Local leaders have continuously highlighted the need to bring our children together from all parts of the Jewish community to strengthen their connection to one another and foster an environment where all Jewish youth feel respected and seen. Many families who send their children to the Pennie Z. Davis Early Learning Center mourn the loss of cross-denominational friendships as grade school youth divide amongst their home congregations. The PJ Elementary initiative is designed to fill this gap and provide a casual, fun atmosphere where families with children in Elementary school can build and maintain these important ties to their Jewish peers from across the greater Omaha area.

    The brainchild of Abigail Kutler, immediate past president of the Jewish Press board and an active PJ Library parent, this idea arrived at just the right time. The past five years I have been able to build a considerable expansion of programming for children under the age of six. However, determining the type of activities that would best engage elementary school children has eluded me. Part of this could be that my own children are 2 1/2 and almost 7, but I think the other important factor is that once children are in elementary school their time begins to fill with so many other extracurriculars, that it’s a battle for families to find time to connect with other Jewish families outside of Shabbat or religious school.

    Abigail shared, “After graduating from the ELC, our boys love being able to connect with their Jewish friends through summer camp and Kidz Inn, but I personally miss getting to see the other parents, as well.”

    There are no rules for defining Jewishness with these programs. Families of all backgrounds are welcome and siblings of all ages may join. Our goal is for the monthly family-friendly activities to have a casual feel that will allow kids to play and parents to relax and enjoy the company of others.

    In July, Abby hosted a group of parents of children representing all ages in this target demographic to brainstorm locales for each monthly gathering. An emphasis was made on planning as much outdoors as possible, both taking advantage of the beauty of not being cooped up inside, and lending flexibility and safety during an uncertain time.

    “We realize that families are busy. Whether you can attend monthly or just once doesn’t matter, we just want to stay connected!”

    The August meet-up was held at the Benson Splash Park, where grade school participants most enjoyed the Krispy Kreme donut holes and the PJ-branded spray bottles, while parents appreciated the cold sparkling water and conversation.

    Sept. 12 families met up to pick apples and sample different types of honey to celebrate a sweet New Year. Oct. 3 we’ll be meeting at Nelson’s Produce farm to enjoy fun fall activities together.

    Support for the first three programs has been made possible by funding from the Special Donor-Advised Fund of the Jewish Federation of Omaha Foundation. For more information about the program series and to make sure you receive notice of all the events, visit:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/PJElementary.