Though it has the word "Sephardim" in its name, the new Jewish school affiliated with San Francisco's Sephardic-Orthodox synagogue is anything but strictly Sephardic.
"We are here to serve all the Jewish community. Judaism is not all Ashkenazim nor Sephardim," explained Rabbi Eliahu Shalom Ezran, whose Magain David Sephardim Congregation school is now accepting children up to 5 years old.
The new school is different from others because students and their parents "do not have to be religious to be here," said chief instructor Edna Shabetay Vaknin. "Everyone is welcome. It's not just a school; it's a way of life, a living and loving community.
For the past six years, Magain David held classes only on Sundays. The school will now operate five days a week, offering classes in Hebrew, cooking, science and religious studies. The school is outfitted with a full kitchen, a library and reading room, an art studio and a game room.
"Our plan is to continue to grow. We want to add one class per year. I look forward to the day when we can take care of 30 or 40 [students]. But no matter how large we get, I'd like to be directly involved," says Rabbi Ezran, the synagogue's spiritual leader, who has been running Jewish schools for over 25 years. Among them is Beverly Hills' Shalom Hebrew Academy, which he founded and still supervises.
Ezran, a native Israeli, was for three years principal of Jerusalem's Geva School, where older students earned their high school diplomas while holding full-time jobs.
Vaknin previously taught at both Brandeis Hillel and Hebrew Academy, and plans to bring the best of both schools to Magain David.
"I know what parents look for," she said. "The most important thing is to inspire the children with independence and love of the Jewish religion. I want them to be comfortable and to appreciate their Jewish background."
Very young students "learn by watching and doing," Vaknin said. On Fridays, for instance, the classes bake challah. As they watch the dough rise, youngsters and instructors talk about the rising process "and learn about science along with cooking," Vaknin said.