Tuesday, August 28, 2007


The first class of the Jewish Arts Culture and Torah School for the 2007/2008 year will be on September 30 at Walden School in Berkeley starting at 10:00 AM. Registration materials will be available here so check back soon!

Friday, August 10, 2007

About Rabbi Sara Shendelman

School Director, Rabbi, Cantor
Sara Shendelman
is one of the best-known Jewish Renewal rabbis in Berkeley, California. She received Cantorial Ordination from Rabbis Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Shlomo Carlebach, the only woman to do so. She received Rabbi S'gan Smicha (rabbinic ordination) from Rabbi Gershon Winkler.

Rabbi Sara Shendelman was a leader in the early days of the Jewish Renewal Movement, from which she was awarded the title of Eshet Hazon (Woman of Vision). Sara has taught, led services, officiated and created ritual for 30 years. She holds an M.A. in Education and Developmental Arts from NYU.

Sara serves as Cantor, Rabbi and Spiritual Leader. Sara performs a lively and interactive service that introduces the Kabbalat Shabbat service and Friday night rituals through prayer, song, storytelling and more. She designed the program especially for those who are new or returning to Judaism, beginners to Shabbat practice, and families with children of all ages.

Rabbi Sara Shendelman is the Founder and Director of the Jewish Arts and Culture School (JACTS), established in 1995. At JACTS, students are exposed to different ideologies existing within Judaism so that they can participate and feel comfortable in a variety of Jewish settings. Teachers use art, music, puppets, drama, discussion, dance and text to help students form a loving attachment to Jewish culture, spirituality and history. The curriculum includes Hebrew reading and writing, ritual traditions, Jewish calendar celebrations, Torah and Eastern European stories, Israel, Jewish distinctions, and mitzvot. The student body ranges in age from preschool through post-Bar/Bat Mitzvah and represents a cross-section of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds, religious experience and family orientations. Parents and family members are included in the classroom and at celebrations.

Sara's beautiful singing can be heard on 3 music CDs which she has produced, including "I Did Lift You Up" and "Chasing the Gazelle." Sara's musical talents are shared generously in all her endeavors as rabbi, ordained cantor, professional singer, musician, wedding officiant, teacher and ritual leadership.

Sara’s writings have been cited in numerous books about Jewish culture and spirituality. Her published work includes the book: Traditions: The Complete Book of Prayers, Rituals; Blessings for Every Jewish Home (Hyperion).

Contact Us!

For more information and enrollment,
Contact School Director,
Sara Shendelman
at 510-644-2956

Don't delay, classes are filling up quickly.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Enrollment, Class Schedule, Tuition, Finances

Registration Forms (online)

Click here to access the 3 page Registration Form online (Google docs)

JACTS Sunday school is in Berkeley on Sunday mornings for 1.5 hours from 10:00 to 11:30 AM.

We have a flexible schedule, subject to change to accomodate different class needs.
Group ALEPH is the Younger group that engages in Judaic related arts and crafts. Aleph meets every other Sunday morning,

Group BET is the Hebrew ready group that is already reading English. Bet meets weekly either on Sunday mornings, or on a weekday afternoon.

B'nai Mitzvah training is scheduled on an individual basis.


Group Aleph: 1.5 hrs every other week -- $500
Group Bet: 1.5 hrs every week, Sunday --- $750
Group Bet: weekday class - tuition based on enrollment
B'nai Mitzvah: 1 hr every week/2 hours -- $1500 (30 Sessions)

Financial Aid
JACTS offers a discounted fee for families with more than one child enrolled. Additional financial assistance is offered based on both need and availability of funds. No family will be turned away for financial difficulty.

For more information and enrollment,Contact
School Director,Sara Shendelman
at 510-644-2956

Don't delay, classes are filling up quickly.


Family Programs

Adult and Family Programs

Because family involvement is so crucial to the building of Jewish identity in young people, parents and related family are invited to participate with their children at all Sunday classes in the classroom and during holiday enactments.

Classes for adults are offered, and we encourage parents to use this opportunity for spiritual study and time to connect with other parents in the community.

B'Nai Mitzvot Program

The B'nai Mitzvah students are taught in smaller groups. We prefer the Bar/Bat Mitzvah to take place during the last part of the student's 13th year rather than on the 13th birthday, allowing for greater maturity for this important transitional ritual.

