“As the Shearith Family Center grows, finding meaningful ways to serve our young families is a priority,” says Rabbi Shira Wallach, who has spent the past several years developing new programs and services to meet and exceed the needs of young Jewish families.
“It’s not just about having accessible Shabbat services that young families can relate to,” Rabbi Wallach says. “We don’t just aim to meet some sense of ‘need’. The Shearith Family Center is devoted to exceeding the expectations many contemporary Jewish families have about the shul experience. Our mission is nothing less than to delight people, inspiring them to bring the joy of Judaism home, and to make our shul feel like their true spiritual home.”
In this spirit of making shul an authentic home away from home, last year Rabbi Wallach and her colleagues transformed one of the Brides Rooms at Shearith Israel into an Infant Feeding Room, where parents now comfortably attend to their children’s needs at shul. Nursing mothers and parents who bottle feed or have to change a diaper during services never feel like they are “disturbing” others or perhaps distracting from something important.
“What’s more important than attending to your children? NOTHING!”
“Every Saturday morning during Shabbat services, we have trained nannies from a wonderful local nanny agency who take care of Shearith’s most precious members, our infants and children to age five. But we realize that a babysitting room is not enough,” says Rabbi Wallach who has now created The Shearith Israel Family Room in the Barnett Family Wing where infants, toddlers, and parents are always welcome to come play.
“While babysitting will always be available Shabbat mornings, the Family Room will be our home base for Family Center programming including PlaygroupPlus, Shababa, and holiday programming.”
Transitioning from a babysitting space to family room includes a remodel of the space and significant investment in new materials and resources. The newly designed room offers play spaces and toys appropriate for children ages 0 – 5. In addition to toys, games, and a comfy reading nook, we will have a sensory table, dress up box, felt story wall, puppets, and an infant zone with bouncy seat and fully equipped changing station.
“The Family Room provides a comfortable gathering space for young parents to relax at shul and socialize with others while their small children explore developmentally appropriate opportunities in a safe, clean, purpose-built space for kids to do what they do best: play. This socialization and play are as vital to a happy spirit as prayer and other aspects of a religious life,” Rabbi Wallach says.
Shearith Israel sincerely thanks Matan Wolfson, CEO of KidKraft, and his wife Blair for their generous donation of new furniture including toy and book shelves, tables and chairs, and a new play kitchen. Our heartfelt love and gratitude, as well, to Saler and Eric Axel, who have donated beautiful new cubbies that we are so excited to use. Kol haKavod to Blair and Matan, Saler and Eric for their generosity of vision, leadership, and menshlichkeit. Your friendship is a great gift to us!
If you would like to join the Wolfson and Axel families in contributing to this wonderfully re-imagined space in our shul, you can click here to see our wish list for additional supplies and new toys, some of which are necessary to replace those that have broken or become worn over the many years of children loving on them.
Cleanliness and the operational integrity of toys are vitally important in a public play room so we ask that only new toys are donated. The toys on this list have been carefully selected by members of our staff who are well versed in child development so, rest assured that they are developmentally appropriate, a good value, and will be great fun for your children. If you see something on this list that you would rather purchase at a store, go for it! We would be most grateful! You are not obligated to purchase from Amazon, we are simply providing the wish list with the link to purchase as a convenience.
Rabbi Wallach invites everyone to please come visit our beautiful new Family Room in the Barnett Family Wing when we officially launch at Back-to-Shul Shabbat on Friday evening August 26th.
“Come hang out. Come play!” says Rabbi Wallach. “We can’t wait for you to visit our Family Room and make it your own!”