The snow may have been falling outside, but spring was in the air at the Wychwood Barns as children planted parsley seeds, made edible trees, decorated almond blossom branches and created jewelry out of seeds.
About 250 people gathered at the spacious mid-town venue Feb. 5 for Tu b’ Shvat Groove, a lively community party geared to children 12 and under.
Eight organizations – the Miles Nadal JCC (MNJCC), Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School, the Downtown Jewish Community School, Camp Shomria, Camp Gesher, the Jewish National Fund, Shoresh and the Israeli Connection – partnered to create a fun-filled afternoon.
Each community group took on a different activity geared to Tu b’Shvat, the New Year for trees. The event was supported by a grant from PJ Library.
“The future of Jewish life will depend on events like this, said Shaul Zobary, executive director of Camp Gesher. “Fewer families are sending their kids to day school or joining synagogues, so holding community events that are informal and hands-on is a good way to inject Jewish life into their lives.
“We’re a group of organizations that have found a way of delivering Jewish programming together.”
Sheri Rapp, admissions co-ordinator for Paul Penna, was a key organizer of the Tu b’Shvat Groove. She said PJ Library supports six annual holiday “groove” events. “They have evolved into larger and larger events with more visibility.”
She said the events are a collaborative effort by multiple organizations connected to downtown Jewish life. “Their success shows the strength and co-operative nature of the downtown Jewish community.”
Rapp – she is also a Paul Penna parent – said the St. Clair Avenue corridor is now home to many young Jewish families, as are many mid-town and downtown neighbourhoods.
Paul Penna families were very well represented at the Tu b’Shvat event, as were participants from the Israeli Connection, a program geared to Israelis and run by Liraz Rolnitsky.
The Israeli Connection – funded by UJA Federation and Hillel of Greater Toronto – offers cultural and educational programs in Hebrew.
According to Rolnitsky, community outreach co-ordinator at Hillel and the MNJCC, there are hundreds of Israeli families living in the downtown vicinity.
The Israeli Connection sponsored one of the busiest Tu b’Shvat stations, turning branches of silk almond blossoms into family trees.
At the Paul Penna station, children made trees on paper plates out of graham crackers, pretzels, raisins, cranberries, fresh pomegranate seeds and mini marshmallows. The activity was a big draw for hungry kids, who devoured their trees pretty quickly.
A separate room that provided activities for toddlers had jungle gym equipment and a storybook corner where books from the PJ library were read out loud.
Children there also had chance to do printing with vegetables and paint. Matthew and Jacob Greenglass, three-year-old twins brothers, got almost as much paint on themselves as they did on the paper.
Annie Matan, Jewish life program coordinator for the MNJCC, declared the Tu b’Shvat Groove a success. “The turnout was great, the quality of the activity stations was stellar. The community partnerships and the co-operation among them was amazing.”