The Annex Shul is pleased to propose the Uri (Awaken) Initiative, a holistic family education journey that empowers parents to move their families along an educational path at home and within the community. The Annex Shul nurtures an entrepreneurial and hands-on approach in which young Jews take an active role in shaping and creating their Jewish experience and community.
Following the momentum of the existing Annex Shul Family Programming- for young professionals with young families- the Shul Leadership Team is committed to developing the Uri Initiative which is modeled off of the Yerusha Initiative founded in Princeton, NJ. The program encompasses the 3 pillars of
1. Child focused learning,
2. Adult (parent) learning and
3. Community engagement.
The program itself embraces an integrated approach to learning with modules that have elements for parents and children to learn together and separately, and implement experientially into their home. Families graduate from one module to the next by meeting specific experiential learning objectives and implementation requirements. There is also a communal aspect wherein involved families meet on a regular basis to celebrate Shabbat and holidays in a meaningful way, engage in dynamic learning experiences, sing, explore and to pay tribute to one another’s’ accomplishments. Unlike other educational models, this honours the pace and readiness of the individual children and their family units and empowers the parents to move their family along the Jewish Journey.
Since High Holidays 2010 over 80 young families have found community at the Annex Shul. Most of these families do not have regular affiliation with any other synagogue and do not have plans for formal day-school Jewish education for their children.
The Uri Initiative will address the need for these young children to receive Jewish education in an informal environment that honours the learning of the child, the parent and the family unit, while simultaneously maintaining a sense of community. Most of the children currently involved in the Shul were born in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and many of the families are now growing with second and third children on the way. These children will form one or two cohorts in their young years, essentially becoming part of the family community with their parents, but also forming their own community. As these children grow they will become independently involved with the Annex Shul.
Our target population is the young professional family with young children, unengaged with typical Shul life and Jewish education, inspired by the uniqueness and niche of the Annex Shul.
For those children attending Jewish day school or supplementary school, this program will act as a bridge between the formal education received and the family practices at home and offer experiential Jewish learning for the whole family. This initiative will not replace formal Jewish education and we hope that it will spark interest for participating families to take advantage of the plethora of programming and opportunities for Jewish growth already present in Toronto, including summer camps and schools.
The overarching goal of the Uri Initiative is to engage Annex Shul families in a complete and holistic Family Education program – reaching the children and parents while creating a learning community amongst families.
1. Influencing and affecting change at the level of children, many of whom will be receiving their basic Jewish education through this initiative,
2. Creating an environment in which parents are able to grapple and explore their own connections to Judaism, so that they can make deliberate and informed Jewish decisions for their families,
3. Positively affecting the family unit as a whole that experiences and implements Judaism into their day-to-day life and in their home,
4. Creating a community network of young families,
5. And sustaining the Annex Shul with a base of empowered young families.
1. Ownership over ones own Jewish learning and that of their children
2. Experiential learning and implementing learnings into the home
3. The value and benefits of community engagement
4. The power of informal Jewish education as demonstrated by the success of Jewish camping
Strategies for Reaching Goals:
1. Creating an interactive and thorough website with all the materials needed for parents and children to learn together at home
2. Modular set-up in which parents and children will implement and experience various prerequisites to move onto the next stage of learning
3. Families come together once every 6 weeks to learn using a “together, apart, together” model that is common in various educational models of family education
4. Families continue to participate in the monthly Family Programming at the Annex Shul including Shabbat Services and Holiday celebrations
5. Collaborating with existing Jewish education websites, or those being developed in other cities, such as the “LaunchBox,” (the winner of the Next Big Jewish Idea in Los Angeles).
1. In Cohort I we intend to attract 10-15 families representing approximately 45-60 people and double in the second year
2. During the regular Annex Shul Family Programming –such as Shabbat and Holiday Celebrations- we expect the 10-15 families to participate as well as up to an additional 70 who are not involved in the formal Uri program.
3. We expect each family of Cohort I to recruit and bring on board 1 new family for Cohort II.
4. We expect all families who join Uri to also become members of the Annex Shul, potentially increasing the number of members by 10-15 families per year.
5. We anticipate that parents involved in the Uri will also become interested in attending other Annex Shul programming geared for adults. We would like to see each parent attend 2-4 additional Annex Shul events per year (ranging from High Holidays to Holiday parties, weekly learning groups to volunteer and leadership opportunities).
