Students at Kol Nefesh’s Hebrew school can expect to make new friends this fall, as the program is combining with Columbia Jewish Congregation’s Hebrew school.
The new Hebrew school, called the Yachad Oakland Mills Jewish School, is expected to open this fall.
“We are going to be a collaborative school where we have students from both synagogues,” said Teri Folden, the educational director of Kol Nefesh, who will become the educational director of Yachad OMJS. “Another way to describe it is like a camp-style approach to our Jewish learning, where kids are coming, having fun. It’s very interactive; they are hands on where you’re not just looking at a book and studying. We want the kids to come, learn about being Jewish and get excited about coming.”
The idea for a collaborative school that could replace Kol Nefesh and CJC’s current Hebrew schools arose over a year ago, Folden said. The decision was partly motivated by the fact that they are both relatively small synagogues with small Hebrew schools currently housed in the same building, the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center in Columbia.
“When you have something small, to make it more feasible, it helps when you can combine with certain things,” said Folden, a resident of Hanover.
“Since CJC and Kol Nefesh both operate a Sunday school program inside the Interfaith center, it seemed logical that we combine the schools, allowing students to meet new students and learn in larger groups than one congregation provides,” Robin Rosenfeld, executive director of CJC, said in an email.
Initially, the two synagogues had some difficulty in coming to terms on some specific aspects, said Folden, and the idea was tabled until the fall of 2021. Around this time, Cantor Stephanie Weishaar, Kol Nefesh’s head clergy, started talking with CJC’s Rabbi Michael Hess Webber. The synagogues brought members of both congregations together again in January and were able to iron out the sticking points and reach an agreement.
When it launches, Yachad OMJS will offer classes for students in kindergarten through seventh grade. It is possible that, in the future, the programs for grades eight through 12 may also be combined. Based on the registrations from last year at both schools, Folden anticipates that Yachad OMJS will initially have about 40 students, and she expects to have as many as four teachers instructing the classes.
The new school will be available to families unaffiliated with either congregation, Folden said, and it will focus on cultural experiences as well as learning Torah and Hebrew. It will have its own board of directors, made up of members and clergy from both Kol Nefesh and CJC, she said.
Rosenfeld said that CJC members have responded positively to news of the new school.
“I can speak for the CJC board and current families who are all very excited about the joint operation,” Rosenfeld said. “The news was received very well by parents when we made the announcement.”
Folden described a similar reaction at Kol Nefesh.
“I haven’t heard too many, because without things being in person, I haven’t gotten too much feedback,” Folden said. “But I know, from what I’ve heard so far, people are very positive about this, they think this could be a great thing. And one of the biggest things that we are hearing is they love that there’s going to be more kids involved, that they’ll have a wider circle.”