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.
We are just days away from Passover, so I hope you find this letter as a welcome break from the chores of preparing for this holiday.
Now in our 6th Jewish value unit, our students are currently studying, Koach Hadibbur, the power of words. There could not be a better time for them to explore the Jewish roots in this value.
As we saw in this past weekend’s “March for Our Lives,” words matter. Words can hurt but words can also heal. With words, we can gather people, we can take a stand, and we can make change. The next generation is learning how to use their words to fight for what they believe in. It’s not just about making your point, but making your goals clear in a way others will listen. And listening to those on the other side. A lot easier said (or heard) then done.
We keep Koach Hadibbur in mind as we plan our professional development. As you will see in this month’s newsletter, we have scheduled our Summer Training Conferences where we will help our educators prepare for the fall and provide opportunities for our educators to share experiences. It’s through these conversations we all improve and build community.
We are excited to be able to sponsor ShalomLearning educators’ attendance at this summer’s NewCAJE9 conference. It’s a wonderful experience to grow, learn, and build together.
I hope you have a wonderful Pesach. Chag kasher v’sameach.
Hakarat Hatov literally translates to “recognizing the good,” but as we do with all of the values at ShalomLearning, we ask our students to take the meaning one step further and dig a little deeper. This is when our students begin to realize the profound importance and even holiness in a Jew’s obligation of “seeking joy and being grateful.”
Personally and professionally, I have so much for which I am grateful. Last week, while in Florida producing a video with our partners at the CJE of the Palm Beaches, I arose early to do a sunrise run on the beach (something I never get to do at home). I searched for “best sunrises,” in the area, and found mine here. At 6:30 am the breathtaking beauty of God’s work had me on my knees in tears. I was in awe. My attempted run soon turned into a much more important morning prayer of deep gratitude to our Creator with a supplication for healing and guidance amidst the horror of the events for our children and families in Broward County. “There is nothing more whole than a broken heart,” the Kotzker Rebbi used to say.
There are no words I can say in response to the horrors we witnessed and heartache we felt after the tragedy in Parkland, FL the other week. For now, I can only say I am so grateful to all of the teens who are speaking out and leading what perhaps could be a revolution for a safer world.
I also want to use this opportunity to express my gratitude toward each of our 37 supporters for the William and Audrey Farber Family Foundation’s 2017 $500,000 matching Challenge. I have listed each of you below in recognition of your support that enables ShalomLearning to bring new advancements in education technology, innovative curriculum design, and professional development to the Jewish learning community. ShalomLearning is empowering Jewish children, families, and teachers all over North America to ignite a new passion for Jewish education. I am so very grateful for you and all of our past supporters. Thank you for helping us do the holy work that we do.
And may you have a Chag Purim Sameach!
ShalomLearning 2017 Supporters
ShalomLearning is grateful to everyone who contributed to our organization in 2017 and helped us meet the $500,000 match challenge set by the William and Audrey Farber Family Foundation. Here is a list of contributors (in alphabetical order):
Terrie and Bradley Bloom
Vicki E. Fishman
The Lorraine and Jack N. Friedman Commission for Jewish Education
Linda and Michael Frieze
Jefferey Grinspoon and Jon Foley
The Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation
Debi and Evan Himelfarb
Anne and Yehuda Neurenberger
The New Kalman Sunshine Fund
Stacy and Andrew Rosen
Sarah and Devin Schain
Susan and Lewis Schoenberg
The Scherr Family Foundation
Stefanie Pessis Weil
Our students in grades 3-7 are starting their fifth unit, Hakarat Hatov which is translated as gratitude; recognition of the good; appreciation.
Having an attitude of gratitude may not be a natural state for all of us. Developing a sense of appreciation is a learned behavior – a habit of noticing everything from the gift of life to physical things. We can begin to develop this practice through direct instruction, storytelling, modeled behavior, and experiences that reinforce the habit of Hakarat Hatov.
Judaism refers to the Biblical creation story as a confirmation that the entire world really belongs to God. We are but caretakers of all we possess, including our bodies and souls. That understanding should free us from jealousy and avarice and should empower us to share what we have with those in need and encourage us to use our resources to continue the creation.
How do blessings show gratitude? Make up your own blessing for something in your family.
Gratitude is a good stress reliever. Next time you or your child feel stressed, recall three things you are thankful for.