She joined about a dozen other seniors – collectively known as the Shababa Bubbies – in a basement space at 92nd Street Y to practice some original verse and light choreography.
On March 17, this collective of grandmas will debut on the Y’s big stage in a public performance and demonstrate how families, generations and the wider community can be linked with a common Jewish thread.
“It started out as a small personal thing for me,” Kent said. “I wanted to grow by doing this. But it’s turned much bigger. We are inspiring and connecting with each other, and circles beyond us.”
The troupe was created this year as a natural outgrowth of Shababa Community, an immensely popular and vibrant Jewish education initiative that has creativity, joy, and family written all over it.
Started in 2007 by Karina Zilberman, Director of Jewish Family Life and Culture at 92nd Street Y and a Covenant Award recipient, the program is a gateway for affiliated and unaffiliated families to partake in Jewish life and education. And it offers a path toward greater Jewish immersion beyond it.
What started as a pre-Shabbat sing-along – with Zilberman leading just six participants with her guitar and sloth puppet in 92nd Street Y’s lobby – has morphed into a weekly celebration attracting hundreds of children and their families, and others from the community.
The celebratory nature of the Shababa experience is buffeted with educational content – such as discussion of parsha – that flows in and out seamlessly.
“The Shababa approach embodies my most deeply held beliefs in the power of community, the need for connection and the fact that spirited and personal Jewish experiences have tremendous potential for meaning and joy,” Zilberman said.
Reflecting her approach that Jewish family education should not be a one-off experience, but should exist along a continuum, the Shababa Community has grown numerous intergenerational branches, the Bubbies being just one.
Since 2009, the Shababa Mamas program brings 20 mothers together as a singing ensemble and sisterhood that performs at Shababa programs and other venues, such as hospitals. And this year saw formation of the Shababa Abbas, the Shababa Sparks – about 30 kids up to age 10 – and even the Shababa Nannies, who couldn’t help taking some of the action themselves.
Intergenerational connections run between all of the groups, as the Shababa spirit infuses families with Jewish connection and identity beyond the walls of the Y.
“I simply can’t imagine our family without Shababa, and I can’t imagine the world without Shababa,” said Robert Levitan of Manhattan, who recently joined the Shababa Abbas.
His wife, Yanina, is a Shababa Mama, and their two young boys – ages 2 and 4 – attend Shababa programming every Saturday.
“One of the great things is that it imparts so powerfully a connection to Jewishness in a way that is fun and musical and touches every one in a family, across generations,” he said.
Participants, whether they are members of a particular Shababa singing group or not, said the intergenerational aspect is key to appreciation and celebration of Judaism in their families.
“It is about creating a wonderful sense of Jewish community, here and at home,” said Karen Friedman, a Shababa Bubbie from Westchester Country, north of the city.
“The nannies are as engaged with it as the bubbies and the mothers and the fathers and the children. The fact that we are embracing it in this tremendously joyous and fun environment makes a statement to our children and grandchildren that yes, this is important.”
Marty Maskowitz, Director of Jewish Life at 92nd Street Y, believes that Shababa is a key model of how Jewish institutions can build and grow community through intergenerational engagement.
“Success shouldn’t be measured by the number of people attending a program here or there,” he said. “It should be measured by ability to create, build and sustain community, and Shababa has led us toward making that a core approach. The amazing thing about Shababa is that it is incorporating and welcoming the extended family and bringing them together through one never ending experience.”
Zilberman has presented the Shababa model of intergenerational engagement and community building in workshops in Berlin, where the Jewish population is growing, as well as in Israel and London.
A workshop – The Educator as Alchemist – will take place at 92nd Street Y on April 14. Zilberman, accompanied by Jewish community-building professionals, will offer an experiential seminar on creating cross-generational programming that borrow lessons from the Shababa success.
Back in the rehearsal hall, the Shababa Mamas were taking their turn on the floor, singing a rendition of “We are Family” with customized lyrics speaking not only to the power of Jewish community, but also the supportive sisterhood they have found in their corner of Shababa.
“Shababa for me is fun, inspiring, and all about connecting and girl power in an epic way,” said Shababa Mama Marcelle Rand. “We bring the joy home and it just travels with us wherever we are.”
By H. Glenn Rosenkrantz, for The Covenant Foundation