Category Archives: Religious School

4 Steps for Talking to Kids About the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting (from Kveller)

For our MCJC Religious School Parents from Kveller

By Sivan Zakai

As a mother of three children in elementary school, I want to make my home into a fortress of safety. I dream of barricading the doors, shuttering the windows, and cuddling beneath the blankets, my arms tightly wrapped around my kids. I’d like to shield them from all harm — including the pain of being an American Jew at the time of the deadliest attack on Jews in the history of this country.

But as a scholar who studies how American Jewish children understand and process the world around them, I know that’s not the right approach. In fact, when tragedy strikes is exactly the time when children most need loving adults to help them make sense of the senseless. After years of studying other people’s children, and practicing with my own children, here are four tips for speaking with your kids about the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

1. Acknowledge the tragic reality

Many parents worry that talking to their kids about the rising tide of anti-Semitism or the specter of gun violence will shatter the beautiful innocence of childhood. Yet educational scholars have shown that learning about difficult current events only enhances children’s ability to cope with the world.

Especially as our kids are growing up in an age of easily accessible information, they are adept at stumbling upon or searching for the latest news. If your children are in elementary school, at any grade level, chances are very high they already have a sense that a terrible tragedy has befallen our community and our country, or that they’ll soon hear about it from other children or by overhearing adults.

My own kids’ experience provides an example of why parents need to be prepared to speak with their children. My eldest, age 11, came home from spending Saturday at a friend’s house already knowing many disturbing details about the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, including the death toll. My 8-year-old, by contrast, had been home all day and hadn’t seen or heard the news. But he did have exposure to the shaken adults in our family, and by the afternoon, he turned to me and asked, “When are you going to tell me what’s going on?” Kids are savvy, and they are perceptive. Even when they don’t rely on adults to tell them what has happened, they do count on us to help them understand the troubling world in which we all live.

2. Respond to your child’s needs

Kids of different ages need different framing. Children as young as kindergarten know when the adults in their lives are upset or worried about current events; they rely on those adults to model how to talk about sad and difficult things.

By second grade, most children begin to piece together discrete bits of information from a variety of sources in their lives. Each overheard conversation or online excursion becomes a chance for them to find another piece of the puzzle they are trying to construct. Second and third graders desperately want to understand what’s happening in the world, and they need adults to help them see the bigger picture.

By fourth grade, many children are able to see current events, even tragic ones, as part of a larger political and historical framework. They, too, need adult guidance to understand the world around them, though they’re often more focused on the why than on understanding the whowhat, and how of events like younger children.

Kindergarteners and first graders may be like the Passover child who doesn’t know to ask. To them, offer a basic frame, keeping in mind that if you don’t provide a narrative it is likely another child will. You may say something like, “it is a sad time for the Jewish people and the United States of America because many people were killed while attending synagogue.”

Second and third graders are likely to want to know specific information about what happened in Pittsburgh. Answer their questions as straightforwardly as possible, being conscious to offer only the details they request.

Children fourth grade and up will likely be searching for an answer to the question, why? An age-appropriate response is to remind children that there are no good reasons to commit murder, even you explain the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter’s anti-Semitic and anti-immigrantmotivation.

3. Assure kids of their immediate safety, without making promises you can’t keep

As a mother, I want to be able to promise my children that I will be able to keep them safe, always and everywhere. But I know that’s a pledge beyond any parent’s control, and in the age of school lockdown drills, young children know it, too. Even so, children need to feel safe, and they often need reminders of the safety precautions that are already in place (or soon to be implemented) in order to protect them.

With my own children, I revisited the safety protocol at our synagogue, explaining why there are armed guards and regular emergency drills. I reminded them of a beloved and well-qualified community leader who chairs the safety committee, and the children themselves generated a list of other people whom they trust who are working to make the synagogues, schools, and other places they frequent as safe and secure as possible.

4. Keep talking

An initial conversation is necessary, but that’s just the beginning. In order for kids to process terrifying events, they need to know that they can talk with their trusted adults on an ongoing basis. Circle back to your children, asking them, “How are you feeling?” The goal is to leave them the choice of whether to pivot to another topic or revisit your earlier conversation.

