In New England, the beauty of the changing leaves around are as breathtaking as the spiritual wake up call which buzzes inside us. Can you feel the changes all around you? Can you turn your negative behaviors, relationships, and your mis-steps around to becoming a better you? In Judaism, it is imperative that we participate in making the world a better place and make a stand for our fellow human beings (yes….the doing) while not forgetting it is ultimately nurtured by who we are becoming (ahh…the being).
Thank God we’ve lived another year, and Rosh Hashanah brings a fresh start with a celebration of the birthday of the world. Perhaps it’s because it’s all I’ve ever known, but It always feels fitting in the autumn. What’s that gliding down heading my way? What’s that in the shofar I hear? Oh yeah…Its Teshuvah time!
Now of course, the act of repentance shouldn’t merely be seasonal. In truth, it is a lifelong process that touches every season of the human experience if you’re doing the spiritual work of repentance. There is no reason to wait until Yom Kippur to admit your wrong-doings, apologize to those you’ve wronged, ask forgiveness, and promise never to do it again. (Note: the previous sentence contains the four main steps of teshuvah).
There is something extra special about this time of year, when we come together as a community for collective prayer, delving into where we’ve gone astray, and individually, we work on arduous self-reflection in order to “turn things around” and to be our best selves moving forward.
Jewish tradition refers to archery when searching for the perfect word for our unintentional sins as cheit, which literally means to “miss the mark.” Haven’t we all missed the mark at some point? The good news is that we can try again to get closer to our best destiny. Preparing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur helps us draw a line in the sand and begin again. We can reset our intention and re-focus our attention.
Teshuvah is also great for looking at your organizational targets. Each of the past 5 years, The ShalomLearning team has set measurable goals and scaled up our programs nationally. From 300 students and 15 teachers at 15 synagogues in 2015 we’ve now grown partnerships with 110 synagogues, working closely with over 800 educators and 6000 students enrolled in 5780 (2019-2020)!
Getting back to your spiritual path, It is not easy to get things “right,” and hit our targets with the things that truly matter – deeds of loving kindness, studying Torah, connecting with our Creator, and performing tzedakah, to name a few essential mitzvot.
So… how do you know when you’ve truly completed teshuvah? You will know when you come across the same situation in life where you made the previous mistake for which you’ve already atoned, but this time, choose the right thing to do. Our beloved 12th century Jewish philosopher, Maimonides (aka Rambam) called this epilog fifth stage “Teshuvah Gemurah,” Complete Teshuvah.
His students would ask, “But Rabbi what if you are not faced with that same situation again?”
“Don’t worry,” Rambam smiled, “You will.” He also knew a thing or two about Karma.
May you all take the lessons of life and turn things around to be your best selves as I wish you a sweet and happy New Year with blessings of strong and vibrant learning communities deeply rooted in Jewish values.
L’Shana Tova U’Metukah!
Summer is just around the corner! As the rhythmic clock of the Hebrew School academic year winds down, ShalomLearning students are concluding with our seventh unit, Shalom. As many people know, the three most popular translations of Shalom are “hello,” “goodbye,” and “peace.” In the ShalomLearning Jewish values lessons, we take a deeper dive into the etymology via the word’s shoresh (root) which is shalem meaning “completeness.”
Our curriculum designers intentionally and brilliantly saved Shalom to be the final value of the year because there is a sense of peace in being complete. And of course, in Judaism we look towards the next question, “are we ever truly complete?” Part of our nature is to continue to grow and learn and strive to become the best authentic selves we can be. What we do in life, our actions (hopefully mitzvot) are of paramount importance, to strive for social justice and contribute to a better world (tikkun olam) but even higher, the zenith, the ultimate destiny is who we become. We grow in order to be. Where are we growing? What are we becoming? As I look back on the years with ShalomLearning, I am constantly amazed by our growth.
In 2011, founders Devin Schain and Andrew Rosenberg created our first cohort of seven students with one teacher (Rabbi Yakov Majeski) at one partner site in Bethesda, MD. We grew our team and resources to include a curriculum for grades 4-6. Incrementally we added on additional features and levels, expanding our Jewish communities of practice and commitment to pluralism and inclusiveness. The 2018-2019 enrollment consisted of 5128 students and 643 teachers at 98 partner schools. Collectively, if we look at our community as one and complete, this is the largest Hebrew School in the world!
This fall, you will notice we’ve expanded our offerings to include:
- Lessons (28 per grade) for eight different grades (K-7),
- More hands on training and mentorship for teachers with seven in person workshops this summer and additional webinars,
- A new iteration of learning prayer through gamification (ShalomLearning Escape Room 2.0), and
- Meaningful partnerships with over 120 synagogues across North America – both large and small of various affiliations.
