Education, Partner Stories

Flexible Religious School for Today’s Busy Families at Congregation Achduth Vesholom

April 2024

Congregation Achduth Vesholom, in Fort Wayne, Indiana is the oldest Jewish congregation in Indiana bringing together Jewish families to celebrate the joy of Judaism since 1848. The name Achduth Vesholom means “unity and peace” and they are committed to being a supportive family that shares joy and hard work to better the world.

A proud history of religious school

Achduth Vesholom had a long history of teaching in-person religious school on Sundays and Hebrew school on Wednesdays. Each class had its own curriculum with volunteer teachers. They had small in-person classes but as Leise Rosman, the Religious School Chair explains, “we were absolutely competing with a lot of other priorities for other families. When my kids were younger, I couldn’t understand why you wouldn’t go to Shul every Saturday. Now that my kids are 7, 9, and 11 and play travel sports and do Scouts, our family has a very busy life. It’s hard to find time for religious school.”

Before the pandemic, Achduth Vesholom just kept fighting against competing priorities and hoping kids would come. They recognized that people had to make choices about how to fit this part of their lives into their schedule. 

A pandemic opportunity 

When the pandemic hit during the 2020-2021 school year, Achduth Vesholom decided to have classes online with the ShalomLearning curriculum. Beyond being a necessity during the pandemic, parents began to see how religious school could fit into their lives differently.  

At first, Achduth Vesholom offered online classes when they previously offered in-person classes. However, with the new flexibility of online classes, they started offering Hebrew school on several weekenights, so it could fit in with sports and other things. Leise says, “That’s real for a lot of families.  They can’t go to Shul for a class on Saturday because they have soccer, but they could go on Tuesday night.”

It also saved families a lot of time commuting to the synagogue so convincing families to participate became easier. Older kids were able to get online without assistance and parents could more easily juggle the activities and schedules of multiple kids. Leise’s daughter participates in her ShalomLearning Hebrew classes from a parking lot while waiting for her brother in Boy Scouts and Leise is grateful they have a way to fit religious school into a very busy life.

Accessible Jewish Values lead to a stronger Jewish identity

Achduth Vesholom wants kids to own their identity as Jews and feel comfortable standing up for Judaism. Leise believes the ShalomLearning curriculum makes teaching Jewish values very accessible, especially for interfaith families. Non-Jewish parents can easily participate in the values curriculum as the synagogue is teaching them what standards they expect Jewish people to hold themselves to – being helpful and responsible, taking care of sick people, repairing the world, etc.  These values make Jewish culture accessible to non-Jewish parents who can participate in values discussions.

Learning Hebrew in a new way

Achduth Vesholom has found it difficult to find native Hebrew speakers to teach and didn’t have the resources needed to conduct Hebrew school in-person. In 2022, they started using the Shalom LinkedED online program facilitated by the Union for Reform Judaism for Hebrew school. Students meet with small groups of kids online from across the country. As a small congregation, where many students don’t know a lot of Jewish kids, the opportunity to meet Jews from other places makes learning Hebrew more interesting and fun.

ShalomLearning is a true partner

As the chair of the religious school, Leise has found one of the best aspects of working with ShalomLearning is having a true partner in Jewish education. She explains, “They don’t just sell you a curriculum. They are really supportive with random needs and challenges. It’s very helpful to call them, ask questions, and see how we can do things differently.” For small religious schools without full-time staff like Achduth Vesholom, ShalomLearning’s willingness to be creative has made the difference in being able to offer Hebrew school at all.

Learn more about ShalomLearning 

If your synagogue needs creative Jewish education solutions, check out our free resources or contact us to chat. We want to make Jewish education relevant, meaningful, affordable, and accessible to everyone.  

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