When I did this with my own children, each had a response that exemplified his own personality and developmental stage. My 5-year-old hugged me tightly and said simply, “I’m sad and I’m OK.” My 8-year-old — always the biggest worrier in our house — admitted that he was concerned, but he’d realized that he was no more worried than any other day in a country persistently threatened with gun violence. My preteen had no desire to reopen the conversation at all, and he didn’t need to.

No parent wants to engage children in conversations about violence, hatred, and profound grief. Yet sometimes doing just that is what children most need to feel safe in a broken world. Unfortunately, this shattering week is one of those times. So, hold your children close — and keep talking.

Religious School News: School Happenings

November/December 2018 – Cheshvan/Kislev/Tevet
Volume 5779

By Davina Kelly

Our Religious School is officially in session and off to a busy start. On Opening Day, we welcomed back our families and faculty and met some new ones. The morning was filled with learning what’s new with our school, visiting with friends, meeting new members, a little class time, and lots of food. A special thanks to the Faculty, Membership Committee, and Maintenance Committee for providing a delicious lunch.

In September, we learned about Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, with many of our students attending the children services at MCJC. Then we had fun celebrating Sukkot by making decorations for the Sukkah, shaking a Lulav and Etrog, and eating pizza. Next,
we celebrated Simchat Torah. Students were able to take a close look at our Torahs, hear readings from the beginning and end of the Torah, sing, and dance. We ended the month with many of our families participating in the McHenry County Crop Walk.

Students dance with the Torahs during Simchat Torah.

Hebrew learning is well under way as well. Grades 2-7 are using new materials this year with an online component. All students are enjoying practicing their Hebrew reading with some new games. Also, grades 4-7 are busy learning with Rabbi Tom during B’nai Mitzvah time.

We are looking forward to the rest of the year. There will be much more learning and fun to come.

MCJC Participates in the 2018 McHenry County Drop Hunger Walk

MCJC joined 12 local churches and participated in the 2018 McHenry County Crop Hunger Walk on Sunday, September 30. A total of $20,794 was raised by this year’s Walk participants. A quarter of the money raised from the Walk will benefit local food pantries, and the rest will go toward hunger prevention programs, clean water, and provide emergency relief world wide.

MCJC participants in the 2018 McHenry County Crop Hunger Walk included: Davina, Jim, Sienna, and Andrew Kelly; Dara Turnball, and Brandon and Eli Pacyna; Jonah, London, and Asher Markowitz; Carrie, Jason, and Briella Bernstein; Kelly, Robb, Ryleigh, and Brooklyn Tadelman; Paula Eskoz; and Bruce Weiss.

MCJC’s involvement in the 2018 McHenry County Crop Hunger Walk demonstrated once again that MCJC is a caring synagogue, and its members feel it is important to do good deeds for the community in which it is located.

Religious School Families Join with CKI Elgin in Special Project

Create blessings for our homeless neighbors.

On Sunday, October 21, from 10-12, MCJC Religious School will meet offsite at CKI in Elgin for a special Fox Valley Synagogue Event.

We will make Blessing Bags for the homeless in our communities.  Families can join in by donating items.  Please check out this Blessing Bags Flyer for more information and to RSVP/sign up to donate items.

MCJC Open House A Great Success!

On Sunday, August 26, the MCJC Membership Committee hosted an Open House in conjunction with the Opening Day of School. The day was an opportunity for MCJC to welcome the wider community to meet our teaching staff, board, members and Rabbi Tom and see our MCJC family in action.

All of our guests were treated to a delightful veggie lunch provided by members along with kosher hot dogs grilled up by our very own MCJC Specialty Kitchen Crew.

Everyone had a chance to visit and get to know each other. Here are just a few of the comments we overheard:

  • “…very welcoming community, down to earth people,,,”
  • “Love that it was more than hot dogs…”
  • “Great energy…”

We were pleased to give out two gift bags with two more good to go . . . and happy to welcome back a former member.

Linda Blatchford, Membership Committee Chair, says “Many thanks to the membership committee, teachers, and members for making the Open House a success and for bringing so much food and warmth to the event.”

