For the first time in its five-year history, Hinenu: The Baltimore Justice Shtiebl will be offering a year-long educational program aimed at its younger members. The new program, Beit Hinenu, consists of a variety of courses for students ranging from toddlers to teenagers, with subject matter focusing on the synagogue’s key tenets of equity and social justice.
In the past, Hinenu has held courses for children during the High Holidays and family learning programs, and recently tested out its upcoming elementary school and teen classes with a smaller audience.
“We’re doing what I keep calling a grand experiment,” says Rachel Kipnes, education director at Hinenu. The synagogue is shifting its elementary-level Shabbat School and b’nai mitzvah programs to take place on Shabbat for the time being in addition to opening its new curricula.
“We’re used to having religious school happen on Sunday mornings or afternoons or even on weekdays, but we want our families to be together on Shabbat,” she said. “We want to teach our children the value of celebrating Shabbat together.”
Hinenu’s Shabbat School programming is also being updated with a new Hebrew curriculum based on biblical and rabbinic Hebrew in order to prepare students for b’nai mitzvah instruction and to give them a better understanding of the Torah going in.
In addition to its Shabbat School and b’nai mitzvah instruction, Hinenu is offering a new Tot Shabbat for the synagogue’s smallest members. They and their parents are invited to attend interactive services for kids up to 5 years old at Hinenu once a month, with the other weekends consisting of events held at members’ houses. Kipnes notes that a teaching artist will be running Tot Shabbat, providing the children with a hands-on experience and encouraging creative thinking.
Where Hinenu’s focus on activism really comes into play is in its teen programming, consisting of two sex-ed programs aimed at tweens and teens respectively, a Queer Kids Hangout Club where younger members of the LGBTQ community can connect, and a Jewish Youth Climate Movement Kvutza focused on bringing together Jewish Gen Z-ers to promote climate awareness.
“They’re organizing so they can feel groundedness and hope for the future,” Kipnes said of their Jewish Youth Climate Movement involvement. “What I feel really excited about is that the community and political organizing skills that they’ll develop through this project are deeply rooted in Jewish values and practice.”
Students and families at Hinenu know that their rabbi and education staff are available for pastoral care and advice. Kipnes and the rest of the staff are often approached by younger queer students and their families who want to talk through questions and ideas about gender and sexuality. For this reason, Hinenu is launching a Queer Kids Hangout Club for tweens ages 10-14 who are LGBTQ and their friends to build community together in a youth-led environment with the support of the Hinenu education team.
“[The sex-ed and LGBTQ programs] are not necessarily rooted in particular Jewish perspectives,” she said. “However, they’re rooted in our commitment to each other and to seeing each person as valuable and honorable. We want our young people to understand that we value the fullness of their identities as queer people, as questioning, or as kids who are learning how to grow up.
“We’re in a time when it’s illegal to talk about sexuality and gender with kids. And to me, that’s exactly the reason why we should be using our resources to make these spaces available to young people,” she said.
Kipnes shared that Hinenu is working hard to ensure that their programs are accessible to the community regardless of a member’s financial means. Kipnes says, “The Jewish community has a lot of work to do to make sure that all members of our community feel welcome. This is a central conversation for us. We want everyone who wants to join us in learning to be able to.”
Hinenu’s educational programs will be starting within the next few weeks. Interested parties can register at https://hinenu.breezechms.com/form/beithinenuyouth5783.