Dynamite and pottery don’t normally go together.

But Congregation Kehillah combined both at a recent fundraiser for its Youth Education Program (YEP!), which will be housed in the synagogue’s new location on Dynamite Road in Cave Creek.

The fundraiser, held on Sept. 17 at As You Wish Pottery Painting Place, saw 25 families join together to decorate ceramic tiles that will be permanently installed at the congregation’s new home. The event even drew four generations of one family — from family matriarch Irma Gottlieb down to two of her great-grandchildren, who are currently enrolled in YEP!.

“The event was fun! We filled the art studio with positive energy and happy voices,” said Congregation Kehillah Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman. “I was impressed with the creativity and talent, but what most stands out is the way that families made new friends and deepened connections with one another.”

Before purchasing their new home at the end of last year, Congregation Kehillah rented space from a church located at Scottsdale and Pinnacle Peak roads in Scottsdale. During that time, YEP! used Bureau of Jewish Education classrooms at the Valley of the Sun JCC. In September of this year, YEP! started classes at the Dynamite location.

Because they’re opening the school from scratch, YEP! needs everything from desks, chairs and other furniture to more basic school supplies. And all of that requires money.

Two synagogue members, Cari Hemmert and Sara Fabricant, stepped forward, proposing and planning the art and a pizza fundraiser.

“We tossed around some ideas,” Hemmert said. “We thought since we have a new building, why don’t we do something that would contribute some kind of artwork to the building? I had seen it done at our preschool at the JCC and I thought it was such a good idea. The kids create these tiles and then they become a part of the building for posterity.”

Renee Joffe, administrator for Congregation Kehillah and YEP!, described the program as a hybrid incorporating an online learning environment, youth group-style participatory events and a traditional classroom setting.

“We’re a very unique program,” Joffe said. “Our kids don’t come every single Sunday. It’s a twice-a-month program, approximately from 9:30 a.m. to noon. They’re learning Judaica, Hebrew, playing music and they’re having tefillah. We have an online education program that we do. The kids are required to log in for at least 30 minutes a week and that continues their education.”

Back at the art fundraiser, the tiles were decorated with the children’s names, Jewish themes and images, plus some Hebrew phrases. One tile even featured a Jewish Superman.

“It was really nice seeing the families take some time away from technology and sit together and bring art back into their lives,” said Hayden Garner, the store manager for As You Wish Pottery Painting Place.

After the art making was complete, participants migrated to a nearby California Pizza Kitchen for dinner. The restaurant donated 20 percent of it sales from the group to YEP!.

“It gave me a lot of joy seeing everyone working at the same time. The kids were smiling and they really seemed to enjoy it,” Hemmert said. “When family members come back and see the tiles on the wall, I think it will be a really nice feeling of belonging, a real sense of community building to know you or your children’s artwork will be on that wall.”

Charlie, Sara Fabricant’s son and one of the children who participated in the event, expressed similar sentiments.

“I’m glad the tiles will be at my Hebrew school forever,” he said. JN

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