Ana Robbins, Neshama Littman: Judaism Unbound Episode 191: Jewish Kids Groups


Ana Robbins and Neshama Littman join Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg for a conversation about Jewish Kids Groups, an innovative Atlanta organization that Robbins serves as Executive Director and Littman serves as Sunday Families Director. [1]

(0:01 - 18:23): To begin the episode, Robbins looks back on the founding of Jewish Kids Groups (JKG). She talks about how the organization came together through a mixture of happenstance and thorough research, and discusses the influence that Presentense had on her work, through her time as one of its Global Fellows. [2] She reflects on her initial surprise that no 5-day Jewish after-school programs existed anywhere in the country, along with the joy that came with the rise of a few such organizations in other cities, right around the same time that JKG was created. [3] She and Littman explain the logic behind the organization’s “ridiculously cool” tagline, emphasizing the ways in which it is more than just a sales pitch. In particular, she emphasizes how JKG crafts its “ridiculously cool” model around educational successes from the world of Jewish camping. [4]

(18:24 - 34:32): Who is a 5-day-a-week Jewish after-school program for? Robbins and Littman look at that question. Robbins talks about how the majority of Jewish children nationally do not attend either Jewish day-school (4% total) or a part-time Jewish education program (37%). JKG exists largely to meet the 59-60% of children who don’t have any Jewish educational experiences, though in recent years they have started to gain a following among synagogue members in addition to unaffiliated families. Littman outlines the critical role that choice plays, daily, in how students navigate their own educational experiences — with 3 options every day (15 different ones a week!) revolving around a core subject. Robbins and Littman also look at their B Mitzvah program (gender-neutral term for Bar, Bat, and B’nei Mitzvah), which re-visions and expands the possibilities for what a B Mitzvah is and can be. [5]

(34:33 - 50:00): Dan names that it is a failure of Jewish education that many issues — among them homelessness, the environment, etc — are not perceived by students to be connected to Judaism. Lex asks Littman about their background growing up in the South, along with what it means for JKG to be located in a Southern context. Littman then explores the ways in which their work provides channels for students to enter or re-enter into the contemporary Jewish conversation when they might not otherwise have been able to participate. [6] Robbins looks at what it means to be a “Jewish adjacency-service,” and why doing so is a strong financial model. To close, Robbins explores what keeps her so excited and passionate to go into work for Jewish Kids Groups every day. [7]

[1] Learn more about Jewish Kids Groups at JewishKidsGroups.com, and check out bios for Ana Robbins and Neshama Littman here. For a 2013 article, co-written by Ana Robbins and our very own Dan Libenson, check out Day Schools, Disrupt! Why Day Schools Should Provide Supplemental Jewish Education.

[2] Learn more about the organization Presentense, which played an important role in the founding of Jewish Kids Groups, at Presentense.org.

[3] Robbins mentions her friend Jennie Rivlin Roberts, who helped encourage her to participate in Presentense’s fellowship. Hear more from Rivlin Roberts herself by listening into her appearance on Judaism Unbound here - Episode 96: ModernTribe: Amy Kritzer, Jennie Rivlin Roberts

[4] Think more about the lessons that can be learned from Jewish camp by listening into Episode 190: Jewish Camps, Jewish Utopias - Avi Orlow (Orlow gets a direct shout-out toward the end of this episode as well).

[5] Check out JKG’s collaborative, creative approach to B Mitzvah here.

[6] Here, Littman mentions SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva, an organization near and dear to Judaism Unbound’s heart, as another project that empowers people who have in the past been marginalized in Jewish spaces. Learn more about SVARA’s work by listening to Episode 56: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva - Benay Lappe.

[7] In exploring the idea of “Jewish adjacency-services,” Robbins mentions PJ Library. Learn more about its work at PjLibrary.org, and check out a scholarly study of their work, by past Judaism Unbound-guest Rachel Gross, in this book (you’ll need to purchase the book to read her essay).