Husband-and-wife team Rabbi Avi and Marave Herbstman hope the new afterschool Hebrew program at the Menachem Mendel Seattle Cheder will be an intimate and warm place, which kids won’t want to miss a minute of.
“Our program is about Jewish history, Jewish culture, Jewish values, and how Jewish heroes give our life meaning, strength, and courage for our lives,” Rabbi Herbstman, director of the Chabad Hebrew School, told JTNews. “Our school is not for religious children. Our school is for non-affiliated Jewish families. It will give them real-life Jewish skills under the umbrella of a Jewish perspective.”
The program will run from 4:15 to 6 p.m. on Mondays beginning Sept. 10, with two concurrent sessions. Marave Herbstman, the school’s co-director, will lead First Taste, a Montessori-style class for 3 to 6 year olds, and Rabbi Herbst-man will lead Hebrew School, which will focus on “the who, what, when and whys” of Jewish history for 7 to 12 year olds.
“These values are very important to have for your children, that they understand their place in history,” the rabbi added. “That is important for every Jew to know.”
“One of our goals is to bring Jewish people from all around the community to create community,” said Marave Herbstman. “It’s a beautiful piece of property near the reservoir. This is also a space where adults will have an opportunity to meet.”
The Chabad Hebrew School is a program of Chabad of the Pacific Northwest. The Chabad-Lubavitch movement hosts the supplementary school program in cities across the United States and internationally.
According to MMSC’s director of business and development Tziviah Goldberg, the school’s implementation is a response to requests for a Jewish educational program by mostly unaffiliated families that are not ready to send their kids to day school.
“We had many people asking in the community for some type of program that would address mostly unaffiliated Jews, that would be something that they could take part in that wouldn’t be a day school program,” said Goldberg. The hope is to “catch those kids that are not quite ready for day school, and give them a rich Jewish experience.”
The target family is composed of people who are exploring Judaism, and “not really looking for a shul,” Goldberg said, but rather “more looking for a community. They don’t necessarily feel that they’re going to find that through the synagogue experience.”
The teaching duo describes the lessons on their website, www.seattlechs.com, as “multi-sensory and hands-on.”
Avi Herbstman brings a confidence- and team-building educational method called Project Adventure, which he has been using for over two years, to the Hebrew school. Its value, according the website, is to promote self-confidence, learn group dynamic skills, help with physical coordination, and to learn social skills.
“It’s a mode of learning that the children will walk in for their whole lives,” he said. “Project Adventure is a team-building program that enhances working together, [teaches] how to be a leader, [and asks] ‘How do you deal with disappointment? How do you deal with life’s sudden blows?’”
Marave Herbstman, who is a certified Montessori educator, said she intends to have a jam-packed fun time planned for the young ones when they come each week.
“I would start off with circle time — preparing them for what we’ll be doing next,” she said, “and then, maybe do arts and crafts or baking or cooking — something that would make it personal for the kids who are coming.
“Then, have a snack and talk about where food comes from and what blessings go with the food,” she added. “We’ll be making our own, maybe a fruit salad or s’mores, and they prepare it so that will be exciting.”
In addition to learning to read and write Hebrew, students will also learn their way around the siddur (prayer book), and they’ll study the Torah portion associated with each week and learn about Israel.
Using the Montessori materials that she has been developing for years along with her staff, Marave Herbstman said children will experience mock holiday meals leading up to Jewish holy days like Rosh Hashanah and learn Shabbat rituals.
For now, the couple wants to limit enrollment to about 15 children, keeping the student-to-teacher ratio around seven-to-one. As the program grows, they will hire new teachers.
“We look forward to building [our school] through word of mouth,” she said. She hopes it will add to the strength of the Seattle Jewish community. “I definitely think this is a beautiful piece to add to the Northend. It’s a link in our chain.”