Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit is a community Jewish day school committed to preserving Jewish peoplehood through a rich and meaningful Jewish education. In 2019, Hillel launched Shabbat Mishpacha as an experiential Shabbat program in which students from all grade levels are grouped together in small mishpachot. Each mishpacha contains two to three students per grade level and General and Judaic Studies teachers representing a range of grade levels, generating a diverse cross-section of the entire student body and teaching staff. As part of these multi-age groupings, siblings and, in many cases, cousins are placed in the same mishpacha, providing a rare opportunity for family members to spend part of the school day together. In these mishpachot, friendships and peer-to-peer mentorships quickly form and students engage in an in-house built curriculum that encompasses a Responsive Classroom greeting, an activity around the weekly parasha or upcoming holiday, and the Friday night prayers—complete, of course, with hallah and grape juice.

Our mishpachot come together every Friday for thirty minutes, allowing for a frequency that supports the building of strong relationships and community. The start and end of each Shabbat Mishpacha is marked with music on the public announcement system, including songs about friendship and traditional Shabbat prayers such as Lekha Dodi.

Shabbat Mishpacha is intentionally designed to emphasize and strengthen our diverse Jewish community. This is effected by utilizing Shabbat Mishpacha as a unique opportunity for collaboration and integration between General Studies and Judaic Studies teachers of all grade levels. Since we believe that every adult in the building contributes to Jewish education, having General and Judaic Studies teachers collaborate for the Shabbat Mishpacha experience expands the diversity of our role models for students.

Shabbat Mishpacha builds community as students and teachers from across the building come to embrace their connection to the small family units. These connections permeate throughout the school beyond Shabbat Mishpacha as students are often seen greeting and checking in on their Shabbat Mishpacha family members throughout the week. In many cases, older students are excited to be placed with teachers they had when they were younger, thereby emphasizing communal continuity. Several times during the year, the entire school will also come together during Shabbat Mishpacha with students sitting grouped in their Shabbat families to celebrate a special Shabbat united as our larger school community.

Shabbat Mishpacha is an opportunity for the entire school to celebrate and experience Shabbat rituals every week, but it is also a time for broader learning and discussion of important Judaic topics. In addition to kiddush and hamotzi, every week Shabbat families participate in learning connected either to the weekly parasha or an upcoming holiday. Both the teachers’ and students’ affiliations run across the gamut, creating a setting where each person brings their own unique Shabbat experience to the Shabbat Mishpacha. Like real families, Shabbat Mishpachot bring together individuals who may differ in opinion, but are united with Jewish life as the core anchor of the communal experience. 

As a trained faculty in Responsive Classroom, incorporating the structure and philosophies of Responsive Classroom proved an easy and seamless integration within the Shabbat Mishpacha setting. It provides another opportunity for teachers to recognize students as unique individuals made betzelem Elohim, which is a philosophy of Responsive Classroom. Hillel, and Responsive Classroom, believe each soul’s contribution influences the collaborative nature of the school and unites us together. During Shabbat Mishpacha, this happens naturally. All students and teachers are united, even as they are in separate classrooms, simultaneously bringing in Shabbat while following the Responsive Classroom approach, all while staying true to our Jewish core values. Through both the responsive classroom activity and the Shabbat learning, the Shabbat Mishpacha time affords the opportunity to two teachers—who would otherwise not interact—the opportunity to not only build a Shabbat family, but to educate their students about both Shabbat and the parasha.

Through our Shabbat Mishpacha program, we believe we impart a love of Jewish life and practice to our diverse student body that transcends differences in observance and affiliation. We build knowledge of Jewish practices while emphasizing the flavors of Jewish culture and the warmth of family through this program. We believe that community is a core tenet of our Jewish identity and we are grateful that Shabbat Mishpacha has reinforced and expanded these connections school-wide.

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David Fain is in his fifth year as Rav Beit HaSefer at Hillel Day School. Rabbi Fain has worked in the field of Jewish education for the past ten years. He was ordained by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and is a graduate of the Pardes Educators Program.

Darin Katz is in his third year as Head of School at Hillel Day School. Dr. Katz has worked in independent schools for twenty-five years. Prior to serving as Head of School, he was the Academic Dean and Upper School Director at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy.

Melissa Michaelson is the Principal at Hillel Day School and is the educational leader of the school. This is her eleventh year on the leadership team. Prior, Melissa was an elementary school teacher and has been in the field of education for more than twenty years.

Amira Soleimani is the Director of Judaic Studies Curriculum and Instruction at Hillel Day School. Prior to joining Hillel, Amira served as the Head of the Bible Department at the Frankel Jewish Academy.