As part of our Ever-Widening Circle, KI has consciously chosen to face outwards, to grow, expand, and make partnerships.  We believe that by respecting others’ beliefs we can work together on what unites and strengthens us.  KI Next will help us to expand the strong and innovative programs that bring KI’s unique viewpoint to the Jewish community at large.

Another valued on-site partner is Sulam. Sulam provides Hebrew immersion and intensive Judaic study afterschool, and they have been a KI partner for four years. We asked them about their goals and how they fit into the long-term vision of KI.

Answers by Hadassah Margolis and Michael Goldstein.

1. What is Sulam?

Now in its fourth year, Sulam is a “day school after school” for families who send their kids to Brookline public schools and want Hebrew immersion and intensive Judaic education in Coolidge Corner up to four afternoons a week. In Sulam, kids learn as they have fun, dance, paint, sing, and explore. The student:teacher ratio is 1:5, so each child has individualized attention. Sulam is non-denominational and pluralistic.

2. What unmet need do you address?sulam500

We love that Sulam is in Brookline for our daughter Ada. When Hadassah went to day school as a kid, she spent 80 minutes in the car each day. Ada spends those 80 minutes playing and learning Judaic subjects in Hebrew, in her own neighborhood, with children who live nearby. Brookline also has one of the best public school systems around, so we know her education in math, science, and other secular subjects will be first-rate. There is something special about combining the broad culture of a public school with the intimacy of a smaller program like Sulam.

3. How is Sulam positioned compared to day school and afternoon school?

Students are American, Israeli, observant and non-observant. Sulam reinforces each child’s sense of Jewish identity based on his/her family’s beliefs, affiliations, commitments and practices. They’re all different, and that’s OK. Sulam is as diverse as the American Jewish community.  Also, from the moment the students begin Sulam to the moment they are picked up, the teachers speak to them in Hebrew. They use the model of saying something in Hebrew, translating it into English, and then saying it again in Hebrew.

In addition, Sulam is in our community. The families are all in walking distance of each other.  Finally, Sulam is priced to be highly competitive with that of local after school programs; 10 hours a week of intensive education costs just over $5,000 for the year.

4. What is the nature of the partnership with KI? Does it go beyond room rental? How has the relationship evolved?

We are delighted that we have built such a close partnership with KI. Our daughter is a 4th-generation KI member, and it is incredible that she gets to be at shul 5 days each week (Sulam and Shabbat). KI is a second home to her.

The relationship between KI and Sulam has flourished over the past year. Kids in the KIRS program and Sulam have joint programming twice a month, and they celebrate the major holidays together.  Also,Rabbi Hamilton has been a wonderful spiritual presence in the Sulam classroom.

5. What have the results been so far? What lessons have you learned along the way?

We have been amazed by how quickly the American children in Sulam have picked up the language—and how much they enjoy learning it. We have seen such leaps in our children’s ability to understand, speak, and write in Hebrew.

We have also been pleasantly surprised that our commitment to Judaic education, not just Hebrew immersion, has been embraced by our Israeli families.

Sulam’s presence doesn’t end at pick-up. Parents report that their children are excited about being Jewish, and they bring home what they learn.

6. What role do you play in bringing together Israeli and American Jews? Is that a template that can be applied more broadly?

In secular schools in Israel, students learn about and experience Jewish history, Jewish culture, and the Jewish calendar, but love of Torah and tefillah, not so much. It’s been said that many Israelis learn to be Jewish when they live in the United States. Sulam has become a safe space for Israeli families to explore with their kids the religious side of Jewish life.

7. What are your goals for the next few years? What strategies are you pursuing to build the program?

Sulam is committed to providing children with an exemplary Jewish elementary education on par with that of any day school. While there are many factors that impact the cost of day school, we expect that for many families Sulam will be a much less expensive option. Families can use the extra money they save on trips to Israel, Jewish summer camp, or for day school tuition in middle or high school.

As we expand from a K-3 school today to a school for older students, we are excited to see the confidence that will grow in our kids and the new opportunities that will open to them because they will be able to read, write, and speak a second language.

8. How do you see Sulam fitting in to the longer term vision for the synagogue?

Sulam is a great entry point for many American and Israeli families who are not affiliated with a synagogue to become a part of the greater KI community. As Sulam launches a new Hebrew immersion camp at KI at the end of August (that awkward time between camp and school!), we expect to hear lots of Hebrew from lots of kids who are new to KI.

9. Is there anything you would like to add?

In case you were wondering, “Sulam” means “ladder” in Hebrew. The word appears only once in the bible (Genesis 28:12) in reference to Jacob’s dream of angels ascending a stairway to heaven. “Sulam” comes from the root “solel,” meaning to lift up or lead.

For more information about Sulam’s school year program or August camp, please contact Lila, founding director of Sulam, at director@sulambrookline.org.