During Hebrew school, Jewish students create Passover plates and covers for a traditional braided bread called challah.
They learn the Hebrew alphabet and how to read its letters. They participate in Jewish plays, and write poems and learn about Judaism's many rituals.
In Carroll County, more children will have the opportunity to connect with their Jewish roots this coming school year, as Pikesville-based Beth El Congregation is opening two Hebrew schools in the area.
"There are Jews scattered now all over the counties and downtown [Baltimore] and uptown. It's no longer that we are concentrated," Eyal Bor, Beth El Congregation's director of education, said. "There are too many communities now that see Jews that are scattered all over that don't have the opportunity or the advantage of having a synagogue and a school within it."
So, several years ago, Beth El decided to open up schools in other counties and areas around Baltimore. They called it A Hebrew School in Your Neighborhood, program director Jill Eisen said. They expect to have more than 100 participants this coming school year, which will be its fifth in existence.
Now, there will be two in Carroll County: one held at Robert Moton Elementary in Westminster, the other at Carrolltowne Elementary in Eldersburg. Both will be held from 4:30 to 6 p.m. every Thursday during the school year for children ages 3 to 13. Prices range from $255 for a 3- or 4-year-old to $750 for one child aged 7 to 13 to $600 for the second child of that same age range.
The two schools will fulfill a need in the county, according to Barbara Arbesman, who runs The Hebrew Learning Center in Eldersburg. Now, the Hebrew Center will merge with the Beth El Congregation's neighborhood school program in Eldersburg, and Arbesman will be one of its teachers.
"We've joined together because I believe that by joining together I am able to provide more of the resources that I could before," Arbesman said. "I'm really excited about it, and I think it'll be fantastic to have a Hebrew school in the Westminster area."
Because before that, there wasn't one. And in Carroll, there is no Jewish congregation that has a building of its own, so Arbesman said she hopes these two Hebrew Schools will help build up the county's Jewish community.
About a year ago, Beth El Congregation began scoping out Carroll for its next A Hebrew School in Your Neighborhood location, according to Eisen. They've sent out fliers and been in contact with Arbesman and "people are just coming out of the woodwork," Eisen said.
There are an estimated 200 to 250 Carroll families who could benefit from the programs, Bor said.
The synagogue is providing the resources for the lessons, a model that's been tested in other counties, such as Howard, where Ellen Marks teaches Hebrew school during the academic year.
At 4:30 p.m. every Thursday, Marks sets up her classroom inside a Howard County elementary school, taking her materials for the day's lesson out of a suitcase. She teaches the children about the Torah and the religious holidays, helping them build a Jewish identity for a religion that comprises about 2 percent of the U.S. population and about 4 percent of Maryland residents, according to 2010 Census data.
Sid Molofsky, a Beth El member who will head the Westminster Hebrew School, said that Jewish education will allow children to learn traditions in a creative, hands-on way.
"We honestly," he said, "just want to give the Jewish kids in Carroll County a place to learn."