Each month, we assign a class (Grades 3-7) to participate in a Friday evening Shabbat experience. This includes a family dinner for all of the children in the class, plus their families, teachers, rabbi, and education director, and then the class helps to lead the service. The family members decide on the type of dinner that they would like to have – either a catered kosher meal, or a pot luck dairy dinner. The potluck dairy dinner has become the norm, since it is easiest for us to handle in our rented facility. Usually, the group orders prepared fish, and splits the cost. Families sign up to bring side dishes, such as kugel, salad, vegetables and challah. We have prepared an extensive guideline for the dinner coordinator (usually the class parent/s) to help with planning the meal. We suggest a menu that includes a fish option, and traditional Jewish dishes, in addition to kid-friendly choices. We encourage people to find recipes in a Jewish cookbook, and contribute them to the meal. There is no dessert served, as there is an Oneg after the service.
The evening begins with the rabbi leading candlelighting, the traditional blessing of the children, ritual washing of the hands, and motzi. Dinner is served buffet style. After dinner, the rabbi leads the group in Birkat Hamazon, and if time allows, popular Shabbat songs are sung. The group then joins the congregation for the Friday evening Shabbat family service, which has an earlier start time to accommodate families with young children. Each child in the class is given an English part to read, and a Hebrew prayer to lead alone, or with the help of the rabbi, depending on their Hebrew knowledge and experience.
This program is very successful, and enjoyed by all. It allows the families to get a chance to interact with each other, while enjoying the rituals of Shabbat. It provides for a warm community experience, and teaches families the traditions so that they can continue to celebrate them in their own homes.