Reaching Uruguay's thousands of Jews one kid at a time. That's what Rochel Shemtov's initiative does through a series of fun-filled educational programs it brings to local schools monthly.

Every month for the past three years, Jewish Kids in Action has visited Jewish schools around the South American country with holiday-themed productions combining live action, video, comedy, music and games. It promotes an interactive style of Jewish learning, says Shemtov, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Uruguay, that leaves children hungry for more.

"They come to learn and live each holiday once a month," she explains.

Just before Passover, for instance, Jewish children in Montevideo participated in a chocolate matzah factory. For Lag B'Omer, the early summer anniversary of the death of the 2nd century sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Jewish Kids in Actions plans to take children on an eco-adventure outdoor activity.

All of the productions – which take place on Jewish school grounds, in neighborhood theaters, or at the Beit Jabad del Uruguay Shemtov operates with her husband, Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov – provide free entertainment to the students. The rabbi fundraises to cover the costs of the sometimes elaborate sets and to pay for actors.

Shemtov notes that every effort is worth it to inspire Jewish children. They're even planning to build a Jewish children's museum in Montevideo that would host large-scale Jewish Kids in Action events.

"The kids feel a sense of pride, belonging," she says, "the pride and joy of being Jewish."

Modest Beginnings

An audience of day school children show off their charity boxes at a Jewish Kids in Action event produced by Rochel Shemtov, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Uruguay.
An audience of day school children show off their charity boxes at a Jewish Kids in Action event produced by Rochel Shemtov, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Uruguay.
The project began 10 years ago. At the time, Shemtov was hosting a model matzah bakery once a year that would draw hundreds of children.

A new principal arrived at the school that served as the venue for the bakery, and gave Shemtov the opportunity to expand her programming.

"I thought that we shouldn't have to wait for major holidays to do programs," says Shemtov. "So I wrote up a program to do way-out activities once a month for the schools. It's been a boom ever since."

The professional productions frequently garner local press coverage. Last year's interactive musical "Candles Go on Strike," which took the audience back in time to the first Chanukah, utilized the combined talents of television producers and actors at Montevideo's Metro Theatre. Some 600 children from all of the city's Jewish schools attended.

"It was beautiful to see how happy and excited the children were as they entered the hall, accompanied by their respective teachers and principals," wrote reporter Isac Gliksberg in the weekly Seminario Hebreo. "I enjoyed the show immensely; it brought me back to those wonderful years as a child."

Videotapes of some of the productions have been distributed to Spanish-speaking audiences across the world. Jewish Kids in Action educational shorts are available for viewing on the YouTube Web site.

"The shows are just magical," says Shemtov.

At last years "Candles Go on Strike," six-year-old Deborah Bergstein agreed: "The best part was when the jug of oil seemed to be flying," she said. "It was very cool."

Shemtov has begun to focus attention on getting other Chabad-Lubavitch centers around the world to copy her program. She notes that in Uruguay, its gotten children excited about their Jewish identity.

"The kids recognize me when I'm out in the street," she says. " They all want to hug me," she says. "It's the craziest thing.