adults can learn from Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Rabbi Julia Weisz or other guest speakers. We then appreciate anchoring the material by sharing as a family what we all learned and doing a reflection exercise that helps us remember for future reference (e.g., such as the travel journal). This tends to lead to interesting spiritual and philosophical dialogue on the way home and this year we have appreciated the "car-convos" (questions to discuss during the car ride home) to help facilitate these conversations.

Finally, we appreciate the connectiveness the sessions allow with other families that have similar aged kids and allows for both social and spiritual connections. It is nice to study with other families as it adds other perspectives and adds to the pluralistic viewpoints the Torah and the rest of the Jewish Bible seem to be rife with.

A Sense of Belonging

A Sense of Belonging by Rhonda Gellerman

Every year since the Mishpacha program’s inception and until my son entered 7th grade, I stood at (Or Ami office manager) Susie Stark’s desk with forms in hand by 10 am on the first day that Mishpacha registration opens to secure our place for the next Mishpacha school year. And throughout the year, I am trying so hard not to come in late as I don't want us to miss out on the beginning of the session which sets the tone for the rest of the morning.

Once we’re all settled in, I love the time that being at Mishpacha gives my son Josh and me together. I see so much growth in him this year. I let him take the lead, giving him the opportunity to share his opinion on the sessions topic with me. He is so insightful, so aware of his thoughts, his journey to his sense of what being Jewish is, and for this year’s topic, what God is for him.

And then, I always enjoy learning with the Rabbis, our Mishpacha Coordinators and the many wonderful faculty members that work so hard to make the lessons educational and family friendly.

There is a sense of belonging to our Or Ami community that is reinforced for us by every program that we are involved with. And even though my husband Doug’s commitment to our synagogue’s Ten Plagues softball team often kept him from joining us at Mishpacha, thanks to the "Carpool Convo" (questions to discuss on the car ride home), Josh and I bring our Mishpacha lesson to the dinner table every Sunday evening!

Mishpacha Family Learning

Mishpacha, our Family Learning Program, is a nationally-award winning innovative program to experience and learn about Judaism as a family. Think: summer camp but in the synagogue and with a deeper content. Participants enroll in Mishpacha instead of the mid-week Kesher program, but learn similar Jewish content. Mishpacha engages the whole family in Jewish learning.

If you want your children to value being Jewish, come learn alongside them. Parents and children are able to engage in conversation about the values and traditions of our people. Meeting on Sundays twice monthly (usually from 9:00-11:30 am), Mishpacha adults spend time in conversation with Rabbis Paul Kipnes and Julia Weisz on a similar Jewish content that their children are learning in multi-grade groupings. Later, parents and children enjoy in interactive activities to explore the ideas each learned separately. For 4th-6th grade students, Hebrew Tutoring occurs in small groups one hour a week providing in depth Hebrew learning in our Hebrew Tutoring program.

Mishpacha creates a warm, learning environment to support the Jewish values of Mishpacha (family), expand Talmud Torah (Jewish learning), increase Simcha (joyous celebration), participate in Tikkun Olam (fixing the world) and experience Kedusha (holiness/spirituality). Each year, the theme changes, rotating between Torah stories, Jewish values, Celebrating the cycles of our lives, Jewish holidays, Tikkun Olam (social justice), Henaynu (being a caring community), and Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). Families always explore Jewish history, Israel, and social action projects. 

In the coming year, Mishpacha participants will delve deeply into Tikkun Olam (social justice), the Jewish imperative to heal our broken world. Exploring Jewish values connected to social justice, participants will also engage in meaningful social action work.

Why We Love(d) Mishpacha 

Family Learning by Kevin and Robin Palm

A Sense of Belonging by Rhonda Gellerman

Mishpacha Learning is Like a Carousel by Kim Gubner

A Reflection on Mishpacha by Barry and Karen Freeman


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