“There is nothing more whole than a broken heart,” said Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (1787–1859), also known as the Kotzker Rebbe. Tonight the Jewish people welcome a lesser known, somewhat mystical, Jewish holiday, Lag B’Omer. MyJewishLearning summarizes it’s key elements in this great article.
As a child, I remember this fun holiday featuring BBQs, bonfires, and whiffle ball games with friends and family. Most of that is not possible right now.
It is fascinating that tonight we are instructed to take a break from this “period of semi-mourning,” as we arrive at the 33rd day of our count off from Passover to Shavuot (Sferat Ha’Omer). A popular notion is that on this day the mysterious plague which killed 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students suddenly ended. This very well might have been Akiva’s students’ death count in the Bar Kochba rebellion (132 C.E.) against the Romans, and the rabbis needed to choose their language carefully for the political ramifications. But I find it a little strange that of all things, it is a plague that is the chosen description for this massive loss.
Most of us have never experienced a pandemic. It is hard reading the daily news, let alone juggling all of the challenges that this intense disruption of our normal lives has created. But I would like to remind us all that spiritual highs in life are almost always preceded by lows. Perhaps you can think of bending an elastic band back to give it the maximum thrust forward. That might be where we are at right now. If you feel that you are experiencing a low point in your life, this might be a perfect time for you to recognize that you are generating spiritual energy that will bring you to a higher consciousness. Whenever we are going through hard times, there is an opening to your heart. You become more compassionate, more thoughtful, more soft and loving. These spiritual qualities will lead you to a better destiny.
I hope that this newsletter finds you and your loved ones healthy. And I pray that our own mysterious plague will end soon. But in the meantime, happy Lag B’Omer, and I hope that you can recognize when your spiritual energy is building despite any low points you encounter.
Hebrew schools across North America made a dramatic and rapid shift into virtual classrooms in the wake of COVID-19. Now, with the potential for a second wave of contagion this fall, educational directors are making plans to keep classes online at the start of the next school year.
The impact of COVID-19 on the Jewish education landscape was severe, with many synagogues scrambling to adapt their curricula to online platforms, some more successfully than others. Online curriculum providers were suddenly flooded with inquiries, many from educational directors who had little to no experience with virtual classrooms or blended (online and in-person) teaching models.
One such nonprofit organization, ShalomLearning, which specializes in online and blended curricula for Hebrew schools, saw demand jump sharply. Since mid-March, an additional 210 teachers began using the platform, while the number of students enrolled in their virtual classrooms grew by 2,000 to 7,800, bringing ShalomLearning’s partnership total to 163 congregations across North America.
“We weren’t surprised that interest rose so quickly as our numbers have been growing every year and teachers, students and families are really enjoying our lessons. And there was an enormous increase in demand for teacher training on how to run a virtual classroom since we had the technology in place since 2011 to address this need ,” said Joshua Troderman, ShalomLearning’s CEO. “What was surprising, however, are the reports that we are receiving that student attendance in the virtual classrooms are rising tremendously. Many Jewish educators who were once reluctant to embrace new technologies were caught off-guard, but they now realize the necessity and are getting on-board, especially considering all the summer camp closures that have been announced this month and what’s expected this Fall.”
Public health officials have begun to warn of a potential second wave of COVID infections later this year, which could be further exacerbated by the return of flu season. With this in mind, several synagogues have already declared their intention to operate virtually at the start of the school year, including Kehilat Shalom in Montgomery Village, MD and Temple Sinai in Brookline, MA.
“We look forward to keeping our virtual learning going in the fall,” said Temple Sinai Director of Education Heidi Smith Hyde. “I’ve heard from a few parents that offering an online option will make their lives easier by eliminating the need for transportation to and from religious school, especially during a busy work week.”
One benefit to online platforms that use a blended model is the ability to seamlessly switch from in-person to online as needed. The curriculums are designed to be flexible and adaptable, which is increasingly important to educators given the current uncertainty over COVID.
“Kids were so bored sitting at home, so having something like ShalomLearning that was programmed and familiar made it more enjoyable for them,” Rabbi Charles Arian of Kehilat Shalom added. “No one knows what’s going to happen by September and this uncertainty is what’s making people antsy. Continuing our online classes will help give people a degree of certainty.”
