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.
Rabbi Tracy Kaplowitz, Director of Operations JWB Jewish Chaplains Council®
Imagine life in the military. You enlist in California, train in Texas, get specialized training in Alabama, and then are transferred to a base in Germany. There, you meet your bashert (intended one), get married, and two years later, your first child is born on base in Alaska.
Throughout each of these moves, the Jewish military community was there for you. Jewish chaplains and lay leaders led Shabbat services on your training bases. When you married and again when your baby was named, a rabbi was flown in for the occasion. Now, stationed in North Dakota, your first-grader is ready for Hebrew school, but there is none.
This all-too-common scenario has been the accepted version of Jewish life in the U.S. military for many years. Although many Jewish chaplains and lay leaders create and sustain vibrant and engaged communities, Hebrew schools are a rarity in the military. Where they do exist, funding is scarce and doesn’t cover textbooks or workbooks, let alone teachers.
JWB Jewish Chaplains Council®, envisions a time when military families will have access to the same array of resources available in the Jewish world. Thanks to a partnership with ShalomLearning, this vision is becoming reality. Beginning in February, JWB and ShalomLearning launched the iJEM pilot, which brings Jewish education curricula to children in military families.
ShalomLearning offers Jewish education on three distinct platforms, and each one is currently being tested in military settings.
- Two Hebrew schools—one in Spain, the other in Virginia—are beloved by the children who are enrolled and their parents. Coming together each Sunday to learn Torah and explore their Jewish roots has long been a highlight of the week for these families. Yet, with neither a curriculum to follow nor materials to reinforce the students’ lessons at home, each school was limited in its impact. With the ShalomLearning blended curriculum, teachers are now selecting materials from a wide range of options, and students are logging in at home to bolster their classroom learning.
- In Japan, a virtual classroom, including students from Jewish families stationed on Army, Navy and Air Force installations throughout Japan, is about to launch. Although the students can’t meet each week in person, the first class is set for Sunday at 9 a.m. JST (Japan Standard Time)—and neither the kids nor their parents can wait!
- For four families with children of various ages on base in Washington State, travelling more than an hour to a Hebrew school each week is just not feasible. It is a commitment the families can’t meet consistently. However, homeschooling is another story. For these four families, the ShalomLearning online platform not only connects their children to their Jewish roots, history, and traditions, but also is empowering them to read the language of the Torah and the siddur.
With 10,000 Jewish service members—and their 15,000 family members—in the U.S. military, we know we are just beginning to scratch the surface of interest in Jewish learning within the armed forces. Building upon this pilot, we expect to expand slowly, bringing quality Jewish learning to Jewish children on more installations, in additional time zones, and in homes in and around military installations around the world. Within five years, we hope to offer all Jewish families throughout the military easy access to Jewish learning for their children—no matter where they happen to be stationed.
Share our vision, and help us bring Jewish education to every Jewish family in uniform.
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.
As the rabbi-in-residence at ShalomLearning, I get to do some pretty awesome things. Aside from writing these articles, I also get to see the inner-workings of an organization that cares deeply about its mission, its students, its educators, and most importantly, its community. One of the hardest things an organization has to do is internal reflection and decision making.
Recently, ShalomLearning decided to focus on partnering with congregational schools – to ensure their success and growth by providing curriculum and professional development that embraces technology. With 80 synagogue partners expected this fall, and an 82% retention rate, the program’s success in these communities is evident.
In addition, ShalomLearning offered an online program for students who don’t attend traditional congregational school programs because of geographical or other constraints. Many of the participants are US military family stationed abroad or in remote areas that lack a solid Jewish community. I was very honored when ShalomLearning leadership asked if my organization, Online Jewish Learning, would take over this program.
Online Jewish Learning has been providing one-on-one tutoring for ShalomLearning for the past few years, and in my role as Rabbi-in-Residence at ShalomLearning, I have made other countless connections in this community. Therefore, I can be confident that Online Jewish Learning will continue the same fantastic ShalomLearning program to these students this fall. I am so proud to be part of Jewish organizations that are working together, utilizing each other’s strengths to provide the best options for the greater community.
One of the most important parts of being a Jewish educator is creating experiences that meet families and students where they are. We understand there isn’t just one way into Jewish learning. People come from different backgrounds, lifestyles, affiliation, and skill base. Through the partnership of ShalomLearning and Online Jewish Learning, we’re able to provide an engaging Jewish education to a larger spectrum of families.
Thank you for letting us teach your students. The greatest honor a teacher can have is that their students teach them as well. We have learned a great deal from your students’ insights, questions, and discussions and look forward to another year of Jewish learning with you.
Just a little note: as a writer, I’m changing the names of my wife and kids to protect their real identities. Also, from time to time I might incorporate stories and feedback from other parents into these characters and others, to give voice to the many ways ShalomLearning affects the lives of our children and families.
Sunday night, December 13th, 2015. 5 pm. 8 hours after the kids’ ShalomLearning morning sessions. We lit all the Chanukah candles tonight right next to the hamster cage by the window, as we celebrated the 8th and final day, where the miracle is at its strongest. After singing our songs and prayers, Jonah, staring at the glow of the 8 candles with his 8 year old eyes asked, “I wonder how far the light of our sun shines out into space?”
My 10 year old, Hannah, with the pinache of a brooding artist exploring scientific information, was the first responder tonight, “well… most of the universe is empty space and darkness anyway.”
“Oh yeah?” I asked.
She turned our attention to the blog about dark matter, “only 4 percent of all that space and energy is light.”
“Overall, dark energy is thought to contribute 73 percent of all the mass and energy in the universe. Another 23 percent is dark matter, which leaves only 4 percent of the universe composed of regular matter, such as stars, planets and people.”
“That’s not very much,” Jonah calculated while spinning a dreidel.
“But that’s all we really need,” Kristen replied.
Hannah brought us back to astrophysics, “the universe is expanding even faster than anyone thought and most of it is this ‘mysterious dark matter’.”
“Well,” I replied, passing out the dreidel bingo cards, in a way it can be easier to find when you are surrounded by darkness…that little spark of light will help you find your way.”
Later that night, after the kids were in bed, Kristen’s words came back to me about the 4%, “that’s all we really need.”
Some might say that those numbers are a grim revelation of an overwhelming dark power that is knocking out the galaxies of light.
But what if it was never about quantity in the first place? There is only one area to turn for value and that is quality. Perhaps this dark matter is indeed pure nothingness and it can expand all it wants to.
All that matters is the little spark of light that we hold on to. I’ll take this 4 percent of light any day over eternal nothingness. To me, that is Judaism. We take it on faith and we cling to the light. We carry on because well, we carry on. The odds have always been stacked up against the Jewish people from the beginning of monotheism. The universe can spin its space and nothingness and darkness for 13 billion years like the hamster on the wheel next to our menorah: it moves and moves but goes nowhere. It seems like a waste of energy. (Hmm..but we could hook up the wheel to a generator some day…)
I am putting my faith in an honest 4% of matter that I know is real because everything else is well…darkness? There is a goodness and a sweetness that only the light can provide, like a glimpse into the best part of eternity.
For me, there is no question in my mind that this cosmic operation, we are meant to be a light unto the nations. We just have been handed a torch and have to find new ways in every generation to keep it burning, that’s all. Otherwise the light could go out. And it feels amazing to know that we are doing everything we can, when we say, “Not on my watch.” ShalomLearning is reinventing Jewish education to speak to a new generation in a new way, but that Light has not changed. And it is up to all of us to keep it going.