BJE creates Jewish travel kit for families on the road

As families embark on summer road trips to Disneyland, Bubbe's house and destinations beyond, 40 local Jewish families will test navigate an experimental travel kit.

The kit, "Travel Time," is the brainchild of 14 Jewish family educators from area synagogues and Jewish agencies. The S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education assembled the group to enrich members' Jewish knowledge so they could develop new ways of promoting family learning.

As part of their mission, the teachers decided that summer road trips present an opportunity for families to learn about Judaism.

"Time in the car can be some of the most fun and frustrating experiences for a family. The idea was to take that time and do Jewish activities that are really fun," said Rachel Brodie, a member of the project.

The group's shoulder bag-style kit contains a disposable camera, crayons, a plastic bag, a pencil, sharpener and a magnifying glass, all of which are used in activities outlined in a manual. Also included is a cassette tape of Jewish songs, folk and biblical stories, prayers and poems.

The theme of all the activities is M'kadesh L'chol, making the ordinary holy.

"Travel Time is about opening our eyes and seeing things a new way — a Jewish way," educator Clair Mikowski explains as narrator of the peppy tape.

Travel Time adopts road trip activities from pit-stops to snack breaks as ways to examine the ordinary through a Jewish lens. A tree becomes a symbol for the family, the Torah and other Jewish concepts. A french fry can be the subject of a talmudic discussion of humanity's place in the food chain.

Even a trip to the restroom is an occasion to sing a Jewish blessing.

The educators, who represent 12 area synagogues and Jewish agencies, were careful to select families for the project that had enough Jewish knowledge to administer Travel Time. After all, what good is a family discussion if no one in the family knows much about Judaism?

Nevertheless, the kit is basic Judaism 101, easy enough for most age groups and clever enough to keep the older ones tuned in to the educational games, folksy songs and stories.

In the manual are evaluative postcards that the kids fill out during the trip and send to the BJE.

"We expect that there will be glitches," Brodie said.

At the end of the summer, the 40 families will gather for a tailgate party to share their impressions of Travel Time. Based on their input, the educators will make refinements and, if all goes smoothly, pitch it to a publisher for mass production.

Brodie points out that her high-spirited group is less concerned about crafting a money-maker than helping families explore what it means to be Jewish.

Travel Time narrator Mikowski takes a stab at that question on the cassette — "To be a Jew means to wake up and keep your eyes open to the beautiful, mysterious and holy things that happen around us every day.

"When you wake up and see the morning light, when we taste food and grow strong, when we learn from others and grow wise, when we hug the people we love and feel warm, when we help others and feel good inside," Mikowski says, "all these and more are there for us, but we must open our eyes and see."

Lori Eppstein

Lori Eppstein is a former staff writer.