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Teens teach Jewish education, culture at temples in Marblehead, Swampscott

Journal Correspondent

Jenna Bailen cuts challah for a Shabbat service at Shirat Hayam.

MAY 24, 2018 – Temple Emanu-El in Marble­head and Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott are employing teenagers as madrichim to teach the traditions of Jewish faith to the youngest generation.

Each student is assigned a job based on their interests. Some help with setup and office work; others will teach about upcoming holidays, traditional songs and arts and crafts projects for the students.

At Temple Emanu-El, where the program has flourished for over 20 years, Liz Levin was formerly the director for 33 madrachim from Beverly, Danvers, Marblehead, Nahant, Salem, and Swampscott.

Twins Lucy and Aiden New, both 14, are now completing their first year, teaching at the same temple where they learned the history of their faith. They teach Hebrew and Jewish culture to preschool to sixth grade students.

“It’s a good experience, now that we’re out of Hebrew school, to still be connected to the community.” Lucy said. “I definitely want to raise my family Jewish, and have a strong membership in the temple.”

Aiden agreed. “I want to raise my kids, down the line, to be Jewish. I want them to have a program like this and do something like I did.”

A Wednesday Hebrew class at Temple Emanu-El.

Debbie Reiselman, who has been a Jewish educator on the North Shore for over 25 years, is now the third-grade teacher at Temple Emanu-El. “As kids age, they still want to be connected, she said. “The madrachim I have, some of them serve as role models, and my third graders say they want to do that when they get older.”

Nearby at Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott, the walls outside the Jewish Education Center are covered in artwork from students about the days of creation. The madrachim program has been run by Janis Knight for two years. She teaches the religious and cultural aspects of being Jewish, passing down traditions to her students.

“Helping kids connect to their heritage is really important to me,” she said. “And it’s fun! We have the best time. I find being Jewish really fun and interesting, so that’s what I do with the kids.”

Jenna Bailen, 14, goes to Danvers High and has been attending Shirat Hayam since third grade. She has been working as a mentor for the last two years. Bailen helps around the classroom wherever needed, and enjoys being a part of the education program.

“I meet new people, a new kid each year,” she said.

Ben Birnbach, 18, is a madrich at Shirat Hayam and a senior at Marblehead High. He did not attend Shirat Hayam, but came to the temple because being a volunteer offered him a chance to use his Hebrew skills and Jewish education in a working environment.

Birnbach will attend Union College in in Schenectady, N.Y. next fall. “I have a lot of fun memories of teaching the kids,” he said. “It’s really fun to see them start to understand it.”

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