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Program Nurturing Jewish Identity Expands Throughout Brooklyn

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By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor – Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Keshet, a successful and well-known educational community afterschool program for Israelis in Brooklyn, is expanding with the support of the Israeli-American Council (IAC) and will be renamed IAC-Keshet Programs.

IAC-Keshet is an afterschool Hebrew dual language program for both Hebrew- and non-Hebrew-speaking children, ages 3 and up. In addition to Hebrew-language education, IAC-Keshet also explores different aspects of Jewish and Israeli identity, helping students make a strong connection to Israel. The Hebrew word Keshet means “rainbow.”

With the change, IAC-Keshet Programs will be moving from Congregation Beth Elohim, a Reform congregation in Park Slope, to Kings Bay Y at Windsor Terrace, a JCC with multiple locations in Brooklyn. The program is expanding in order to reach out to the broader Israeli and Jewish communities in Brooklyn and beyond.

This new development reflects a growing trend in which Israeli-American programs are expanding, while engaging the broader Jewish community under the IAC’s leadership.
Yehudit Feinstein-Mentesh, the newly appointed IAC New York regional director and the founder of Keshet, told the Brooklyn

Eagle during a presentation at the Kings Bay Y that she and a group of Israeli parents started gathering several years ago to create a space for sharing cultural identity.

“We gave a welcome to the group Israelis in Brooklyn — a warm, vibrant and diverse community in Brooklyn and throughout the New York area,” she said. “Israelis in Brooklyn brings together Israelis and native-born Americans into a community of shared cultural identity.”

According to the Israeli American Council-Israelis in Brooklyn website, Feinstein-Mentesh founded the group in 2010. Israelis in Brooklyn quickly became a meeting place for those searching for Jewish culture and identity through an Israeli lens and Hebrew medium.

Feinstein-Mentesh said that Israelis in Brooklyn started with 25 families.
“In the second year, we had more Americans, learning about Hebrew and Israeli culture. We have grown to more than 100 families by last year,” she said. “Then we received a lot of phone calls from persons in other communities who wanted to have the same programs.”

The collaboration has expanded into locations in Williamsburg and to Congregation Mount Sinai in Brooklyn Heights.
IAC-Keshet has the support of Senior Rabbi Andy Bachman of Congregation Beth Elohim; Rabbi Laurie Phillips, who will be teaching a bar/bat mitzvah track to the older kids; and Rabbi Seth Wax of Congregation Mount Sinai.

“We are so excited to partner with Seth,” Yehudit said. “He opened the door for us.”

Rabbi Wax also told the Brooklyn Eagle that he and his synagogue began to partner with Kings Bay through a music program at the Brooklyn Heights Library branch (Brooklyn Public Library), about twice a month.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work with the Kings Bay Y this year,” he said. “And I think they were looking for further opportunities to partner in this community. I think the partnership was natural.”

Although Mount Sinai is not involved with the language immersion program, it is teaming with Kings Bay for the “Under the Bridge” Sabbath celebration and will co-sponsor some events this fall.

During the presentation at Kings Bay, Feinstein-Mentesh, Adi Amit (Keshet program teacher) and Margalit Kevenstock (Keshet program curriculum consultant) explained how the language and culture tracks work.

In addition to the dual language tracks, each age level has its own lesson theme, from songs, stories, geography and family trees to the B’nei Mitzvah track for the older kids.

“When children come to Keshet, they will have a feeling that they’re almost in Israel —discovering the flavors, the sounds — we teach Hebrew in a very high level,” Feinstein-Mentesh said. “So, kids can feel free to learn about Israel, with respect to Brooklyn and culture here.”