Youth, Children and Family Programs at TBS

We offer a wide variety or programming for children from birth until 12th grade in addition to programming for the whole family. Check the calendar for meeting dates.


-by Maura Kohl Gould

Reb Moshe experienced few more beautiful sights or sounds than children filling the synagogue. His vision continues as a growing number of families with young children join Tremont Street Shul. These children embrace synagogue life with enthusiasm, excited when they get to come, a concept foreign to many of us from our youth.

“There used to be one child to open the Ark on Shabbat, now there is a whole group of them,” explains Debra Wekstein, “My son looks forward to it every week.” “There are definitely more young children because there is competition at the changing table,” observes Joan Epstein, whose second child was born this fall, joining a growing number of Shul babies.

“When my children were young, there was a core of about ten preschoolers who came regularly,” recalls Dina Mardell, mother of an eight and ten year old. “Now those children are older and it’s great to see a new group of young children.”

A “Tot Shabbat” service for preschoolers (newborn to age five), a monthly Sunday Morning Playgroup, special holiday celebrations, and Alef-Bet Childcare provide a diverse, positive Jewish environment to engage these families. Dina Mardell helped launch the children’s service about eight years ago when her older daughter was a toddler. “It was organic. There was a need so we filled it. We still wanted the children to take part in the larger service but this gives them a special experience all their own. We try to use the same five or six songs and prayers each week so they are familiar and learn them. Then we change the story just as the torah portion changes.”

"When we first started coming to TBS, and before we joined as members, I attended the children's services led by Dina Mardell with my sons who were toddlers at the time,” recalled Baruch Krauss whose sons have now grown but has since taken over leading the children’s service.  “It was a great way to get to know other families and to feel part of the TBS community.  After three months, our family joined the Shul."

“My son comes home every week singing the Shabbat songs he learns,” attests Debra Wekstein. “The Preschool service makes it more real for the kids. Instead of watching, they get to actually experience it themselves.” For example, during Sukkot, Baruch did a phenomenal job leading the children’s service in the sukkah. They sang songs, read stories, and each child smelled the etrog and shook the lulov. “They are truly living Judaism.”

“Neither my husband nor I grew up with a strong Jewish education,” explains Juliette Rooney-Varga who is a member of TBS with husband, Michael. “The children’s service and playgroup provide a comfortable way for us to connect with the community.”

The Infant-Toddler Playgroup “Katanim” (“Little Ones” in Hebrew) started a year ago when parents realized there were many Jewish families in the Cambridge area with young children wanting to connect. “I work all week so it’s nice for me to see my daughter interacting with other children and see how other children act,” explains Tom Gould. “The Playgroup also provides a good place to play in the cold weather, and can be a break for one of the parents on a Sunday morning. But what I enjoy most is meeting other Jewish families and the opportunity to share common concerns.”

These common concerns can range from food issues to sleep deprivation, work struggles to dealing with extended family, fertility to the challenges of twins (four sets attend). Perhaps the most authentic conversation overheard was “who was your moil and how did you like him?” And the most common topic, to no surprise, is finding good childcare.

“Having the chance to interact with Alef-Bet families [at TBS] and receiving such positive feedback about it, definitely encouraged us to send our boys,” recalls Juliette Rooney-Varga whose sons are presently enrolled.

“We moved to Boston a year ago and found the synagogue while looking for daycare,” remembers Michelle Harris who relocated from Seattle with husband Greg, a two-year old son, and seven months pregnant. “Everyone was very friendly and welcoming. Synagogue members were instrumental in our finding childcare as well as acclimating us to Boston. The community support really helped us survive this year.”

This sense of community found within a Jewish context at TBS continues to bring many families together. “We all get to know each other through our kids,” explains Debra Wekstein. “The children play together and the parents become friends. It’s a great way to build community.”

Joan Epstein adds, “The children feel comfortable here. It’s not a scary place for them but a place where they can be themselves and feel at home.” Reb Moshe would be smiling.



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