To create an engaging, exciting and relevant experience for Jewish children is one of the main goals of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel’s Morningside Sunday Experience, says the head of the new Sunday school for preschoolers through eighth-graders, Rabbi Mayer Freedman.
Before joining the kollel and becoming Congregation Anshi S’fard’s spiritual leader in 2015, Rabbi Freedman taught at a religious day school in Phoenix while fulfilling his rabbinical duties and directing Vaad Hakashruth’s outreach programs.
It was not long after moving to Atlanta that Rabbi Freedman realized that most Jewish families were not sending their children to Jewish day schools or any other Jewish educational programs.
The kollel ran events such as Chanukah and Sukkot parties for community members, but the organization sought to establish consistent programing.
“We want to provide an option for families who wish to engage in Judaism but may otherwise not have an opportunity to do so because of expenses, the model of the school or perhaps not living close enough,” Rabbi Freedman said.
He said he hopes to set the Morningside Sunday Experience apart from other religious schools by avoiding a schoollike atmosphere. “We want to be more of a tent than a school. Of course, our goal is to teach kids Hebrew and how to observe Jewish laws, but I’d say the bigger goal is to get children excited about Judaism.”
Although Rabbi Freedman believes that religious schools are successful in teaching about Judaism, he said they are not always successful in getting children excited about Judaism. “Even if we don’t teach the children much but excite them about the religion, they will remain in our sphere and allow us to influence them.”
His Sunday school is nondenominational and includes children from different demographics. It meets for two hours most Sundays during the school year at Anshi, 1324 N. Highland Ave., with one hour focused on Hebrew and the other on Judaics.
Rabbi Freedman intends to organize community events at the Morningside Sunday Experience, including a Chanukah party, a Purim costume contest, a pre-Passover model seder, and a Lag B’Omer bonfire and barbecue.
Rabbi Freedman hopes that pupils will find Judaism engaging and will search it out wherever they are in life. “We want the kids to learn how to read and write Hebrew and have a basic understanding of Judaism and Jewish values, but we also want them enthusiastic about the Torah’s narratives in the 21st century.”
Rabbi Freedman said the community’s response has been tremendous since the Morningside Sunday Experience launched Sunday, Sept. 10. “We have had a lot of interest and will have around 10 children this year, including two groups composed of children from inside and outside the neighborhood.”
He added, “We have a family that drives from Douglasville every week, which may be that child’s only connection to Judaism.”
The kollel is subsidizing the program, and Rabbi Freedman will speak with any parents who can’t afford the $200 tuition. “Part of our goal is to make it extremely inexpensive so there is no hinderance or barriers for a parent of the child.”