iJEM: Jewish Education for Military Families
Rabbi Tracy Kaplowitz, Director of Operations JWB Jewish Chaplains Council®
Imagine life in the military. You enlist in California, train in Texas, get specialized training in Alabama, and then are transferred to a base in Germany. There, you meet your bashert (intended one), get married, and two years later, your first child is born on base in Alaska.
Throughout each of these moves, the Jewish military community was there for you. Jewish chaplains and lay leaders led Shabbat services on your training bases. When you married and again when your baby was named, a rabbi was flown in for the occasion. Now, stationed in North Dakota, your first-grader is ready for Hebrew school, but there is none.
This all-too-common scenario has been the accepted version of Jewish life in the U.S. military for many years. Although many Jewish chaplains and lay leaders create and sustain vibrant and engaged communities, Hebrew schools are a rarity in the military. Where they do exist, funding is scarce and doesn’t cover textbooks or workbooks, let alone teachers.
JWB Jewish Chaplains Council®, envisions a time when military families will have access to the same array of resources available in the Jewish world. Thanks to a partnership with ShalomLearning, this vision is becoming reality. Beginning in February, JWB and ShalomLearning launched the iJEM pilot, which brings Jewish education curricula to children in military families.
ShalomLearning offers Jewish education on three distinct platforms, and each one is currently being tested in military settings.
- Two Hebrew schools—one in Spain, the other in Virginia—are beloved by the children who are enrolled and their parents. Coming together each Sunday to learn Torah and explore their Jewish roots has long been a highlight of the week for these families. Yet, with neither a curriculum to follow nor materials to reinforce the students’ lessons at home, each school was limited in its impact. With the ShalomLearning blended curriculum, teachers are now selecting materials from a wide range of options, and students are logging in at home to bolster their classroom learning.
- In Japan, a virtual classroom, including students from Jewish families stationed on Army, Navy and Air Force installations throughout Japan, is about to launch. Although the students can’t meet each week in person, the first class is set for Sunday at 9 a.m. JST (Japan Standard Time)—and neither the kids nor their parents can wait!
- For four families with children of various ages on base in Washington State, travelling more than an hour to a Hebrew school each week is just not feasible. It is a commitment the families can’t meet consistently. However, homeschooling is another story. For these four families, the ShalomLearning online platform not only connects their children to their Jewish roots, history, and traditions, but also is empowering them to read the language of the Torah and the siddur.
With 10,000 Jewish service members—and their 15,000 family members—in the U.S. military, we know we are just beginning to scratch the surface of interest in Jewish learning within the armed forces. Building upon this pilot, we expect to expand slowly, bringing quality Jewish learning to Jewish children on more installations, in additional time zones, and in homes in and around military installations around the world. Within five years, we hope to offer all Jewish families throughout the military easy access to Jewish learning for their children—no matter where they happen to be stationed.
Share our vision, and help us bring Jewish education to every Jewish family in uniform.