Shearith Israel programs shine

Mitzvah Day a success at CSI with many activities
By Rachel Gross
Mitzvah Day at Congregation Shearith Israel proved to be a rip-roaring success. On Nov. 9, around 650 people volunteered their time to participate in 40 different mitzvah projects around the community. There were various projects for people from ages 2 to 9. Preschool kids baked cookies for firemen and got a tour of a fire station, older kids helped reshelve the synagogue library, adults donated blood during the blood drive, some built an art deck at Akiba Academy and others cleaned up parks. Other projects consisted of writing letters to Israel soldiers, visiting residents of the Veranda, putting together toiletry kits, mailing flyers for Dallas Kosher, assisting at the JFS food bank and knitting scarves for underprivileged kids in Israel.
That afternoon, about 400 people attended the Going Green Picnic and Fair at the synagogue.
Everyone enjoyed the beautiful weather and shared their experiences with one another. “We wanted to give everyone the opportunity to do a mitzvah,” said Mona Allen, Shearith Israel program director. “Whenever we do projects like this, we want people to know that there are many ways to do it. The best part is that people got to realize this isn’t a one-day deal and there will be continuation projects. It really was a celebratory day.” Mitzvah Day was so successful that people are already asking what they can do next. Mitzvah goreret mitzvah — it turns out one mitzvah really does lead to another.

Truck Time

More than 1,600 kids of all ages gathered last weekend for CSI’s fifth annual Truck Time. A highlight this year was the Mavericks fan van and the Dallas Stars Street team. Everyone enjoyed free popsicles, courtesy of Stevens Transport, and kept nice and cold in their refrigerated state-of-the-art trailer. The sixth annual Truck Time is already being planned for November 2009.

Shabbat is being revitalized at Shearith Israel. Synaplex is back in action and is ready to provide a truly unique Shabbat experience for all that attend.

Synaplex is a community-building initiative designed to provide people with new reasons to make the synagogue the place to be on Shabbat. It enables people to celebrate Shabbat the way they want to. It is an innovative way to enrich Jewish life and strengthen community through prayer, study, social and cultural programs all taking place in the synagogue.

This is the third year Shearith Israel is featuring Synaplex, which occurs either on Friday night or Saturday morning. The first year featured nine different sessions and attracted 600 people. The first one for 2008–2009 is planned for Dec. 5 at 8:30 p.m. following services. All sessions are free and open to all. The congregation will also host both a family dinner and a congregational dinner.

Mona Allen, Shearith Israel program director, said this is a way to make people feel welcomed at synagogue.

“We want people to realize that synagogue is not just a place of worship, but also a place to feel comfortable,” she said. “Being there can be about prayer, learning and incorporating the social aspect — that is really the Synaplex concept.”

Synaplex sessions feature activities for everyone to enjoy. In the past, some have included a yoga class, a bike ride, a Torah run, games for kids, speeches by local artists and authors and a nature walk.

The Dec. 5 sessions will include children’s games hosted by Shearith teenagers, author Joel Roffman will speak about how Jewish tradition deals with emotional and spiritual needs, Michelle Krieg from Jewish Family Service will lead an interactive discussion and Rabbi David Glickman and Cantor Itzhak Zhrebker will show people how to experience songs and joy to enhance their Shabbat experience.

The most important aspect of Synaplex is Kiddush, where everyone can come together and discuss what they did with one another. Allen added that Synaplex is a great way to teach people about all different aspects of Judaism and attract those who do not enjoy going to services.

“Synaplex is not the end product, but it gets you going in another direction,” she said. “It’s a really interesting Shabbat experience. It allows people to see Shabbat on their own level.”

After Dec. 5, the next two Synaplex Shabbats are planned for Jan. 10 at Douglas and Jan. 24 at Beit Aryeh. There, people will be able to participate in a Torah run, an educator will speak about how to teach sign language to children and the owner of an energy company will teach everybody how to go green.

Rabbi William Gershon said he likes that this has the unique ability to reach out to different types of people who have different interests in spirituality. It puts a spin on the typical Shabbat service and takes it to a new level.

“Synaplex creates a tremendous energy in the synagogue,” he said. “Services are important, but it’s not just about services. This is a model that goes beyond that. That’s why Synaplex is so powerful. It’s not just a straitjacket mold that people are in … it creates points of entry.”

And Rabbi Glickman agrees. During last year’s Synaplex session at Beit Aryeh, services started at 9 on a Saturday morning and ended at 11 a.m. instead of noon so everyone could attend a session. Afterward, everyone got together for the Kiddush lunch and continued their Shabbat celebration.

Glickman said praying in a synagogue usually takes up less than one-sixth of the typical 25-hour Shabbat. The rest of the time is spent with friends or family, enjoying a meal together, playing outside or studying Torah.

“What Synaplex does is introduces families who are not yet Shabbat-observant to the other ways of celebrating Shabbat in addition to praying in synagogue,” he said. “Synaplex enriches the Shabbat experience, and brings together many more Jews of many more ages to celebrate together.”

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