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.
It’s hard to believe our school year is once again coming to a close. Most of our students have already begun our final unit, Shalom. Correct English translations for Shalom are “hello,” “goodbye,” and “peace.” However, looking deeper into the Shoresh (root) of the Hebrew word, its essence is “Shalem,” which means “completeness.”
The Jewish ideal of being at peace is to be compete. It is no accident that we’ve chosen this Jewish value as a great way to end the academic year. It’s reflective of the previous six values as it all ties into our greatest destiny as a people: to repair the world as partners with God and gain a sense of “completeness,” for both all of humanity and for the validation of our individual sense of who we are in this world. The things we do, the actions and mitzvot, are what has paramount importance in this world, not just inward reflection, and yet, it is WHO WE BECOME that ultimately matters in your journey through life.
Rabbi Tarfon used to say, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2:16) Of course our work, this holy work of helping and healing and shining a Light unto the nations of the world, is never finished.
And yet, we keep on trying with all our might. We are instructed to “seek peace and pursue it.” And not just a casual “pursue,” like a hobby. No, the Hebrew word used in Tanach for pursue is rodeph which is like one doing battle or about to commit a murder. This is not a casual pursuit, andits not to do an evil act. But rather its opposite. By pursuing peace with such commitment, we are on a mission, we are focused and our desire is to help create a calmer, more peaceful world. This is a holy act and everyone with a proper Jewish values education knows this truth.
May you all have wonderful summers and pursue peace in all you do. If you are one of our ShalomLearning educators, I look forward to learning together with you over the summer at one of our professional development workshops. And if you are a student in the next academic year, may you live up to your infinite capacities to become aligned with your greatest destiny: complete and total peace within and the creation of better world filled with Shalom.
Participants in ShalomLearning’s No Teacher Left Behind (an 8 week course in partnership with JETS) are learning about different online tools, and how they can used for Jewish education. Alissa Okrent, Religious School Principal at Temple Shalom, Succasunna, NJ used her new skills and her creativity to engage her students right away! Using Padlet, an online, collaborative, bulletin board, she created an activity where the seventh graders gained a deeper understanding and connection with tefillah.
She shared with us the following (and we’re including a picture so you feel like you know her):
One of my personal joys is helping my students feel our prayers are relevant today. My two foundations for this lesson were: Achrayut and nature. How can I integrate these two concepts into an activity that would engage my students, and help me to interact with each other and the learning?
I began with nature, choosing pictures that gave me a sense of “prayer meaning.” Seeing the “rock” could be an image of Gevurot; the sky aligned with God/Shema and the path felt like a connection to being in the present moment.
I asked, “What words describe this image?”, they typed in their words, and things started to appear on the screen. The lines, and arrows, and “web” effect was a total surprise to me!
Once each picture had words associations, I asked them, based on their understanding of the meaning of the prayers we had discussed, which prayer correlates to which image? There are no wrong answers. As I watched the words appear on the screen, I asked the group to create a poem which could be their prayer.
One of the students composed the poem and we all experienced our own moment of Achrayut; becoming a better version of ourselves.
Shana Tova! Our year is off to a great start here at ShalomLearning! We are so excited to launch another great year of learning, engaging discussion, and thoughtful questions in our classes and communities. Our numbers have grown significantly, and we welcome our new friends along with our old ones. We look forward to all the joys this year brings for our extended ShalomLearning family.
In our last academic year, ShalomLearning outperformed all of our goals: delivered quality Jewish education to over 2,500 students, trained over 250 educators, and strengthened partnerships with 50 congregations.
Thanks to your involvement, ShalomLearning’s programs continue to scale up at a very exciting pace. As of this writing, we have grown our synagogue partnerships yet another 40% for this current academic year, bringing our total synagogues partners to 73 in 21 different states, Canada, and Bermuda (and we’re still hearing from congregations that need our program)!
ShalomLearning’s deep commitment to professional development, easy to use virtual classroom tools, engaging Jewish values curriculum, and blended Hebrew programs create meaningful relationships between teachers, students, parents, and their Jewish communities.
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!
Temple Judea in Fort Myers, FL was excited to start using the ShalomLearning program at their Hebrew school. Elizabeth Singer, the Director of Congregational Learning attended our Teacher Retreat in Davie in August, worked with her teachers to prepare for class, and looked forward to introducing the seven values to her students. While she was interested in the virtual classroom, she wasn’t planning to use it this year. Then came Hurricane Irma.
Due to damage from the storm, the community can’t use the synagogue for a while; therefore, Elizabeth reached out to ShalomLearning about using a virtual classroom to re-connect her community while their physical space is being rebuilt. We were happy to help, and so were others. Temple Israel in New York City also offered assistance. With several experienced virtual-classroom teachers, they invited Temple Judea’s educators to observe specific classes and benefit from their experiences. Now the families of Temple Judea will use ShalomLearning materials to engage the students even before their regular school re-opens.
If you know of another Jewish community impacted by Harvey or Irma who would benefit from an online curriculum (no ruined books!) or a virtual classroom, please let us know. We are willing to help anyone who needs it.