The training is not onerous, but does become gradually more intensive. It includes individual time with the primary teachers, study time at home with a chevruta (study) partner, home study, and family sessions. Additionally, seventh graders are expected to occasionally assist with programming for the little ones during Shabbat services.


Hebrew is part of the Jewish experience. It is a sublime and necessary experience to be able to read from the Torah in its original form, as well as to achieve a comfort level in the prayer service. It is one of the primary connections to lineage teachings. We ask families to be proactive in helping the young person acquire Hebrew. The use of technology (CD-ROMs, etc.), tutors and family study are all very useful tools for acquisition. Semi-private tutoring is also available with our qualified teachers.

JACTS Curriculum


Young children learn best through art, music, stories and drama. We want the children to love Torah and love being Jews. In this initial stage of Jewish learning, we focus on the basic mitzvot surrounding holidays, the Hebrew letters, and the foundational mitzvot (compassion, unity of life, etc.) through the basic medium of story, song, interactive technology, and playacting. Creative expression is encouraged using multiple opportunities, materials and projects related to the Jewish themes. Group Aleph meets generally every other Sunday morning in Berkeley. Weekday Aleph classes may be created based on interest and enrollment.

Group BET

When children self select to join the older group, they have the option of attending weekly on Sunday mornings in Berkeley, or on a weekday afternoon. The day and time during the week is determined based on enrollment.

Sunday Bet Curriculum

The school year 2010/2011 Hebrew curriculum may employ the Mitkadim curriculum developed by the Union of Reform Judaism as part of their Learning for Jewish Life/Chai Educational program. Mitkadem is unique because it was created to address, in a realistic way, the challenges of teaching Hebrew within environments like the Jewish Arts, Culture and Torah school setting. These challenges include:

-Frequent absenteeism and customized schedules
-Late enrollment and new students enrolling in older grades
-Varying levels of motivation and ability within the classroom
-Diverse experience and commitment of Jewish practice at home
-Limited hours at a difficult time of day for learning
-Different abilities and capabilities of our Hebrew teachers

Mitkadem's self-paced and child-centered approach allows each student to achieve according to his/her own ability, so learning challenged students and frequent absentees feel successful as well as those students who are very motivated and catch on quickly. The Mitkadem approach helps every teacher feel capable and confident of administering this program to all different kinds of student learners, identifying those students who need additional help early on.

The content of the program employs multi modalities of teaching Hebrew with hands-on interactive activities, esthetically pleasing materials, relevance to Jewish calendar events, inclusion of all levels of Jewish identification, preparation for Hebrew prayers and positive reinforcement of accomplishment and mastery of material.

The students will each have their own notebook for storing their worksheets and workbooks. They can use these materials to share their learning with family members and reference their foundation in Hebrew for on-going Jewish endeavors.

Weekday BET Curriculum

Bet Students are taught by Rabbi Sara Shendelman or a collaboration of seasoned teachers. The curriculum consists of exposure to the main archetypal stories of the Torah and early prophets and familiarity with Hebrew texts. Hebrew alphabet, reading, writing skills are further developed, along with basic vocabulary. Simple meditation and prayers and the practice of blessing are introduced. God as love and compassion is a key theme. Greater emphasis is placed on personal responsibility in the world, including the taking on of a simple mitzvah practice. We further explore the concepts of Torah as a wisdom path, deepening examination of holidays and familiarity with spiritual lineage teachers.

Both Groups
A first hand experience of Jewish culture is provided through direct experience of holiday rituals, celebrations, family traditions and historic interpretations through mock ceremonies, food, humor and demonstration.

What Our Students Take with Them:

A foundation in Hebrew, Jewish history and literature, holidays, ethics, Tikkun Olam, blessings, a spiritual and ethical world view, an understanding of the purpose of positive ritual in our lives, and loving connection to Torah, mitzvot and community.

Each grade and group of children will be given a primary ethical mitzvah to practice. By their Bar/Bat Mitzvah, they will feel comfortable in most Jewish services, knowing the flow and outline of prayer.


Founded by Rabbi Shendelman, Jewish Arts, Culture and Torah School has been in existence for 17 years, serving the affiliated and non-affiliated community. Established previous to the birth of the associated Chochmat HaLev, JACTS and Chochmat create a new opportunity for exciting and joyful Jewish education in a collaborative effort engaging families with their children throughout the cycle of holidays and life changes.

