GLENDALE – Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid installed an outdoor playset and gaga pit over the fall of 2021, part of a series of initiatives to help congregants feel like the shul is theirs.
Beata Abraham started July 1, 2021, as director of congregational learning and programming at the Glendale shul and came up with the idea. Abraham said that a mom looking for something to do on a boring Sunday afternoon could visit the playset and may see other parents and kids there.
“This is just one way for us to bring people in and show them that this is their space,” she said. “We want them to feel at home here. This is their community, and they’re going to come here and have a great time and a relaxed time.”
An anonymous donor, who has no children at the synagogue but believes in helping, donated $5,000 for the playset and two benches for parents, Abraham said. The playset at the Glendale synagogue has slides and a fort at the top.
The gaga pit is for the game gaga, which is a variant of dodgeball that’s often played in American Jewish summer camps. Gaga means “touch-touch” in Hebrew.
A yard beside Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid sounded like electric drills on a springlike Sunday, Nov. 7, as volunteers built the playset.
Volunteer Tyler Borkin was there with others, as he kneeled to work on wood posts for the structure. He said he was there “for the growing youth population here at CBINT.”
Borkin is a member of the shul’s Early Childhood Education and Programming Committee and has been a leader for the project, Abraham said.
After volunteers tied rope knots to hold up a playset ladder, congregant Eli Zarem climbed it to test its strength.
“We’re working as a kehillah, as a community, to put a play structure out here for the next generation, for the kids, so they can enjoy their Judaism,” said Zarem. The Nov. 7 playset crew, early that day, also included Steve Wertheimer, Daniel Fleischman, Men’s Club President Mike Spanjar, and Hebrew school teacher Sara Martin.
The shul also created a children’s library space in recent months, with the addition of bean bangs, chairs, a tent and carpet. Volunteer Terri Gingold designed and set it up. It was funded by the Marilyn Zetley Children’s Library Fund.
“We have to think, what do kids want to do while they’re here?” Abraham said. “Sure, we want to fortify them spiritually, but also kids need a place to hang out and spend time with each other and make memories.”
Abraham has added new programming, too, like a weekly Explorers Kehillah class for kids ages 3 and 4. Each student wears an explorer’s hat and vest. Each Sunday, they search the synagogue for different items, like a mezuzah or other ritual object.
“This has been one of our biggest successes this year,” she said. “We’re hearing from parents that kids are waiting for it all week.”
She said she’s also working on adult and teen programming.
“This is a place for everyone in our congregation,” she said. “Whatever your interest, whatever way you’re doing Judaism, there so much to do while you’re here and have a great time while you’re doing it.”
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