We are committed to be more than just a provider. Rather we are partners with each congregation, helping every community make their educational independent visions a reality. I am so proud of what our learning community has accomplished. May you all continue to grow to be your best selves and enjoy the journey in striving for Shalom. “Summer lease hath all too short a date,” (Thank you Shakespeare!) and I look forward to starting anew in the fall as we continue to grow together.
Purim is just around the corner! Our 3-7th grade students are currently studying the core Jewish value of Hakarat Hatov, seeking joy and being grateful.
Hakarat Hatov is the quintessential Jewish value; as the name of Yehuda (Judah), is rooted in hodah – to give thanks. It is the essence of a meaningful Jewish experience. While one may have all the blessings of goodness (good health, wonderful family, and friends to name a few), without gratitude, one’s journey through life can’t capture the full meaning of appreciation. Giving thanks and finding ways to conveying gratitude is a profound key to happiness.
I am so grateful to be part of the transformation and growth of Jewish education here at ShalomLearning. We have the distinct joy of working on innovative projects, and kvelling over some recent successes. Working with Bible Raps, we are empowering our students to create their own original Jewish values rap songs at Temple Shalom in Succasunna, NJ, Temple Chaverim in Plainview, NY, and Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood, PA. We have plans to continue this program in the fall at other partner synagogues.
We are also pumped from the success of our first virtual escape room game. I’d like to give a big shout out to Ben, our eight-year old winner, from California, who shares his experience in this interview with Heidi Lovitz, our Director of Educational Programming
To prepare for the fall, we’re currently putting the final touches on the new and updated curriculum. We’re also announcing the six locations for in-person summer training opportunities for our ShalomLearning educators. I look forward to seeing many of you at one of these sites or one of the training webinars.
May your hunger for Jewish Learning continue to grow, and my prayer for us all is to continue cultivating an attitude of gratitude- hakarat hatov!
I hope everyone enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and friends. The holiday weekend brought so many opportunities to think of others, extending all the way to Giving Tuesday. Although ShalomLearning did not add to your inbox flurry of worthy organizations on Giving Tuesday, I hope you’ll consider adding ShalomLearning as one of your recipients.
ShalomLearning became a non-profit to better serve our partner congregations. Our goal is to support them and their staff to provide a meaningful Jewish education to their families. We are working together to create the next generations of strong, caring Jewish leaders.
While we have a pricing model, it doesn’t cover the true cost of creating the constantly evolving, engaging program we offer. In addition, we tout that money should never be a reason a religious school doesn’t adopt the ShalomLearning program. When budgets are short, we find donors, like you, to help cover the difference.
Please reach out to me to discuss giving opportunities or donate online today: www.shalomlearnig.org/donate
Shana Tova! I hope everyone had a wonderful summer. The school year is well underway for many and just getting started for others. We had a very busy summer here at ShalomLearning: training teachers (with now over 600 registered in our growing community of practice) and checking in with all of our partner sites (at almost 100 synagogues reaching 5000 students) to ensure everyone has the tools, resources, and support needed to be successful in and beyond the classroom.
We’re still glowing from the impact of our training sessions at NewCAJE in Hartford, and from our training days in Chicago, Davie, Rockville, and Los Angeles. We’ve heard wonderful feedback from these sessions as well from the webinars. We’re constantly impressed by the ideas and visions for the future of Jewish education shared in these workshops and are very proud of the growing supportive culture within the ShalomLearning community.
But don’t just follow my opinion. (I love the work that we do!) The Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, has just released the first study of its kind, evaluating the past two years of our program. It has been an incredibly exciting journey to innovate in Jewish Supplementary School Education (its what we do) – something long forgotten by much of the Jewish philanthropic world. Once upon a time, and not long ago, too many Jewish families dismissed Hebrew School as mediocre at best and inaccessible and irrelevant in their busy lives. We work tirelessly to ensure 21st century Jewish education doesn’t make the same mistakes of the last 50 years. But, you can access the full report online here.
I hope our curriculum’s value of “Teshuvah” is a growing term of relevance in yours lives as we are in the Ten “Days of Awe” between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. This is the time to reflect on how you can “return” to our best selves, your loved ones, and your Creator.
At ShalomLearning, we take this time to not only enter our own introspection, but also on how we can improve as an organization.
One of our team’s greatest strengths comes from listening to feedback and channeling that information to find ways to improve.
I look forward to another year of working together with all of you in the ShalomLearning community to continue to make Jewish education more accessible and engaging for everyone.