It’s Shabbat. It’s around 4ish in the afternoon. And you happen to be near Sagamore Park on Windsor in Teaneck. There you probably will see nearly 200 children, parents, and friends gathered for what has become more than just a big Shabbat get-together. It’s Perek in the Park.
Started 13 years ago by Teaneck resident Shneur Garb as a tribute to his firstborn son, Zalmi, who died 23 years ago at four weeks old from a RSV, a rare virus, the gathering of babies through 12 year olds has become a convivial “In” place for many enjoying the long Shabbat afternoon during the summer.
“I couldn’t believe it when I recently got an email from someone in the community making a bar mitzvah who listed our Perek in the Park as an activity for their guests on Shabbos,” said Mr. Garb, who owns The Garb IT Consulting, which does, among other things, educational networks.
“That was a very big compliment,” he said.
Perhaps some may know the gathering as “Ices in the Park” because Mr. Garb buys and brings 200 ice popsicles to distribute to the children.
Starting at 5 p.m. sharp, a speaker addresses the crowd. Speakers have included community rabbis of all affiliations, members of the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department, local doctors, and others. The only caveat for the speaker is that their talk must be delivered in about eight minutes.
“We start at 5 p.m. sharp and then the speaker talks until about 5:08 — just about as long as it takes for the kids to eat and finish their ices,” Mr. Garb said.
On any given Shabbat there might be 150 to 200 children and their families who come. Any other park goers, Jewish or not, are invited into the circle as well.
“We really got involved in doing this because we want to make children happy,” said Mr. Garb. Perek in the Park is a Garb family affair, which includes his wife Rachi, and his children, Kayla, 20, Mendy, 18, and Ziggy, 13.
Garb had a partner in the launch, his friend Garron Machlin, who helped initiate the Perek in the Park, an idea that not only makes Shabbat fun, but also sweet. Mr. Garb said that the afternoon talk, schmooze, and snack-fest also gives people who don’t ever have an experience of Shabbat, a taste of what Shabbat can be, and a positive association with the day.
Perek in the Park also was intended a memorial for his late son.
“We thought it important to have a living memorial to Zalmi and to keep his memory alive by sharing this with the community,” Mr. Garb said. “It is something that other communities and shuls can do as well.”
It was also important for him to demonstrate how things can just “get done” by simply committing to something and just doing it.
“It’s 10 dollars a week to buy these ices,” he said. “It’s great to be able to make 200 kids happy and to give them a chance to hear a little Torah. This really has been our pleasure.”
For anyone wanting to start a Perek in the Park, Mr. Garb is available at email@example.com.
Heidi Mae Bratt is the editor of About Our Children.