Jewish kids with big smiles are baking matzah and learning about kosher chocolate, making Havdalah candles and performing Jewish-themed science experiments. Under the slogan “Ancient Traditions for Young Hands”, Rabbi Levi Raskin’s new JCrafts center in southern Maryland is home to a unique blend of family fun and Jewish educational activities.
It’s been a decade since Rabbi Raskin moved to Maryland with his wife Fraida to open a Chabad House. They began to bring hands-on activities to local Jewish schools, and learned that 71% of local Jewish children were not receiving any formal Jewish education. Rabbi Raskin knew it was time to think bigger. “It was a no-brainer,” he says. “We needed a building to open up programming to the wider community and reach kids who get no Jewish exposure.”
In 2020, Rabbi Sholom Raichik and Chabad of Upper Montgomery County happily supplied space for JCrafts’ pilot program. The pilot center boomed, and after consulting with Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan of Chabad of Maryland, Rabbi Raskin knew the time was right for a permanent home. JCrafts purchased a 2,500-square-foot center in Rockville, Maryland, and after a bit of marketing, they welcomed the first eager crowds of children and adults last September.
When they arrive at JCrafts, children and their families dive into a variety of exciting, hands-on workshops with different themes — Jewish holidays, science, and chocolate, to name a few — and all are interwoven with core Jewish knowledge. It’s an immersive experience, utilizing giant screens and cutting edge technology to transport the families into the world of the workshop. By all reports, it’s buckets of fun. “For a lot of kids, this is their first exposure to Judaism,” Rabbi Raskin says. “The programs are educationally rich, and it’s such good fun; the hope is, in the years to come, whenever they hear the word Jewish — they’ll think of these positive memories.”