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Who is in Your Family?

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By Amy Katz

Last week I sat with every seventh grader at PJA to assess their Hebrew abilities. Besides the fact that across the board our students have very strong Hebrew skills (thanks to our fabulous Hebrew teachers!) I was struck by one thing many of the students have in common. When I asked them in Hebrew mi bamishpacha shelcha?(who is in your family) many of them answered by naming students in the school. At first I was confused, thinking that they didn’t understand the question.  And then I realized that instead of telling me who was in their actual family they were answering my question by telling me who is in their school family, their mishpacha!

In the day school at PJA every student and faculty member is assigned a mishpacha, a mixed aged family group that meets before Kabbalat Shabbat to play games, discuss the parasha, and get to know each other better. The group then sits and sings together at Kabbalat Shabbat. For the past two years our mishpacha program was suspended due to COVID, and now we are all thrilled that we can be a part of these mishpachot (family groups) once again. Mishpachot gives every student and faculty member of our school a chance to find joy and belonging outside of the classroom. So far this year mishpachot have met twice, and you can already see members of these groups playing together at recess, high fiving each other in the hallway, and waving to one another and giving hugs when they arrive at school in the morning.

This year we are also enjoying “buddy Shabbats” where the oldest and youngest buddies from each mishpacha come together for more singing and Shabbat fun. In December we are looking forward to including our third-fifth grade students with buddies from the early childhood program. We know these buddies are going to love preparing for Shabbat together! 

At PJA we care deeply about each student's academic skills and progress. It is equally important that our students and faculty feel a sense of shayachut, belonging. We understand that learning and growing stems from a place of feeling valued and of having a place you belong. Our seventh graders know that the Hebrew word for family is mishpacha. More importantly, they have found a mishpacha outside of their home. They know that at PJA they belong, they are valued, and they are part of a mishpacha