Summer is just around the corner! As the rhythmic clock of the Hebrew School academic year winds down, ShalomLearning students are concluding with our seventh unit, Shalom. As many people know, the three most popular translations of Shalom are “hello,” “goodbye,” and “peace.” In the ShalomLearning Jewish values lessons, we take a deeper dive into the etymology via the word’s shoresh (root) which is shalem meaning “completeness.”
Our curriculum designers intentionally and brilliantly saved Shalom to be the final value of the year because there is a sense of peace in being complete. And of course, in Judaism we look towards the next question, “are we ever truly complete?” Part of our nature is to continue to grow and learn and strive to become the best authentic selves we can be. What we do in life, our actions (hopefully mitzvot) are of paramount importance, to strive for social justice and contribute to a better world (tikkun olam) but even higher, the zenith, the ultimate destiny is who we become. We grow in order to be. Where are we growing? What are we becoming? As I look back on the years with ShalomLearning, I am constantly amazed by our growth.
In 2011, founders Devin Schain and Andrew Rosenberg created our first cohort of seven students with one teacher (Rabbi Yakov Majeski) at one partner site in Bethesda, MD. We grew our team and resources to include a curriculum for grades 4-6. Incrementally we added on additional features and levels, expanding our Jewish communities of practice and commitment to pluralism and inclusiveness. The 2018-2019 enrollment consisted of 5128 students and 643 teachers at 98 partner schools. Collectively, if we look at our community as one and complete, this is the largest Hebrew School in the world!
This fall, you will notice we’ve expanded our offerings to include:
- Lessons (28 per grade) for eight different grades (K-7),
- More hands on training and mentorship for teachers with seven in person workshops this summer and additional webinars,
- A new iteration of learning prayer through gamification (ShalomLearning Escape Room 2.0), and
- Meaningful partnerships with over 120 synagogues across North America – both large and small of various affiliations.
We are committed to be more than just a provider. Rather we are partners with each congregation, helping every community make their educational independent visions a reality. I am so proud of what our learning community has accomplished. May you all continue to grow to be your best selves and enjoy the journey in striving for Shalom. “Summer lease hath all too short a date,” (Thank you Shakespeare!) and I look forward to starting anew in the fall as we continue to grow together.
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.
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.
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.