Since this past Rosh Hashanah, high schoolers at Netivot Shalom have begun taking a leadership role at the synagogue by looking after younger children while their parents attend services.
“We have a group of high schoolers who have taken an interest in taking leadership in the youth group,” said Netivot Shalom Rabbi Elliot Kaplowitz, a resident of Pikesville. “So they are infusing it with a lot of new energy.
“We’re talking about kids programming parallel to the services in the synagogue, offering parents a chance to drop their kids off and then come participate in the main services,” Kaplowitz continued.
On a typical Saturday morning, as many as 15 young children might need looking after, Kaplowitz said. At present, five high schoolers have signed up to look after them on Shabbat mornings, serving on a rotating basis of two at a time. The high school students participating in the program are Zachary Rogers, Louis Friedmann, Azriel Moskowitz, Jeremy Arking and Kaplowitz’s son Yisrael.
Community member Annette Goins also helps look after the kids, in addition to the high schoolers, Kaplowitz said.
The teens make it possible to provide the children with an educational experience tailored to their age. In past years, there were times when it was necessary to group all the children together, regardless of age, as there were not always enough people to do anything differently. In those years, they may have done prayer, played outdoors, had a snack or participated in stories or games related to the parshah or an upcoming holiday, Kaplowitz said. But now, with two group leaders in addition to Goins, they are able to offer activities like trivia games, such as Rosh Hashanah “Jeopardy” and “Family Feud.”
“Each week, these teenagers develop whatever educational activity, whatever prayers they’re going to say with the kids, completely on their own,” Kaplowitz said.
While Netivot Shalom has relied on high schoolers to run this kind of group in the past, for the past two or three years, the synagogue hasn’t had many high school students to call upon for this responsibility, Kaplowitz said. And of course the synagogue was not able to offer a children’s group like this for a while because of the pandemic. Kaplowitz knew that when it was safe again to welcome children back into the shul, he wanted a quality program to be there waiting for them.
What makes their program unique, Kaplowitz said, is the participation of the high schoolers. This fits in with the values of the synagogue, where community members often fill the role of cantor and give sermons.
“By definition, by choice, our shul is a very much volunteer-led institution,” Kaplowitz said. “For me, the most exciting part is how this really, not only is providing a quality Shabbos morning experience for the kids of the shul, but also how it’s very much in line with the mission and the vision of what our shul is.”