Jewish Art, Culture and Torah School promises to be an exciting and joyful exploration of Judaism both for children and their parents. JACTS is committed to fostering a community of young people (and parents) who feel love for Torah and learn to access Torah to open their hearts and lead spiritually deep and settled lives.

Throughout their studies, students are exposed to a range of different approaches currently existing within Judaism allowing them to feel comfortable in a variety of Jewish settings. Teachers use art, music, puppets, drama, discussion and text to help students form a loving attachment to Jewish culture, community, spirituality and history. In addition, the importance of family culture cannot be underestimated in the ongoing education of our children.


For information and enrollment,
Contact School Director,
Sara Shendelman
at 510-644-2956

Don't delay, classes are filling up quickly.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

JACTS in the News

Independent Sunday schools fill niche in Bay Area
Friday July 27, 2007
J. The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California
by penina eilberg-schwartz
j. intern

Jewish education is “a great gift, and a gift that’s available” — whether or not you’re affiliated with a synagogue.

This is what David Waksberg, executive director of the S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education, says.

Waksberg, who admits that his own religious education failed to prepare him to be the kind of Jew he wanted to be, appreciates that many things have changed since his school days.

There are, in the Bay Area, a few independent Sunday and Hebrew schools that serve unaffiliated Jews, as well as Chabad schools, and at these schools education can be a lot more hands-on.

Another option in Berkeley is Jewish Arts, Culture and Torah School (JACTS). It, too, offers drama and music, as well as Hebrew and history.

The principal, Rabbi Sara Shendelman, believes that the school succeeds because it helps students feel “connected” to Judaism. It serves preschool- through eighth-grade students.

A rabbi ordained in the Renewal movement, Shendelman says teachers use a “more spiritual approach” in the classroom. But she also notes that JACTS is a place that accommodates parents who want their children to enjoy strong Jewish identities without overwhelming commitment.

JACTS employs “creativity, music, arts, and making of ritual objects” to help kids explore what it means to be Jewish.

Corliss Lesser, whose daughter went through JACTS’ bat mitzvah program, now is an arts instructor at the school. During her eight years with JACTS as a teacher, she has enjoyed helping children express themselves through the arts.

In founding the school, Shendelman hoped that artists like Lesser could have freedom to teach in an inclusive and highly artistic environment.

At no-pressure Jewish school, kids learn Hebrew sitting on rug
Sonja Rothkop
Bulletin Correspondent

If a school's approach to learning about Judaism is intimate and fun, then what students learn stays relevant beyond the classroom, said Sara Shendelman, founder and director of the Jewish Arts, Culture and Torah School in Berkeley.

"The main thing is to make this a refuge of safety and shelter for them," Shendelman said.  "The world is disntegrating around us, and we want to give them a rockk to stand on."

Shendelman, who has been teaching for 25 years, started the school years ago with a class of four 4-year-olds.  At the time, she recalls being frustrated because "kids' education had some big holes in it."

Held afternoons and Sundays, classes supplement a basic academic education.  Current enrollment is 85 students ranging in age from 4 to 16.

The philosophy is to avoid the standard "American academic models of straight schools," Shendelman said.

"This is not a classroom setting.  We teach Hebrew on a rug on the floor.  There are no report cards or tests, either.

"There's no pressure; the point is to help them make sense of their lives - to heal the soul, not learn intellectual facts.

"The students learn just as much, if not more, with such a painless, stress-free approach," Shendelman said.

For example, the school's emphasis on art - such as crafting ritual objects that the students take home to keep - personalizes the learning process.

"Making seder plates, candies and candlesticks, matzah covers, really connects them to the holiday, and their art work gets used," Shendelman said.  "We let the kids run the gamut of not only their talent, but also their interests."

Students enroll in the school at all levels of religious observance.  Shendelman strives to find the specific bond that each child might feel with his or her Jewishness.  If not through religion, then through culture, social causes or cooking.

The school also takes an alternative approach to bar and bat mitzvah preparation.  The program includes traditional text study, history and holidays and art.

"It's very engaging," Shendelman said.  "I have seen two students arguing over a point of Talmud."

She added that parents are sometimes surprised and grateful to learn that they don't have to belong to a synagogue to have a bar mitzvah for their child.

"I tell them it can be in their home with a potluck lunch afterward - it doesn't have to be an extravaganza,"  she said.

The post-bar mitzvah retention rate has been high - 90 percent have chosen to continue - and the response from the younger students has been good.

It seems to be a formula that works for the people we're working with.  We would like to see this paradigm used in many locales.