Wednesday, June 19, 2024


Younger kids have quiet reading time at The Kesher Center for Jewish Learning and Culture near Porter Square in Somerville. (Photo: Kesher)

Younger kids have quiet reading time at The Kesher Center for Jewish Learning and Culture near Porter Square in Somerville. (Photo: Kesher)

The Kesher Center for Jewish Learning and Culture got a six-figure grant from an anonymous foundation donor this month, officials at the Jewish after-school program announced Monday.

The grant is to help develop “a new curriculum for bar and bat mitzvah study with a focus on exploring Jewish culture and thought through real-world experiences” and to refine the Hebrew curriculum so students will emerge with solid proficiency in the spoken language, Executive Director Lee Palmer said in a press release.

“The grant reflects the respected foundation’s belief in the Kesher model,” Palmer said.

The existing Hebrew program gets a test in a 6 p.m. June 10 showcase in which the Kesher space will be set up as different cities in Israel. Children will play travel agents, sellers at an open-air market and help sell falafel, Palmer said. Others will congregate in a mock Tel Aviv street café and chat in Hebrew about newspaper headlines and celebrity gossip, and parents will also get a screening of an animation voiced by the children with their own Hebrew dialogue.

The 22-year-old Kesher, which means “connection,” is in a former manufacturer’s loft space just outside Porter Square in Somerville. The after-school program claims students from across Cambridge, Somerville, Arlington and Medford who are picked up directly from their schools, and Kesher added a preschool and daycare for children ages 2.9 to 5 two years ago.

The extended time between teachers and children builds community and allows more meaningful learning, Palmer said, describing a typical day:

First- and second-graders talk about what freedom means to them and fourth-graders practice shopping in Hebrew with their Israeli teacher. Other students work on a play about the Jews of medieval Spain. By the afternoon’s end everyone is gathered on a fraying Persian carpet for a sing-along of Hebrew songs led by Rafi Esterson, Kesher’s head of school.

Families of various Jewish backgrounds, including interfaith families, are drawn to Kesher’s mix of “vibrant Jewish learning and Hebrew instruction in a nurturing and engaging setting,” Palmer said, and children are encouraged to ask questions and explore.

“We believe that kids are capable of subtlety and sophistication and thinking deeply. If you give them those opportunities, they do cool things with them,” Esterson said. “We believe good Jewish education needs to start off as just good education. It’s not about finding Jewishly important stuff and teaching kids. It’s about creating a good educational environment for kids, and then the Jewish aspect follows.”

Kesher is holding an open house from 10:30 a.m. to noon Sunday. For information or to schedule a weekday visit, go to or contact Lee Palmer at [email protected] or (617) 576-0830.

This post was written from a press release.