Shabbat Centered Model: Shabbat School Experience


Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore (RSNS) Plandome, NY


RSNS - Shabbat School

Model Summary:

The Shabbat School Experience is an opt-in alternative family learning model for students in 1st-6th grades and their families. Students come together twice a month, once on a Friday evening, and once on a Saturday morning to explore Torah through a number of different lenses including technology, art, drama, teva (nature), and pop culture. Parents are asked to participate once a month on Saturday mornings. Students also attend Tuesday afternoon for Hebrew instruction and school community programs including Tefilla Breira (electives) in groups with the Tuesday/Thursday students.


Remote video URL

Who are the Learners?

  • Learners are 1st-6th grade students and their families.

  • The ideal size of a cohort is less than 10 students per teacher/facilitator.

  • On Friday nights, learners are part of multi-age cohorts.

Who are the Educators/Learning Facilitators?

  • Teachers are called Morah plus first name.

  • They are often synagogue members; some also teach in the pre-school and in the religious school during the week.

When Does the Learning Happen?

  • For students, learning happens on one Friday night and one Saturday morning per month.

  • For parents, it happens one Saturday a month.

Where Does the Learning Happen?

Learning happens in and around the synagogue building.

What is the Learning? How is it Designed?

  • Students come around 5:30 pm and eat a communal dinner on Friday evening, engage in music-infused rituals, delve into ‘Torah through the Lens’, and then come back together and present their learning. Later, at 7:30 pm, families come to RSNS and join their children for the service. On Saturday morning children come and they have a worship experience with their families and then they go to classes by grade. Once a month on Shabbat morning, the parents learn with the clergy.

  • Learning is based on the weekly parashah (Torah portion) through the lenses of technology, art, drama, teva (nature), and pop culture.

  • On Friday night there is ‘Torah through the Lens of’ in multi-age cohorts where the teachers facilitate Torah learning through a lens that both they and their students have chosen.

  • Teachers design the learning according to a lens that they (the educator) have chosen because it is particularly compelling to them or in which they have some talent and expertise.

  • The students also get the opportunity to choose a lens through which they will engage in Torah study.

  • Students get to choose a new lens 4 times a year.

  • At the end of each session, the whole group comes together and this is an opportunity for each “lens group” to present their experience as a reflection.

What Were You Trying to Achieve with this Model?

Students are given the opportunity to experience religious school through a variety of mediums and modalities that are specifically Shabbat centered. There is also a big emphasis on community as students have dinner together and engage in music-infused rituals.

Key First Steps and Recruitment Plan:

  • Recruitment and successes are shared through word of mouth. Every religious school family learns about the possibility of joining the Shabbat School.

  • There are also videos that are shared widely with the congregation and the website also is a potent advertising tool.

Role of Governance and Clergy:

Rabbis and cantor are involved in all aspects of the model as they are teachers/facilitators fully integrated into this structure. The clergy lead the music and services and support all aspects of these experiences.


The budget was $14,000 for the school and $9,000 for personnel (staff salaries).

Hiring Needs:

Ideal educators are synagogue members who are familiar with the community and who are also creative and open-minded. They are collaborative team-members who enjoy working with both children and adults.

Relationship of Model to Congregational Learning System:

It is an equal option alternative to the traditional Hebrew school.

How Do You Describe Your Congregation?

Reconstructionist: 300 family units, 3 clergies, 20 educators; Educational Vision: RSNS is a warm, vibrant, egalitarian, and caring Jewish community dedicated to improving our world through our commitment to ritual, spiritual growth, celebrations, social action, charity, and ongoing learning.

Supplementary Materials Include:



  • After School and Beyond
  • Congregational Learning
  • Family Engagement
  • Educator Training