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Newton: A Community that Cares with Dreamfar High School Marathon and Kesher Jewish Learning

By Kristen Bosse

Two years ago, CNN and Money magazine announced its list of America's best small cities (with populations of 50,000 to 300,000). The list, compiled with data from a variety of sources, rated small towns based on economic strength, quality health care, low crime, great schools, and whether the town is a "true community." As you could have predicted, Newton landed at the top of the list coming in at #15. Anyone who has lived in Newton can vouch for its high-quality school system and low crime rate. Overall, it is a very safe place to live a quaint existence and raise a family. However, CNN and Money magazine got me thinking about their use of the term "true community". What exactly constitutes a true community and what organizations in Newton helped contribute to this title? Let's take a look at two organizations in the Newton area that have continuously cared for their community in their own unique ways.

Dreamfar High School Marathon

Dreamfar High School Marathon (DHSM) is best known as New England's first high school marathon program. Originally founded in 2008 by Jamie Chaloff, the idea sprung from Chaloff's own life experiences as a special education teacher in Newton. In her role as a teacher, she found herself drawn to the students who fell through the cracks. In her mind, there had to be some way to motivate them to be more driven individuals. Lo and behold, everything clicked for her the moment she crossed the finish line of her first marathon. She described crossing the finish line as "one of the most empowering moments of her life."

It was this exact feeling that ended up inspiring the formation of DHSM years later. Since its inauguration, the program has become more and more successful as time goes by. To date, over 250 students from eleven schools in the Greater Boston area have trained for and run the Providence Marathon with DHSM. The program is now recognized as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, with the hopes to one day reach every high school in New England. Their mission has been, and will continue to be- to challenge high school students to reach their full potential physically, socially, emotionally, and academically through a mentor-supported marathon-training program.

One of the most amazing things about the DHSM program is that anyone in high school can participate. The program does not look for athletes, but rather students who are looking for a place to belong, a way to challenge themselves, and an activity that lets them learn more about their true self. Over one hundred volunteers from the Greater Boston area act as leaders and mentors for the students, training with the students during the week, and then running long distance on the weekends at the Brookline Teen Center (made available every Saturday morning by graciousness of Owners). This intense training, only made possible by the graciousness of the volunteers, allows students who have never ran or walked a mile to have the chance to participate in the Providence Marathon.

Although the program does focus on running the marathon on May 3rd, Chaloff insists that the training involved is so much more than just running.
"It really teaches you what you are made of. You learn to set goals and you learn to follow through with them, especially if you want to complete the marathon. You learn that there is no faking a marathon and there is no way to fake life- it takes hard work, determination, perseverance and support. You also learn to like yourself and you learn to believe in your own strengths."

Each student who participates in the Marathon Training Program is bound to receive one of the many gifts it brings. This gift is different for each person- for some it's new found confidence, for others it's realizing that homework isn't nearly as hard as running a long distance, and for others it could be as simple as meeting new friends. DHSM is about creating a tight knit community with a true sense of belonging. It is about bringing together students from various high schools, various backgrounds, and different learning styles and giving them an activity that makes them realize how similar they really are! Those interested in getting involved should contact Liz at Liz@dreamfarhsm.org or make a donation at www.dreamfarhsm.org.

Kesher Newton Jewish Learning

The Kesher Jewish Learning program in Newton in fact originally stemmed from the Kesher Program in Cambridge. Founded in 1992 by Marlene Booth, Kesher Community Hebrew School/After School was formed to address the needs of working parents with the desire for a strong Jewish education and community for their children. The program uses a new method of teaching Hebrew and Judaism, letting children learn through play and practice, integrated with some text study. Thankfully in 1995, founding director Linda Echt and Kesher in Cambridge received a Covenant Grant from the Covenant Foundation, which allowed them to put time and effort into thoughtfully building an innovative program relevant to children's lives.

Years later, Liz Nahar and Laura Blaskett (two Newton moms) were checking out the Kesher Program in Cambridge, and got hit with a great idea. After talking it over with other Newton moms, they realized that many parents in the town were in search of a program that taught their Jewish beliefs to their children. Nowadays, the Kesher program in Newton operates as an after-school program, Jewish youth group, a Jewish summer camp and a Hebrew School all rolled into one. There are many families who need after-school care for their children anyway because both parents work. In this way, Kesher is providing "two for the price of one", with an after-school care program and an institute of Jewish education.

Around the Newton Community, Kesher is known for their strong Jewish curriculum and their fresh approach to learning. Instead of being stuck in a classroom, kids are encouraged to play and communicate with one another during various activities such as Israeli Dancing, cooking, arts, drama, and games. When they do visit the classroom, the syllabus follows a three-year cycle, each year setting the course for a different journey through the same Jewish text. One year focuses on Jewish values and ethics, one year focuses on collective Jewish memory and Jewish history, and one focuses on the Jewish calendar and cycles. Each year they draw upon the other two themes (as well as many more themes) to support their focus.

The Kesher Newton Learning Program has become increasingly popular with the town community over the years, bringing together more and more Jewish families striving to keep their culture alive within their children. Executive Director Ilana Snapstailer elaborated on their popularity with residents.
"Kesher Newton has gained great popularity in the Jewish community. Families come to us not only from Newton, but from Boston, Brookline, Wellesley and other neighboring towns. I hear great things from parents of Kesher alumni. Many tell me that they were so well prepared and confident for their bnei mitzvahs. Others tell me that they are ahead in their high school Hebrew classes."

Kesher is providing an amazing service to their town by passing an authentic Jewish learning experience to those families that wish to continue the tradition. With an overwhelming Jewish presence in Greater Boston and Newton specifically, organizations such as this help perpetuate each family's tradition and give the Jewish residents of the town a greater sense of unity.

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