Hey parents, it’s 3:30 p.m. Do you know where your kids are? Maybe at Hebrew school?

How many people have fond memories of their childhood Hebrew school programs, of sitting in their synagogues’ classrooms or social halls after a full day of English and algebra, going over alphabets and pronunciation and vowels, without understanding much of what was going on? Don’t answer that.

For a little something different, a group of Seattle parents, with the help of the Kavana Cooperative, seeks to change after-school Jewish education from something obligatory to something fun. This fall, they will introduce the Seattle Jewish community to Shorashim, a play-based, camp-like, afterschool environment where kids will be able to engage with and enjoy Hebrew language and Jewish culture.

“There have been so many studies that camp is so important in developing Jewish identity,” said parent volunteer Abby Calvo. “If we can capture that camp-like atmosphere through the school year and ingrain that into learning, our kids will be all the better for it.”

Among the first of its kind in the country, Shorashim will follow in the footsteps of recently developed programs in Berkeley, Boston, and Atlanta to provide kids with Hebrew fluency, a strong understanding of Jewish culture, and perhaps most important, a passion for Judaism. Shorashim seeks to get kids started as early as kindergarten so Jewish education becomes an integral part of their elementary school experience.

Led by Calvo and fellow parent volunteers Larry Nicholas, Sarina Natkin and Leslie Silverman, Shorashim also seeks to provide a community for families as a whole, with holiday celebrations and quarterly Shabbat dinners so all family members feel a connection to and ownership of the program.

“Our goal is supplementary Jewish education that’s inspiring, lasting, convenient, different and fun,” said Nicholas, whose search for an immersive Jewish experience for his own children was the catalyst for Shorashim.

With the help of Kavana’s Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum, Shorashim is developing a curriculum similar to its Moadon Yeladim program, which currently provides a once-weekly “Kids’ Club” that fuses games, stories, the arts, and discussion to give kids a fuller understanding of Judaism and Hebrew. In its first year, Shorashim will pilot a twice-weekly program on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and is hiring a professional Jewish educator to oversee teaching efforts. Over the next five years, Shorashim’s goal is to expand the program to five days a week with separate curricular levels for each age group, from kindergarten through 5th grade. This will give parents and children the opportunity to use Shorashim not just as a supplemental Jewish education option, but also as their primary afterschool care provider.

Shorashim’s pilot year will kick off in October, and programming will be held at the MLK FAME Community Center at 3201 E Republican Street in Madison Valley.

Shorashim has also undertaken a crowd-funding initiative at www.indiegogo.com/projects/shorashim-seattle-s-emerging-jewish-kids-project to help establish start-up funds and to minimize costs to families in the first year of the program. They have until July 25 to raise $25,000.

For more information about the program, and to put your child on the waitlist to be notified when registration opens, visit kavana.org/shorashim.

This piece originally appeared on The Jewish Sound.

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