CHIEF RABBI, HACHAM SHAUL KASSIN 5681 – 5779 / 1921-2018

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By: Frieda Schweky

This Hanukah season the community was buzzing with events and family Hanukah parties each night of the holiday. One event, however, stood out amongst the rest for its unique concept and clever construction. The Shaare Torah 8th grade girls managed, with help from teachers, staff, and some class parents, to transform a room in their school into an ancient cave where the Jews (in the time that the Hanukah story took place) would hide out and practice Judaism in secret to avoid conforming and losing their precious religion. The idea was taken from the trending popularity of “Escape the Room” spots which have been popping up all over the country in recent years. The event was called “Escape the Room – A Hanukah Adventure” and that’s just what it was.

This handmade one-of-a-kind cave, which the students built and decorated themselves, is located in Yeshivat Shaare Torah Girls Elementary Division building. The cave took weeks to construct and to fill with clues and ancient Judaica artifacts to be uncovered.

When a group came in for their scheduled visit, they would first sit down in the auditorium to watch a film made by, you guessed it, the 8th grade girls. The final slide of the film read: “The Greeks are coming! You have a half hour to escape the cave with all traces of Judaica!” All the participants were then handed realistic looking lanterns and were escorted into the cave with the doors shut behind them. Within the cave there were eight Jewish items which the Jews had hidden away for safety. Reading clues and solving them was the only way to get yourself out of the cave safely.

This experience was like none the community has seen before. It was obvious to anyone who saw the cave and played along, that the 8th grade girls had done their research into the ancient times of our ancestors to devise this cleaver and complex puzzle. The girls studied the book Min Hamaayanby Rabbi David Yosef very closely and carefully to obtain the knowledge they needed to take the community back in time.

Eight different clues lead participants to eight different Jewish items that were creatively locked or hidden away for safekeeping. When you entered the room the clues ultimately lead you to activities such as using a magnet at the end of a large wooden stick to fish for a key which was in a large jug, decoding secret messages in a journal, finding a coin and putting it in a gumball machine, which was transformed to look like something else entirely, and holding up a clue to a hidden mirror to decipher a backwards message. Ifplayers needed help with a clue all they had to do was ask. The 8th graders were watching them from a video camera located inside the cave. They would help out as needed.

The event turned out to be so popular that the school extended visiting times from the original two days, and added an additional two days and three nights. One family even hosted their son’s 17th birthday party at this Escape the Room extravaganza. Those who experienced the room had a lot to say!

“I can’t believe the creativity and ingenuity, talent, and effort that the 8th grade girls of Shaare Torah used to build this room,” said Rabbi Joey Haber. “We thought we were coming to a cute school project, we walked out in awe from a thoroughly enjoyable family experience that my children willremember for a very long time.”

“The Escape the Room is unbelievable. It belongs in a magazine and museums! Amazing clues and hiding spots! The design is fantastic. What a talented group of people! We were so impressed,” said Sarina Milloul, a school parent.

In addition to families and community members coming to visit this unique room, Shaare Torah made sure that each of the grades and classes in their school got the opportunity to visit the cave and play along.

The event was truly a success. The students surprised themselves and all who attended with this one-of-a-kind cave. The 8th grade girls of Yeshivat Shaare Torah not only went back in history, but made history with their epic Escape the Room Hanukah Adventure.