The result of a casual conversation in the parking lot of Congregation Rinat Yisrael 33 years ago, the Jewish Youth Encounter Program (JYEP) remains a vibrant component of the Bergen County Jewish community. It was founded by Carl, z”l, and Sylvia Freyer and Anita Warburg, z”l, and Director Debby Rapps is proud to announce the addition of a “shul class” to JYEP’s Sunday morning offerings. This new class will provide the three components offered to the existing classes—Tanach, chagim and minhagim, as well as individualized Hebrew reading and language, to a new student population—children from observant homes who are currently enrolled in public schools. Through these Sunday classes, this student population and their families will connect with other children in similar situations from throughout the wider community while adding Judaic studies to their academic instruction. Students will also benefit from the one-on-one tutoring and mentoring by yeshiva high school students, adding a vital and meaningful dimension to the JYEP program. The yeshiva high schoolers who participate in JYEP’s Sunday program serve as big brothers and sisters to the students, mentoring and tutoring them and providing them with positive Jewish role models.
Rapps shared, “I have been blessed all these years to be able to pursue a mission on behalf of the Jewish community that is both personally and professionally rewarding. My goal, shared with the generous financial backers of the program, is to hopefully imbue a positivity toward Judaism and their cultural heritage within the children who come through our doors. Our prayer is that this positivity remains with them as they go on to high school and college, as they choose mates and raise families and as they set up roots in communities. Looking back over more than three decades, with several of the graduates and big brothers and sisters who have maintained a strong bond with the school, we can truly say that we are succeeding in our mission.”
Currently housed in TABC, the Sunday morning program consists of five classes of seven to 12 students in grades three through seven. Classes are taught by experienced Judaic studies and special education instructors who are trained by Rapps in a methodology she has developed based upon her own academic background, which includes a master’s in educational psychology from Columbia University and an EdD in educational administration from Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School of Education. Rapps also attended the Graduate Program in Advanced Talmudic Studies of Yeshiva University (GPATS). The JYEP program ushers the students into their bar and bat mitzvah years with a solid base in Hebrew reading, language and Biblical texts, allowing them to celebrate with knowledge and confidence.
In addition to the formal weekly classes, JYEP arranges for its students and their families to participate in Jewish community events that will promote their mission.The mothers of the students are invited to participate in Jewish Journeys, a program under the aegis of Aish that arranges for a meaningful Birthright-like trip to Israel, highlighting key locations accompanied by inspirational lectures and classes with dynamic Jewish scholars.
Rapps offered, “The hope is that these trips, which are geared for young mothers whose children are still under their roofs, will spark feelings of connectivity to Jewish life and legacy which will filter down to their children.”
JYEP sponsors family holiday gatherings for Sukkot, Chanukah, Tu B’Shvat, Purim and Pesach, in addition to monthly mitzvah days. Shabbatonim, such as the one coming up on December 6-7 at Rinat, invite the JYEP families to join their children for Friday night services and meals. The families also participated in the Shabbat Project where they were hosted at the homes of community families, often of the big brothers and sisters who participate in the program. Families from Teaneck, Fair Lawn and Tenafly joined families from Westwood, Cresskill, Montvale, Elmwood and Saddle River in experiencing a warm and inspiring Shabbat.
Rapps invites the community to join forces in this longstanding project by identifying families in the Bergen County community who would benefit from the opportunities offered through JYEP. She invites yeshiva high school students to become big brothers and sisters for the gratification as well as the remuneration provided. To learn more about opportunities to volunteer, host or participate in programs, contact [email protected].
By Pearl Markovitz