Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager
jkidphilly engages families with young children across the Philadelphia community in Jewish life, learning, and community. Through programs, resources, and DIY initiatives, we empower families to engage in Jewish experiences in whatever way best integrates into their lives. jkidphilly’s tagline, “For families just like yours!” expresses our deep belief that all types of families have a place in the Jewish community and they will all feel welcome at all of our programs.
jkidphilly operates on two important pieces of Jewish wisdom: (1) making Jewish experiences available and accessible inside and outside of institutions; and (2) ensuring that all families feel included and welcomed in those experiences.
“All the people gathered together as one into the broad place that was before the water gate; and they spoke to Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the Law of Moses.” (Nehemia 8:1) In this text, Ezra hears what the people want: to hear the reading of the Torah outside of any formal location, in a place which was both familiar and accessible to the entire community. Moreover, the text above recognizes the need for the wisdom of the Torah to be shared with all the people, not just the elite priests as had once been. The wisdom of bringing Jewish experiences straight to the people - not waiting for them to come into an institution - drives the jkidphilly resources and programs. We listen to carefully to families and then bring programs to them that meet their needs. Programs focus on Jewish values and holidays and are held in familiar and accessible spaces like the zoo, paint your own pottery, playgrounds, libraries, and museums. We also utilize the internet to meet families where they are through an active Facebook page, Twitter, MeetUp.com, and jkidphilly.org. jkidphilly creates resources to support families in observing holidays, teaching their children about Judaism, and enacting Jewish values in their homes. These materials are posted online and/or mailed to families’ homes.
“And he [Abraham] lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood over against him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed down to the earth.” (Bereishit 18:2) Abraham runs - not walks - to welcome his guests and bows to the earth in deep respect. We learn from this text that welcoming newcomers is much more than simple handshakes. All of the jkidphilly programs, resources, and communications are designed to make all families feel welcomed. Participation in jkidphilly programs is either free or at cost for entrance fees (e.g. zoo admission) and programs are designed for all types of families to engage in Jewishly, regardless of background and prior Jewish experience. Additionally, we are always cognizant of children and families with special needs and hold sensory friendly events throughout the year. Most importantly, jkidphilly staff works intentionally to build relationships with as many families that attend programs as possible, ensuring that everyone feels comfortable and included.
Families with young children today live incredibly busy and chaotic lives. For many of these families, Judaism may feel out of reach for a number of reasons. For some timing and convenience are a factor. Others struggle to find Jewish activities that will keep their young energetic children engaged. jkidphilly provides many avenues for families to engage in Jewish life online and on land - through programs, resources, and DIY initiatives.
PROGRAMS: jkidphilly offers programs designed for families with young children around the greater Philadelphia area throughout the year. These programs give families the opportunity to celebrate Jewish holidays, engage in Jewish values, bring Judaism home, and connect with other Jewish families. A few examples of jkidphilly programs are:
“Little Hands Make a Big Difference” social action projects,
“Chanukah at the Zoo” with activities and candle lighting,
“Boker Tov at the Beach” storytime and activities at the Jersey Shore, and
“Making Connections - Passover” paint-your-own-pottery crafts for Elijah and Miriam cups.
RESOURCES: jkidphilly creates and curates resources for families around holidays, values, rituals, and Israel. Resources include information sheets and guides for parents to quickly and easily learn about and apply Jewish experiences in their homes. We also produce activities for children, such as Shana Tova cards, Passover bingo games, and jkidphilly@home: Read, Ask, Do sheets. To introduce resources to families, jkidphilly staff focuses on a holiday or value theme each month. Each theme is promoted through personal stories in monthly email newsletters and short videos that demonstrate activities and materials related to the theme.
DIY INITIATIVES: jkidphilly offers opportunities for families to sign up online to receive DIY materials to use in their own time. In the summer, families sign their children up for “jkidphilly Venturers,” where they earn awards for completing activities related to the value of the month and posting a picture or story about it online. During the year, families sign up for “Shabbat in a Box,” and receive a box full of Shabbat activities after registering to host another family for Shabbat Dinner. These DIY resources are designed to be integrated into families’ lives, empowering them to take on Jewish experiences for themselves.
Families who participate in jkidphilly feel more connected to the local Jewish community and empowered to take on new Jewish practices in their homes. In the most recent survey of jkidphilly families, 84% of respondents said that they feel more connected to the Jewish community, 68% are more interested in attending Jewish communal events or programs, 63% have increased Jewish practice and celebration in their homes, and 77% are more knowledgeable about programs, agencies or opportunities for engagement in the Greater Philadelphia Jewish community.
Additionally, parents told us in focus groups that they use the ritual objects they created at jkidphilly programs (i.e. challah plate or kiddush cup) at home with their children. One mother spoke about the importance of taking her young son to “Chanukah at the Zoo” to demonstrate that Judaism happens everywhere. Parents also talked about how jkidphilly offers a unique opportunity to engage with a diverse set of Jewish families outside of synagogue or preschool walls and across denominations.
Over the past five years, we have learned a number of key lessons to successfully engaging families with young children.
1) COMMUNICATE: jkidphilly utilizes multiple avenues for communication and promotion, including weekly and monthly emails, Facebook and Twitter updates, MeetUp groups, and text message updates (only for those who sign up). We know that using technology is critical in reaching 21st century families. More importantly, we have learned that using as many avenues of communication as possible has enabled us to engage with diverse families across the community.
2) RELATIONSHIPS COME FIRST: We have learned over time that the families who feel connected to other families and/or to our staff are more likely to return to more programs and to seek out more Jewish opportunities. When parents contact us for help connecting to the Jewish community, we first try to meet them for coffee or at least have a phone conversation, knowing that the trust that is built between our staff and the parent will make a difference in their engagement with jkidphilly and other Jewish communal experiences.
3) SAFE SPACE: Many families with young children are hesitant to walk through the doors of Jewish institutions for a variety of reasons, including past negative experiences, uncertainty whether their families will feel welcome, and a fear of receiving a membership pitch. jkidphilly staff never push membership or affiliation on our participants and always ensure that everyone is welcome and comfortable. Families have told us that they have come to associate jkidphilly as a brand that they can trust. On the occasions when we hold programs in synagogue or JCCs, families have told us they felt comfortable attending because they knew jkidphilly would ensure they would be welcome and free from receiving a membership appeal.
4) MAKE IT CONVENIENT: We all know that families are busy today. jkidphilly families inform us over and over again that their participation in our offerings has to do with the day of the week, time of day, and location of the program. Families with young children are navigating jobs, childcare, early childhood education and extracurricular activities, and nap schedules. All of these contribute to difficulty of attending programs at various times of the day and week and an inability to travel far for programs. The more convenient the timing and location, the better the engagement.
5) AUTHENTIC JEWISH EXPERIENCES: Families are seeking and respond to authentic Jewish experiences, such as baking hamentaschen, celebrating Shabbat, engaging in tikkun olam, and trying out new rituals and practices in their homes. Additionally, families have been very excited to find ways, using jkidphilly resources, to extend these experiences past the activity themselves - using a challah plate made at an event, hosting Shabbat dinner with “Shabbat in a Box,” or using resource materials to do family mitzvah projects.
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