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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Hebrew School 2.0: How a Somerville center is helping reinvent Jewish Education

For Immediate Release
Contact: Lee Palmer, Kesher Center for Jewish Learning and Culture; 617- 617 576 0830.

Hebrew School 2.0: How a Somerville center is helping reinvent Jewish Education

Somerville, June 2. 2014 – In a sun-drenched loft space that was once an olive oil factory, first and second graders talk about what freedom means to them and fourth-graders practice shopping in Hebrew with their Israeli teacher. Other students work on a play about the Jews of medieval Spain. By the afternoon’s end everyoneis gathered on a fraying Persian carpet for a sing-along of Hebrew songs led by Rafi Esterson, the Head of School at the Kesher Center for Learning and Culture.

This month Kesher received a six-figure grant from an anonymous donor to help develop a new curriculum for bar and bat mitzvah study, with a focus on exploring Jewish culture and thought through real-world experiences, and to further refine the Hebrew curriculum so that students will emerge with solid proficiency in the spoken language. The prestigious grant reflects the respected foundation’s belief in the Kesher model.

Students come from across Arlington, Cambridge, Medford and Somerville to attend the Kesher Center for Jewish Learning and Culture, an after-school program for Jewish pluralistic learning that picks children up directly from their schools. The extended time between teachers and children allows time to build community and more meaningful learning.

Families of various Jewish backgrounds, including inter-faith families, are drawn to its mix of vibrant Jewish learning and Hebrew instruction in a nurturing and engaging setting. Here children are encouraged to ask questions and to explore Judaism and their relationship to it.

“We believe that kids are capable of subtly and sophistication and thinking deeply. If you give them those opportunities, they do cool things with them,” says Esterson, a London-born seasoned educator. “We believe good Jewish education needs to start off as just good education. It’s not about finding Jewishly important stuff and teaching kids. It’s about creating a good educational environment for kids and then the Jewish aspect follows.”

On June 10 at 6 pm the children will host a Hebrew evening where they will be showcasing the Hebrew they have learned. The Kesher space will be set up as different cities in Israel. Children will role play as travel agents, sellers at an open air fruit and vegetable market and help sell falafel. Others will congregate in a Tel Aviv street-café and chat in Hebrew about newspaper headlines and celebrity gossip. Parents will gather for the screening of an animation voiced by the children with Hebrew dialogue that they have written.

“Kesher is not just a school, it is a community of loving and caring teachers and students alike. Our two sons are in the Nevatim preschool and in the Shorashim after-school kindergarten program and they just love it. As parents, we love it, too! Our older son is learning how to read and write Hebrew and both our boys are immersed in Jewish culture and holidays. They have made so many friends and picking them up and joining them for songs is one of the best parts of the day for the whole family. Kesher is one of a kind!” said Rachel Robinson, a parent.

Kesher, which means “connection”, offers a pluralistic Jewish education program that nurtures individual growth in balance with community responsibility. Kesher is located in a loft space just outside Porter Square. A 22-year-old, nationally recognized leader in Jewish after school programming, in 2012 Kesher opened a preschool/daycare with full-time and part-time options for children ages 2.9-5 years. The next Open House is Sunday, June 8, 10:30 – noon, and tours can also be arranged individually on weekdays. For further information about their discovery-centered curricula, progressive education philosophy and unique bar/bat mitzvah preparation, visit or contact Lee Palmer at or 617 576 0830.

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