Bikkur cholim בִּיקוּר חִוֹלים (visiting the sick) is a tangible and easy mitzvah מצְוָה for your students to learn about and practice. It is more relevant than ever as we continue to struggle with the effects of Covid-19. Everyone has been sick at one time or another and appreciated the extra attention and love of someone close to them during that time.
We, at ShalomLearning, created a free lesson for teachers to use in a virtual classroom with students ages 5-8 and their parents to explore this Jewish value. Together, the class will learn and share ways to help others feel better even when we are not able to visit in person.
The lesson begins with a social and emotional check in. It is important to connect with families and provide an opportunity for everyone to share feelings. Through observations and personalization, this lesson helps students explore their thoughts and emotions about visiting and helping those who are not feeling well and encourages empathy. We conclude that the ways we help will lead toward healing. Healing does not always mean that there is a cure; it can also be a healing of the spirit.
Throughout the lesson, students actively share things that help them feel better and create a Get Well Card Video to share with others to support their healing. The post lesson extensions are full of great ideas that families can do together to perform the mitzvah of bikkur cholim, even when we can’t visit in person.
ShalomLearning has created a version of this stand alone lesson for our Jewish families in the military. Distributed through our partnership with the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council, families on military bases throughout the world will receive this lesson to do together at home.
Refuah Shleima. May we all be blessed with healing and kind helpers.
Access this free lesson here: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/19xG-IlRNQNZlh4uaMDc_gi-dpj274WCMODEchwDcUFk/edit?usp=sharing
I am glad so many families in grades K-2 are enjoying the games and activities-based curriculum shared by ShalomLearning earlier this month called, “The Tribe.” I originally created this program for “tribe-size” gatherings of families before joining ShalomLearning’s Board of Directors. With the current pandemic, I modified the activities for individual family use at home.
COVID-19 has created an urgent need for physical distancing, making it more important than ever to connect socially with family and friends. I’m excited to share a new program for K-2 families to use at home: Living Jewish Values. This program creates an additional opportunity for families to “check-in” for virtual, intergenerational values exploration and storytelling visits regularly with grandparents, aunts, and uncles, cousins, and anyone else you care about who may be feeling isolated.
Research by Emory psychologists, Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush, has shown that children raised with family stories that give them a sense of being part of something bigger–an “intergenerational sense of self”-show increased resilience, less anxiety, fewer behavior problems, higher self-esteem, greater family cohesiveness, and improved chances of good educational outcomes.
As my Grandma Rose used to say: “Use it in good health!”
Five Easy Steps to Get Started
- Let your family/friends know you want them to join you in “Living Jewish Values.” Contact a family member/friend to let them know about the program and the first value “Welcoming Guests.” Ask your relative/friend to think of a 2-3 minute family story to share about the value.
- Watch the video about the value with your child(ren) about an hour before the scheduled call with the storyteller.
- Discuss the video with your child(ren). Please follow your natural curiosity or use our provided prompts.
- Have the scheduled call with your family or friend and child(ren).
- Process the video call with your child(ren). Answer questions, provide additional background or reframing and discuss connections between family stories on the call and the video.
Get started today with this lesson about Welcoming Guests: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Od-P4b4TjEj3M7LdJRFDCFgAIKNXmGCzRABVZvEWmmE/edit?usp=sharing
If you have questions or suggestions about this program, please be in touch with me at: Arinne@ToStrength.com.
ShalomLearning has been providing our educational materials and training for free to help Jewish educators in their sudden transition to virtual classes. We’ve been listening to all the requests and noticed there was a large demand for Passover lessons to use in Zoom (or any other video-classroom tool). Therefore, we pulled sections from our Koach Hadibbur units, edited it to work as a stand alone lesson, and made it available for free.
In this lesson, students learn about the story of Passover, and then use Google Slides collaboratively to retell the story in ten words or less with one image on one slide. Teachers can share the student-created slides for families to see and/or use at their seders.
The notes under the slides provide instructions for the teachers and a link to the “activity deck.”
We hope many educators are able to use this interactive Pesach lesson