ShalomLearning is scaling up our programs and operations faster than we had anticipated.
Thanks to the transformative grants from The William Davidson Foundation and William and Audrey Farber Family foundations, over the past two years, we have grown our enrollment from 300 students in 15 synagogues in 6 states to over 2500 students in 50 congregations (with an 82% retention rate) now in 17 states.
Jewish educators need all the help and support they can get, and I am pleased to share that we have expanded our professional development network from 15 teachers to a sizable community of 256 trained educators that are signing into our LMS (Learning Management System) and sharing curriculum, resources and best practices.
Meanwhile, right now most of our students are engaged in our second unit-B’tzelem Elohim; the Jewish value of “Honoring the image of God in ourselves.” I love this value and its central expression of holiness when we are being our best selves. How? By living up to our endless capacity of helping one another; to sharpen our abilities to see the Divine presence in others.
Indeed, treating our fellow human beings with compassion, benevolence, and dignity is a central tenet of Judaism’s prime directive to “Love our neighbors as ourselves.” (Leviticus 19:18).
In last week’s Torah’s portion- we witnessed the culmination of creation when “God created man in His image. In the image of God He created him, male and female, he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
Many of our students ask about the repetition here with the holy word for creation (“Barah” in Hebrew). Why does the Torah repeat the ultimate creative act on the final 6th day in poetic re-phrasing of the same concept? Perhaps this too was an iterative process.
While doing anything holy, there is a profound effect, a rippling of goodness that is exponential in its positive charge. Our purpose as an organization is to meet the evolving educational needs of today’s Jewish community in a way that’s engaging, relevant, affordable and accessible in order to create an environment in which students, teachers, parents and the community experience Jewish values as a meaningful way to navigate the world.
I can see these positive vibrations of expansion when I look at these numbers. It is of the highest honor to serve you and every day of our work (even the tough stuff) is filled with Divine creative energy when you look for it. Thank you for being part of our impact. It is the highest honor to be part of this team teaching holiness, and thrilling to be able to witness numbers that help quantify our growth.
But it is the quality of honoring God’s image by living a meaningful life and expanding our capacity that make this work come alive.
Not only am I the Chief Operating Officer at ShalomLearning, I am also the parent of a 4th grade ShalomLearning student, which think it has helped be better in both of these roles.
Being very familiar with our content I definitely have an advantage when my son asks me questions at the dinner table Sunday night. “Oh, you want to talk about how people can see two different things in the same picture?
Sure, I know exactly why you’re bringing that up and how it relates to this month’s value of B’tzelem Elohim (honoring the image of God in ourselves) because I also thought that was a cool part of the curriculum.” Ok, that’s not exactly what I say, but you get the idea.
And on the rare occasion (he’s a bit of a thinker and a talker) he doesn’t bring it up, I have some topics up my sleeve to get him chatting more about what they discussed in class that morning. And let’s face it, my husband and younger child are also benefiting. Not only because they get to hear this highly stimulating conversation about why people might see the same thing differently, and how we should always look for the best in others since we are all made in God’s image (B’tzelem Elohim), we all start to actually practice these values.
So when the cup gets knocked over, and the 5-year old complains because we are “having chicken again,” I use my gevurah (using one’s inner and outer strength) to keep my cool just a little bit longer so I can remember we are B’tzelem Elohim, and if I do lose it, I can do teshuvah (taking responsibility for my actions) and get it right the next time.
So, yes, my knowledge of the curriculum gives me an edge over most Hebrew school parents, but it doesn’t solve everything. I still have many of the same issues – especially that over-scheduled life one. We are constantly multi-tasking/dropping balls.
This means I’ve forgotten about class until 5 minutes after it started (luckily the computer is just seconds away), each week I am searching for a time my son can login to do the homework, and I hear the groans from my kid when the lesson may have “missed the mark” (to borrow a term from teshuvah) and didn’t resonate with him.
When these things happen, it’s both terrible and terrific because as a member of the ShalomLearning team, I can think about how we make it better. I love hearing from all of our families and educators about all the little and not-so-little things we can do to improve our programming.
This past year alone we added a 7th grade curriculum, an online only Hebrew program, made updates to our 3rd-6th curriculum, and upgraded our learning management system to make it easier for students and teachers to find and complete assignments. There is so much more to come including a second grade curriculum and new approaches to learning Hebrew and the prayers.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with your ideas. You never know how it could grow and help so many others.