(lubavitch.com) When the lights at the Kehila Theatre dim Wednesday morning, it will be show time for some 500 Jewish school children in Montevideo, Uruguay. Settling into their seats and munching popcorn the kids will watch “Circo Macabeo,” a Chanukah themed play featuring professional actors and a live circus.
Launched five years ago, Jewish Kids in Action (JKA) is an educational program that provides Jewish school children in Uruguay with fun-filled interactive activities packed with Jewish learning and hands-on experiences. JKA’s holiday-centered activities reach 1,500 kids a year, from preschool through high school.
The brainchild of Rochi Shemtov, co-director of Chabad of Uruguay, the program is her way of ensuring that Judaism has a future in Uruguay, something, she insists, can only happen if the children are involved. With JKA, she is taking steps to ensure that future by making Judaism an exciting and fun activity.
“The idea of JKA is to take Judaism out of the books and share it with the kids in an exciting and interactive way. They have to know that the Torah has a message for them, even in the twenty-first century. Torah is alive, and it’s theirs for the taking.”
Shemtov produced her first show in 2005 just before Passover, for a crowd of 700 children. Focusing on the theme of the holiday, the movie imparted its messages and made the age old traditions come to life. As hundreds of children recited the traditional blessing over the popcorn, she was inspired to continue making these productions every year after that.
Employing the arts, creativity, and a keen sense of what gets kids going, Shemtov visits schools and organizes stimulating activities before major Jewish holidays. One year, she recalls, she handed each student a tennis ball and a permanent marker, instructing them to write their personal ‘limitation’ on the ball. Then they tackled an indoor rock climbing wall while holding the tennis ball; once they reached the top, they threw the balls into garbage bins at the foot of the wall, symbolizing the message of Passover – to transcend our limitations.
Sarita Jerosolimski, a sixth grade teacher at E.I.H.U. says she has seen a noticeable change in the kids. “The kids look forward to the next festival and to participating in JKA’s activities prior to the festival. The program enriches the children’s lives, and I hope this can continue,” she says.
In Montevideo, JKA has become popular with fans who look forward to the yearly show and interactive activities. “Disney world came to Uruguay for a day,” reported one local paper after The Candles Go on Strike debuted before Chanukah in 2008. JKA shows have grown in popularity making Mrs. Shemtov a celebrity with the city’s Jewish children who gravitate to her when she’s out on the street.
Marcos Kanovich, a member of the executive board of E.I.H.U. says that although he celebrates the festivals at home, he has learned a great deal from his son, who attends JKA. “JKA made a deep impression on our son and gave him so much more knowledge and happiness,” he says.
Nine year old Martina Lewi, a student at I.A.H.U. agrees.
“With JKA, we live Judaism.”