By Yehudis Litvak, Jewish Home LA
On Motzaei Shabbos, Binyan Ariel, the family learning program at Congregation Bais Betzalel on Pico Boulevard, held its last session of the season. 80 children attended. Many of them came with their fathers, but some came with grandparents or uncles.
This is what makes Binyan Ariel unique among learning programs, explains the director, Rabbi Zalmy Hecht. Binyan Ariel aims to include everyone, including those children whose fathers are no longer alive or are unable to participate for another reason.
Moreover, Binyan Ariel reaches out not only to boys, but also to girls. Any child under bar or bas mitzvah is welcome to come and learn with a male family member.
The program has existed for several years, but it was recently renamed Binyan Ariel, after Rabbi Ariel Rav-Noy, a”h, a young father who passed away last year and who used to attend the program with his children.
Binyan is the Hebrew abbreviation for “sons/daughters, grandsons, and granddaughters,” as well as meaning “building.”
This year, the program was attended by about 80 children of various ages, who came to learn with their family members. “Some kids are learning Gemara, while others are learning the alef beis,” says Rabbi Hecht.
The program runs for several months every winter, starting the week after clocks “fall back” and ending during the month of Adar. Early in the winter, Binyan Ariel runs from 7:00 pm till 8:15 pm, and as Shabbos ends later, the program moves to 7:30 pm till 8:45 pm.
For the first 45 minutes, the children and adults learn something together. They can choose any Torah topic – school homework, parsha, or anything they are interested in learning. During this time, Rabbi Hecht gives out tickets to all children who are learning. Then a pizza melave malka is served, and Rabbi Hecht tells the children stories.
After everyone bentches out loud, a raffle is held, and those who have the winning tickets receive prizes. At the grand finale last Motzaei Shabbos, in addition to the prizes, each child also received their own Megillas Esther. The program concluded with lively Adar dancing.
Children love coming to the Binyan Ariel program. “It has a great energy and is a great way to start the week with Torah and fun,” says Rabbi Hecht. Throughout the year, Rabbi Hecht also runs Kol Avraham, a junior congregation at Bais Betzalel, where the children actively participate in their own minyan.