Navasky Jewish Explorers: A modern approach to religious school

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The eyes of most Jewish children tend to glaze over when you ask if they’d like to go to Hebrew School.

They envision a typical religious school where they sit around and recite Hebrew prayers.

But the reaction you’ll get from children attending the Navasky Jewish Explorers Program at Congregation Beth El-Norwalk is quite different.

The Navasky Jewish Explorers Program at Congregation Beth El-Norwalk offers a fun, interactive religious school experience for students.

The Navasky Jewish Explorers Program at Congregation Beth El-Norwalk offers a fun, interactive religious school experience for students.

“This is not your grandfather’s religious school,” said Al Treidel, director of the program. “This is a Hebrew school for the 21st century. We want children to feel comfortable and valued and we work hard to make the learning experience fun while creating a community of active learners,” he said.

Navasky takes a modern, hands-on approach to learning and has programs for children ages 3 to 13. The atmosphere is more like a camp than a religious school. Children have a good time while cultivating a love of Judaism.

“Every year my kids get to do something exciting and memorable at Navasky Explorers,” said parent Sharon DeFala. “One grade did a simulated living wax museum during the Congregational Kiddush. In sixth grade, they did a PowerPoint presentation about the Torah portion for their upcoming Bar and Bat Mitzvah. It really brought the content alive for them,” she said.

Navasky Jewish Explorers has been educating Jewish children in Fairfield County since 1936. It is an egalitarian, progressive Hebrew school and welcomes interfaith and LGBTQ families.

The school focuses on teaching children Jewish history, bible, customs and ceremonies along with prayer and its meaning.

Children’s love of technology is embraced. They have access to iPads and a custom website to help them learn prayers at their own pace. Students in grades 3-7 focus on learning Shabbat prayers, while 6th graders learn Torah trope to begin Bar/Bat Mitzvah preparation.

Students can access any prayer they are studying and chant along with a Beth El member electronically.

For pre-schoolers, one Sunday a month, Navasky offers a program called K’tanim, which gives children who attend a secular daycare or preschool a taste of Judaism and introduction to the holidays. K’tanim and kindergarten are open to both Beth El families and unaffiliated families.

The school’s modern approach is paying off. Parents are happy to see their children actually enjoying Hebrew School.

“I loved watching how excited my first grader was at the model Seder — the kids were singing and dancing and genuinely excited to celebrate Passover,” said Lindsey Rossen.

“Our goal is to create a real family of learners, and have kids learn the meaning of prayer so they can make their own connections,” Treidel said.

Located at Congregation Beth El-Norwalk, 109 East Ave., Norwalk, Navasky Jewish Explorers Program is currently accepting applications for the fall. To learn more about class schedules call 203-838-2710, email Al Treidel, director of education, at [email protected] or visit congbethel.org/hebrewschool.

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