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Jewish Without Walls

Jewish Without Walls
Nesconset, New York United States
Leadership team

Tracy Kaplowitz: Chair
David Lippe: Vice-Chair
Ethan Pew: Secretary
Rachel Katz: Treasurer
Shariee Calderone: Board Member
Beth Finger: Executive Director/Founder
Janie Pashman: Community Organizer

Prize category
Local/Regional
Operational
3 – 5 years
Target audience
Adults, Children, Early Childhood, Families, Interfaith, Unaffiliated
Categories
Children, Community Building, Experiential Learning, Family, Interfaith, Jewish Education, Leadership Development, Outreach & Engagement, Ritual, Spirituality

Shabbat In A Box inspires people to celebrate Shabbat in their homes! Our fun themes, like Star Wars Shabbat, Super Hero Shabbat, Nature, and Frozen the Movie bring the party to Friday night. Young families invite friends and family over for a Shabbat dinner party.

Each box contains challah, grape juice, candles, blessings and a Jewish children’s book. The cornerstone of SIB is the packet with activities and ideas for all ages, from fun menu items to themed decorations and games that tie the Box theme with Shabbat and Jewish values.

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

We know that family dinners are important for family health and the well-being of children. Judaism gives us a reason to eat together at least once a week -- on Shabbat. JWOW encourages families to start this tradition by making it fun and accessible.

Integral to JWOW’s success is our commitment to the Jewish value of mikdash m’at — the home as a “small sanctuary” responsible for fostering the Jewish life of the family. It is where we live out many of our traditions and beliefs. As fewer people join synagogues, we must offer them other ways to connect to Judaism and Jewish community -- and those must revolve around the home.

Shabbat In A Box was designed with this value in mind, as it was developed to make the celebration of Shabbat accessible and meaningful no matter one’s level of education, affiliation or experience with celebrating Shabbat. It is a not a program that one attends passively. Instead, JWOW gives you the tools to create a Jewish experience in your home with your friends; it is a part of your life.

Jewish wisdom goes beyond ritual and values community, k’lal yisroel. We cannot live in isolation. This program, along with all JWOW programs, seeks to build community using Jewish scaffolding. SIB is far more than a religious experience; it is about family and community togetherness.

The packet in each Box guides conversation around Jewish values and ideas, truly harnessing the Jewish wisdom in the room -- from children and adults. It gives families the opportunity to learn and to teach -- values that have held Jews together through the ages.

How does your program work to make that wisdom accessible and directly applicable to your audience's lives?

JWOW is a grassroots venture that empowers families to create their own meaningful Jewish experiences. In fact, Shabbat In A Box is the brainchild of one of our participants, who had a new and interesting idea on how to bring Jewish life into participants’ homes in a smart and relevant way.

Like all of our programs, Shabbat In A Box, is inexpensive, engaging, easy and FUN, making it accessible to everyone. At the same time, it allows our participants to gain an understanding of how to engage in Jewish culture and traditions and how to incorporate Jewish values into their lives. We use experiential education to teach parents Jewish traditions, culture and values so that they can bring those into their homes. We strengthen Jewish identity by offering a lens to see Jewish connections all around them. We believe that education does not need to come from a workshop or a teacher-led program, but can develop organically from families coming together to celebrate, share traditions and learn from one another.
The key to Shabbat In A Box is that we do not tell anyone how to do “it” or what they “should” do. Instead, we provide the tools to families to experience a Shabbat meal together with friends and family, and then to develop their own traditions from it. JWOW has always believed in inspiring moms, dads and adults to be “prosumers” in their Jewish community -- creators of the Jewish experiences that they want and need.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

Shabbat In A Box, though only one year old, is already having a big impact on its participants, almost all of whom do not regularly celebrate Shabbat. At a recent focus group, we asked people to talk about a positive Jewish experience from any time in their lives. Lisa Z. immediately raised her hand and said that it was the Star Wars Shabbat In A Box. It was the first time that her husband agreed to celebrate Shabbat, they invited two other families over, and her son loved it!

Each box that we give out impacts exponentially larger numbers of people as the hosts invite friends and family over to celebrate together. Here is some of the feedback that we have received:

“Thank you for the wonderful treat of Shabbat, and for making it easier to educate my child about Judaism in a blended family environment. Today, my son actually said, ‘Shabbat's cool, mom!’”

“This was the very first Shabbat we ever celebrated as a family.”

“Thanks for putting together Shabbat in a Box. We LOVED the Star Wars theme. It was great getting 3 kids and 3 adults together. The extent of my Jewish training growing up was spinning a dreidel, so it was great to have our friend who was formerly Orthodox and is way more knowledgeable...to expand on some of the traditions and explain meanings she learned along the way.”

What have you learned about applied Jewish wisdom that contributes to your success?

Judaism must be relevant and add value to people’s lives if they are going to grab hold of it. SIB is the perfect example of making it easy to add the Jewish piece to something that families already want to do and strive to do -- have dinner together and invite friends over. The value added is Shabbat. SIB connects families with tradition and their roots using food and pop culture as the vehicles.

American Jews are largely secular and feel less obligated to affiliate with traditional institutions. Yet we know that they want to be part of a community and have the opportunity to make Jewish friends for themselves and their children. They also deeply desire passing Jewish traditions along to their children. JWOW, and SIB in particular, provides young families and adults an entry point into Jewish life. We strengthen families by helping them to integrate Jewish traditions and ritual into meaningful experiences.