And MCJC thanks Linda and the Membership Committee for all the energy they bring to developing a membership program at MCJC. The great feeling of the day broadcast to the world (or at least to our local community) what a special place MCJC is.

For more about our MCJC Open House and pictures, check out the article in the Northwest Herald.

MCJC School Schedule 2018-2019


Sunday Wednesday
26: Opening Day 29: School


Sunday Wednesday
2: No School 5: School
9: No School 12: School
16: School 19: No School
23: School 26: Pizza in the Hut
30: School Simchat Torah


Sunday Wednesday
3: School
7: No school 12: School
14: School 17: School
21: Family Event Offsite 24: School
28: School 31: No School


Sunday Wednesday
4: School (Daylight Savings Ends) 7: School
11: School 14: School
18: No School Teacher Inservice 21: No School Thanksgiving Break
25: No School Thanksgiving Break 28: School


Sunday Wednesday
2: School: Hannukah Party 5: School
9: School 12: School
16: School 19: School
23: No School Winter Break 26: No School Winter Break
30: No School Winter Break


Sunday Wednesday
2: No School Winter Break
6: No School Winter Break/Teacher Inservice 9: School
13: School 16: School
20: School 23: School
27: School 30: School


Sunday Wednesday
3: School 6:School
10: School 13: School
17: School 20: School
24: School 27: School


Sunday Wednesday
3: School 6: School
10: School (Daylight Savings) 13: School
17: School Purim Carnival 20: School
24: No School Spring Break 27: No School Spring Break
31: No School Spring Break


Sunday Wednesday
3: School
7: School 10: School
14: School 17: School
21: No School 24: School
28: School


Sunday Wednesday
1: School
5: School Israel Day Celebration 8: School
12: No School Mother’s Day 15: School
19: School Closing Day

Religious School News: Endings and Beginnings

Religious school concluded in early May with teacher recaps from the year, speeches, and thank you comments from Rob Perbohner to Brian Horn and Zach for ALL THEY DO (Zach moved to Tennessee). Paula Eskoz was also recognized because she will not be returning on Sundays in the fall but will remain as a teacher on Wednesday afternoons. A thank you was made to our aides, Sienna and Kayla, who helped us out so much.

This was followed by a rousing game of JEWpardy led by Paula and Davina. We matched adults against the children, and though it was a very tight and exciting game, the kids pulled out the win! Fun was had by all.

Hopefully everybody is enjoying their summer break so far . . . having fun and staying safe. Calendars will be announced, but school will resume in late August this year.

We will have some staff changes this fall as follows:

  • Sundays: K-1: TBA
  • 2-3: Davina Kelly
  • 4-7: Dara Turnball and Rita Janowitz (Judaica)
  • 2-7: Paula Eskoz (Hebrew, Wednesdays)
  • 4-7: Rabbi Tom (Hebrew B’nai Mitzvah Club)
  • Computer Lab: Rachel Bailenson

Wednesdays will see changes as well. All grades will be together in the sanctuary with different Hebrew stations: Rabbi’s B’nai Mitzvah Hebrew, Computer Lab, Hebrew games, and ESPECIALLY individual Hebrew reading with the students at their own levels. Our intent is to “beef up” our Hebrew program this year.

Finally, new school-wide curriculum is being decided upon and purchased this summer as teachers continue to have meetings. We will use a program which will have consistency, building upon Hebrew reading skills and prayers throughout the grades. This also will have an online component, and can be used at home as well for reinforcement and enrichment.

Religious School Closing Day May 6 — Line Up of Festivities

Our incomparable MCJC Maintenance Men on another occasion. Always the best!

9:15 am: Join Rabbi Tom and the teachers in Havdalah, singing, and a brief review of the year

10:00 am: Participate in our first ever Adults vs. Kids Jewpardy game

10:30 am: Parents attend the congregation’s Annual Meeting and board elections while our Kids play Gaga Ball (adult supervision has been arranged)

11:15 am: Enjoy a hot dog lunch brought to you by our one and only MCJC Maintenance Men

Indulge with a shaved ice treat! The Tropical Chill truck will be here!

Hope to see you all there!