Additional Qualitative Measurements:
1. Young families will remain inspired and engaged and continue the journey over the years.
2. As the children grow, the Uri Initiative continues to meet the needs of the changing family
3. As more of the young professionals making up the Annex Shul community marry and have children the Uri Initiative is considered a viable and positive possibility for the Jewish education of their children.
Many of the individuals who sit on the Six Points granting committee are parents of young families, and for those who are we invite you to join Annex’s Shuls new initiative for learning, engagement and community development. For those who are considering starting a family over the next few years we hope you will look to the Annex Shul for family Jewish engagement as you make decisions in the future.
Specifically we could benefit from your support with:
Web site & technology services
Business development, analysis & marketing
Teaching & education
September 2011 –September 2012- The Shul will continue to provide resources to young families, which will include Shabbat and Holiday celebrations while experimenting with a few of the new ideas.
May- August 2012- Research, Content and Community Engagement
September 2012- January 2013- First half of program, Cohort I,
January 2013- Review and evaluation
February-June 2013- Second Half of Program, Cohort I
April- June 2013- Marketing and Recruitment of Cohort II
September- December 2013- First Half of Program, Cohort I & Cohort II,
January 2013 - At this stage the role of the Educator Consultant will change from research and piloting to sustaining and evaluating the program,
Annex Shul believes that with 2 committed and engaged cohorts the program will be largely sustained through registration and participation fees. Annex Shul will continue to look for donors and other grants to help offset the cost of the education consultant fees. At this point Six Point JVPF will be able to exit with confidence that the Uri Initiative will continue to succeed.
Annex Shul is governed by an Advisory Board and a Leadership team composed of young professionals with skills ranging from early childhood education to strategic planning. The Advisory Board acts as a sounding board and resource to the Leadership Team, chaired by an individual with expertise in leadership development, strategic planning and training.
The Uri Initiative will be supervised by the Spiritual Leader in collaboration with the Annex Shul Board Chair and the Family Education Chair. The Annex Shul recognizes the large undertaking of researching, creating, implementing and maintaining such a focused and niche program and therefore will be hiring an educational consultant.
Amy Platt, the Family Education chair, has been a Jewish Educator for more than a decade and is currently the Primary Vice Principal at Bialik Hebrew Day School. She received her MA in Child Study and Education from OISE in 2001. She went on to earn a PhD in Human Development and Applied Psychology from OISE in 2010.
Amy has been involved in formal Jewish Education at both Jewish Day Schools and Supplementary Schools. She has taught children from Kindergarten through Grade 10 in a multitude of areas over the past 10 years.
She is also involved with UJA Federations Young Women’s Philanthropy and is currently the chair of canvasser training for the 2012 annual campaign
Yacov Fruchter is the Spiritual Leader of the Annex Shul and since 2005 has worked in the field of informal Jewish education and has developed and facilitated modules for Jewish growth in university campuses and helped grow the infrastructure to offer them meaningful Jewish experiences. At the Annex Shul, Yacov facilitates Jewish learning through classes that encourage discussion and critical thinking. He specializes in helping people take their next steps in their customized Jewish journeys and in giving people the tools to own their Jewish experience. Yacov also leads services that are uplifting and accessible and loves teaching others to do the same.
Financial assistance from Six Points will provide the necessary seed money for the research, content generation and material development needed in the research and pilot stage of this initiative. After the first two years the registration and participation fees of the families involved should sustain most of the program. The model and materials developed will also be shared with other North American communities interested in implementing this model, which will allow for cost sharing.
Scalable and Replicable
As the Toronto Jewish community continues to expand, there will be opportunities to collaborate with growing networks of Jewish families in the York region and other parts of Toronto and can easily be made accessible to Hebrew and Russian speaking families. There is also an opportunity to collaborate with organizations throughout Jewish Toronto such as the PJ Library.
In the pilot phase a limited number of families will be engaged as the first cohort of the program. Thus the program has the potential for growth in the number of families who become a part of the learning community. So too, as it stands now, the children involved are all under 10, with the majority around the age of 2/3, as the programs progresses more emphasis will need to be placed on educational resources and materials for older children, changing the learning dynamic. The Annex Shul will also play a role in training other communities in using the materials and creating the structure for success.
The Uri Initiative is both new and innovative. There is currently no other Jewish educational model in Toronto which places the home-based experiential learning at the same level as that of the communal learning, and as such empowers and challenges the parents in the process. The Uri Initiative is a new model for holistic family education, putting equal attention and resources towards the 3-pillars of child-focused learning, adult (parent) learning and community engagement. This model focuses on increasing knowledge, connection to Jewish community and behaviour.