Mastering The Media
ffnai Moshe's new MTV teen program adds to the family flavor.
hen the new teen class at Congregation
B'nai Moshe holds its first session on
Monday, Sept. 15, students will find
themselves seated in front of the televi-
Just like home? Not if Daniella HarPaz Mechnikov
has anything to say about it.
Mechnikov, educational director at the West
Bloomfield Conservative synagogue, is putting the fin-
ishing touches on a revamped teen program. The
once-a-week program, open to young people from
eighth grade on up, will use a curriculum known as
MTV — Media and Torah Values.
MTV was developed by the Union for Traditional
Judaism, with support from the Jewish Federation of
Bergen County, N. J. It's already in use at several other
Michigan synagogues, including Congregation Beth
Shalom and Temple Israel.
The curriculum takes a pervasive element of mod-
ern secular culture and uses it as a conduit for the
study of ethical issues. Because it's next to impossible
to stop kids from watching television, going to the
movies and listening to the radio, the curriculum's
authors — a psychiatrist, a rabbi and a Jewish educa-
tor — decided to make the media work for them.
"It's a very nice, accessible program," says
Mechnikov, who has led B'nai Moshe's educational
programs since June 2002. Each class starts with pre-
selected tapes from television shows, commercials and
other secular images. Students then participate in
guided discussions that examine what they've seen in
the context of Jewish ethics and values.
"They'll see something that shows, for example,
people treating each other badly," Mechnikov explains.
"What ethical question does it bring up? What is the
"In the context of the discussion, they'll be intro-
duced to Jewish text study, which is something they
don't get much of earlier in school."
B'nai Moshe's last teen program was run jointly
with Congregation Beth Ahm. But two years ago,
Beth Ahm closed its religious school, leaving only its
nursery and mom-tot classes. With little warning,
B'nai Moshe did not have the momentum, or the crit-
ical mass of students, to run a full teen program sin-
Last year, teachers from the Jewish Academy of
Metropolitan Detroit, serving students in grades 9-12,
gave monthly classes for teens at B'nai Moshe.
"It worked out very well," Mechnikov says. "We
hope to have them back as guest lecturers this year."
B'nai Moshe's new MTV program will meet 4:30-
6:30 p.m. Mondays. Like the synagogue's other educa-
tion programs, it will be open to synagogue members
and non-members alike.
Breadth Of Experience
Mechnikov's expertise in music and Yiddish add dimension to the job.
hen Daniella HarPaz Mechnikov took
over as B'nai Moshe's director of educa-
tion last year, the position had been
filled by many different people over a very short
period of time, she said.
Since then, the congregation's school population
has increased 10-15 percent. By the end of the last
school year, the LIFE program (Learning Is A
Family Experience) had 70 students.
In addition, more than 30 B'nai Moshe middle-
schoolers attended an introductory event sponsored
by Kadima, the middle school affiliate of United
Synagogue Youth and the United Synagogue of
Conservative Judaism, and Mechnikov is optimistic
about forming a synagogue youth group.
Over the years, attendance at Hillel Day School
of Metropolitan Detroit has cut into B'nai Moshe's
supplementary school population. But Mechnikov
says no one at the synagogue has any complaints
about losing students to the Conservative Solomon
Schechter day school.
"B'nai Moshe has one of the largest percentage
A Family Experience
"There's a long history of family education in this
shul," Mechnikov says, and B'nai Moshe has not neg-
lected its youngest members as it expands its teen pro-
The synagogue is launching two new Mom-Tot
classes this fall — Mess Makers on Thursdays and
Kindermusik on Fridays. Toddlers are also welcome at
frequent Tot Shabbat programs.
In keeping with its slogan of learning as a family
experience, B'nai- Moshe holds family programs on six
Sundays during the school year. Each is open to the
community, but members of the school must partici-
pate in three.
Coming up Sept. 21 is a program based on the
Fifth Commandment: Honor Your Father And
Mother. It will use as its springboard the book The
Blessings of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to
Raise Self-Reliant Children by Dr. Wendy Mogel, and
will include a book review, panel discussion led by
-experienced family counselors who are synagogue
members, and both concurrent and separate age-
appropriate activities for children and teens.
"The nice thing about this synagogue is the fami-
lies who send their kids to this school are very
involved," Mechnikov says. "It's not a drop-off school
in any sense of the word." El
of attendance at
Hillel of any Detroit-
About 50 percent go
to Hillel; about 50
percent come here,"
A former Hillel
Mechnikov grew up
steeped in the tradi-
tions of Israel and
Eastern Europe and
in a home filled with
music. Like her
brother, singer-songwriter Michael HarPaz, she has
D ia na Lieberman