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Philadelphia Inquirer: Media synagogue unveils first gaga game pit in area

This article appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer ( on December 24, 2013

Media synagogue unveils first gaga game pit in area

Author: Julie Zauzmer; Inquirer Staff Writer

Edition: CITY-D
Page: B05

Sydney Bruck remembers the Hebrew school recesses of her childhood, when, after class, she and her friends wanted to play gaga, an Israeli version of dodgeball played inside a wooden ring.

"We had to put tables together," Bruck, 18, recalled. "It ruined the tables."

Now, thanks to Bruck and many others who joined her in a campaign to give a new generation of students a place to play gaga, the tables at Congregation Beth Israel in Media are safe.

The synagogue has its very own gaga pit - a first for a synagogue in the Philadelphia area, volunteers there say.

"It's something that was immediately fun. I was so happy to see the kids immediately engaged," said Reisa Mukamal, a teacher at the congregation's Hebrew school. "You can get into it really fast and all ages can play."

When Bruck and her friends started campaigning for a gaga court, they had graduated from the school, which educates about 70 children ages 3 to 12 at the congregation of about 180 families.

As teenagers, they worked in the school, and they started selling pretzels and baked goods to raise money to build a court.

Younger children and passing adults bought thei r goodies, but didn't ask about their cause.

"I don't think everyone knew exactly what our goal was, and no one was asking," Bruck said. So she designed a flier and plastered it all over the synagogue. It read: "Do You Gaga?"

The children were familiar with the fast-paced game from camps and youth retreats, but most adults had never heard of it. Soon, they were asking Bruck to tell them about gaga.

Her enthusiasm caught their attention. A group of adults, led by Mukamal, planned another fund-raiser, at which congregants could pay $5 per box to have sensitive documents shredded. The shredding went on all day, raising $1,000 - enough to buy the $1,200 in materials needed for the gaga pit.

Two handy congregants built the eight-sided playing court using a half-ton of black locust wood from Manayunk Timber, a company that salvages wood from old buildings and downed trees.

Bruck, who is now a freshman at the University of Delaware, said she came home to Media for the dedication of the new gaga pit during Hanukkah, but had not yet had a chance to play a game there.

"I really wanted to leave the Hebrew school off better than I found it. I had worked there so long and they had done so much for me, so I wanted to do something for them," she said.

"I wasn't really raised with a religion - I grew up trying to figure out my faith, I guess. I picked Judaism when I was young and they really adopted me into the community. They gave me a sense of family outside my family."

Jennifer Lenway, the president of the congregation, was moved by the motivation of Bruck and her friends.

"The whole concept of 'generation to generation' - as president, it's 'let's build the endowment fund' and stuff like that. To realize that the teens have already been educated and they grasp that concept, that was really special," she said.

Lenway said the children who play in the new pit might be inspired to think of community projects themsel ves.

"Maybe they'll think, 'Maybe I'll leave something behind,'" she said. "Maybe not as grand as a gaga court." 610-313-8207 @JulieZauzmer

Copyright 2013 Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)

Record Number: 20131224_inq_SGAGA


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