By Stacey Dresner
NORTHAMPTON – This summer dozens of young children and their families in the Upper Valley will visit the Abundance Farm in Northampton to celebrate Shabbat in a way that is pure summer fun.
Starting June 30, these families and their babies, toddlers and preschoolers will be attending Shabbat Shabloom!, a weekly summer program that offers welcoming, playful, farm-based experiences led by local musician Felicia Sloin and award-winning Lander-Grinspoon Academy kindergarten teacher Amy Meltzer.
This all takes place on Abundance Farm, a Jewish food justice farm adjacent to Congregation B’nai Israel (CBI), located at 253 Prospect St. The one-acre farm is a collaboration between CBI, the Northampton Survival Center and Lander-Grinspoon Academy, both next door to the synagogue.
The mission of Abundance Farm is to support local food security and to create a unique, outdoor learning environment – “all rooted in connection to the earth and social justice,” Meltzer explained. So, in addition to Shabbat Shabloom!’s song and movement, families tour the farm, pick their own Shabbat bouquets and sample what’s growing.
Shabbat Shabloom! came about last year when PJ Library approached Abundance Farm about applying for one of its Spark Grants, developed to “expand and deepen engagement opportunities for families raising Jewish children across North America.”
“They asked us to apply for funding for programs for young families,” said Meltzer, who also serves as director of Young Family Engagement for Abundance Farm.
Jacob Fine, director of Abundance Farm asked Meltzer if she could take it on and she happily agreed.
Meltzer said that the idea for Shabbat Shabloom! was borrowed heavily from Shababa, a family program of the 92nd Street Y, funded by the Covenant Foundation.
Meltzer, who in 2015 received the Covenant Award, given to top Jewish educators by the Covenant Foundation, met with Karina Zilberman, the creator of Sababa in January of 2016.
“When I won the Covenant award, I met with Karina, who created Shababa, this very joyful, playful approach to family engagement,” Meltzer recalled. “She invited me to come to their professional development summit, and I was invited to bring one person with me and that was Felicia Sloin. So Felicia and I went together and we left just thinking we really need to form something like this… I saw this as a great connection — bringing together what we had learned from Sababa with the farm. Then Felicia and I really developed the program together.”
Shabbat Shabloom! takes place every Friday morning during the summer at 10 a.m.
“We start with what we call ‘Joyful Music and Movement,’” Meltzer explained. “We sing, we jump around, sometimes there will be a story. But it is highly participatory for grownups and their young ones. It is not a concert or a sing-along. I would say it is like a spiritual experience – it is joyful, playful, spiritual. It has this kind of momentum of celebration and gratitude and these big ideas are primarily expressed through music.”
That’s where Felicia Sloin comes in.
A cantorial soloist and singer/songwriter, she also calls herself a Jewish “Entertain-ucator.”
“I love Shabbat Shabloom! because it’s a chance for me to have a Jewish ‘do-over’ — to create as an adult the kind of nurturing Jewish community and spirituality that I did not experience as a child,” Sloin said. “I love that this event brings together people of diverse Jewish (and non-Jewish) backgrounds. We sing, drum and dance together. For one sacred hour we turn off our phones and tune in to what we are grateful for — spending quality time with people we love. That’s one of the gifts of Shabbat.”
After 30-40 minutes of music, families enjoy some challah, which is baked by participating families, and then the children are invited to pick some flowers to take home for Shabbat.
During the first Shabbat Shabloom! on June 30, Meltzer said that the children will be planting flowers, another way for the program to educate children about contributing giving back to the earth.
There is always a hands-on farm project for the children to participate in if they want. Last summer, families often stayed after the activities were done and played on the LGA playground.
“It just became kind of a hangout afterwards, more informal,” Meltzer said. “Even on these 90-95 degree days, people still came and stuck around on the farm. And we saw a lot of people we never met before at Jewish events, that was really exciting for us.”
At the very first Shabbat Shabloom!, 20 families showed up. For the rest of the summer, the number of families enjoying the program on the farm ranged from 20 to 35.
One of those families was the Brocks of Northampton.
When Emily and Rebecca Brocks and their now three-year-old daughter Naomi moved from Montreal to Northampton last summer, they were looking for Jewish connections when they heard about Shabbat Shabloom!
“It was fantastic. Naomi is a big fan of Shabbat Shabloom!,” Emily said. “She loved the music. I loved the music.”
But more than that, Emily said that she appreciated that the program was a true Shabbat celebration.
“One of the things I found really neat was that it wasn’t just music with a Shabbat theme, but the program was structured like a Shabbat worship service,” Emily said. “The songs weren’t just cute Jewish songs; it was kids’ music that was truly Jewish prayer. It was meaningful on a level that was different from our experience at other classes…It felt familiar. As a grown-up, I felt like it was inclusive as opposed to just being fun for kids.”
It also allowed for the entire family to share in the joy of Shabbat that evening.
“With Naomi’s toddler attention span, that might have been the end of it — a wonderful activity to do on Fridays. At two my daughter wasn’t at a place where she could go back and talk about something that happened earlier that day,” Emily said. “But when my wife came home from work, the flowers were there on the Shabbat table. And that was sort of an entree into more discussion about what we had done that day and what Shabbat Shabloom! was about.”
Meltzer said that helping families make the connection between Torah, the earth and the “ethical dimension of the food we grow” can be an entry point into Jewish practice.
“We give it a Jewish language in the words we use at Shabbat Shabloom! and in the music we sing…to show that it is a Jewish value and a Jewish practice,” Meltzer explained. “Taking in the silence before we do the Shema or a moment to take in that cool breeze or the chirping birds and again to give it kind of a Jewish frame, I think helps other families think about what their next step might be. Or maybe not, maybe that is enough for them. It is a very comfortable and joyful first step into deepening somebody’s Jewish connection.”
Shabbat Shabloom! takes place every Friday at 10 a.m. from June 30- Aug. 18, except Aug. 4. There will also be a Shabbat dinner on the farm on Aug. 25. For more information about Shabbat Shabloom!, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.abundancefarm.org.
Shabbat Shabloom! is funded by a PJ Library Spark Engagement Grant from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.