It is always darkest before dawn. As you can imagine, we’ve been busier than ever and the ShalomLearning family has grown tremendously since our last newsletter. We are now helping our 200+ school partners get ready for a new year with 1500 teachers and 10,000 students. However, with the start of a new school season upon us, we’re hearing from many or our partners at religious schools about the challenges they are facing. The most common worry from education directors is this: enrollment is down because so many families are overwhelmed, and kids have too much Zoom fatigue already for yet another online lesson as Hebrew School appears as something “extra” in their schedules.
The other day, I woke at 5:30 am and went for a walk to reflect on this issue. The sun was rising over the lake and the water reflected the pink clouds lighting up the sky. “There’s God, showing off again,” I thought. It made me stop and just take in what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called “radical amazement.”
“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ….get up in the
morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted.
Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life
casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
-Abraham Joshua Heschel
In full disclosure, this is not my typical morning. Raising children and facing life’s endless challenges during a pandemic does not fill me with radical amazement at every waking moment. In fact, I have never known a time of such sorrow, stress, and suffering for the world in my lifetime, as the moment that we are in right now.
Our children miss camps, sports competitions, live theater and in person clubs and yes, being in school with their friends. We are all braced for another wave of COVID-19 with the cold and flu season coming. When will the vaccine come? Some say it could be another 2 years! To which I say “Oy! Come on!”
Many of my peers involved in Jewish communal engagement are deeply cynical about the future of synagogue life. And they have every reason to feel pessimistic. But reason itself has its own limitations. Our mind can only do what our mind can do. What about the heart? What about faith?
Now faith is a different story. Faith in Hebrew is “Emunah.”
We, as Jews, are part of a global community with a close connection to the Jewish people all over the world. And yet, a lot of Jewish religious life is based around home and family activities. If we do not at least try our best to bring some aspect of spirituality into our homes this upcoming Jewish new year, we will continue to feel lost. I know this all too well.
Surely we can find one or two hours a week to make Jewish life relevant for our children. This thrust into remote learning is an opportunity to use education technology in a more meaningful way. It’s ironically, even an opportunity to learn about ways to take advantage of the times you are unplugged. Each of our lessons includes a summary teachers can send to parents that include “Table Talk.” These are questions to be discussed at the next meal. Ideally over Shabbat dinner, but it can really be anywhere. We want to meet families where they are and help them connect to Judaism on whichever level they are most comfortable.
I believe that ShalomLearning is the best option to help synagogues and home schools right now. We train our teachers how to use Edtech seamlessly and we provide the turn-key lessons and support to make Hebrew School into a fun and engaging and relevant educational experience. We also provide “Hands On Activities” that can be used for safe, outdoor, socially distanced learning – including family education for all ages.
Math, reading and science are important. But so is our soul. We need to answer “the spiritual curriculum” (as Mussar puts it) that we face every day. Our children’s secular schools are trying to catch up with Edtech, and everyone is fried with screen time. I get it. But what are we doing as families in respect to educating and nurturing the soul?
Let ShalomLearning help. Open yourself to bring more spiritual Light into your home. Judaism provides so many beautiful and meaningful ways to navigate through the world. If we do not provide these opportunities for our families, we further the risk of the Light going out on our watch. And that would be the saddest day of them all.
The good news is that Shalomlearning can help your families and community learn how to live life in a Jewish way that will help you get through these dark days and help your synagogue get through this crisis.
At some point in the next 3-24 months, this pandemic will end its grip on everything, and we will be free to meet once again in person, go to concerts and restaurants and hug our friends and family. And I believe that people will want to return to synagogues and gather as a Jewish community, perhaps more than ever before.
Our souls need SOMETHING to bring a light into the darkness in the interim. So let us help you get through this period. Our lessons are designed that they can be taught in person, online, at home, or a hybrid. When synagogue life does return, you will not need to miss a beat in the education of your children. It will simply be, “Last week was Gevurah (Unit 3) lesson three at home. Today, welcome back to our building! Let us continue with lesson four.”
I thank God we have the ability to help religious schools. It is my sincere hope that we can all give Emunah (faith) a better try, as I know that ShalomLearning can help educators and families alike. In the end, we all have the same job in this dark period of history, and that is to do what the Jewish people do best: bring in more light.
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.
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.
Purim is just around the corner! Our 3-7th grade students are currently studying the core Jewish value of Hakarat Hatov, seeking joy and being grateful.
Hakarat Hatov is the quintessential Jewish value; as the name of Yehuda (Judah), is rooted in hodah – to give thanks. It is the essence of a meaningful Jewish experience. While one may have all the blessings of goodness (good health, wonderful family, and friends to name a few), without gratitude, one’s journey through life can’t capture the full meaning of appreciation. Giving thanks and finding ways to conveying gratitude is a profound key to happiness.
I am so grateful to be part of the transformation and growth of Jewish education here at ShalomLearning. We have the distinct joy of working on innovative projects, and kvelling over some recent successes. Working with Bible Raps, we are empowering our students to create their own original Jewish values rap songs at Temple Shalom in Succasunna, NJ, Temple Chaverim in Plainview, NY, and Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood, PA. We have plans to continue this program in the fall at other partner synagogues.
We are also pumped from the success of our first virtual escape room game. I’d like to give a big shout out to Ben, our eight-year old winner, from California, who shares his experience in this interview with Heidi Lovitz, our Director of Educational Programming
To prepare for the fall, we’re currently putting the final touches on the new and updated curriculum. We’re also announcing the six locations for in-person summer training opportunities for our ShalomLearning educators. I look forward to seeing many of you at one of these sites or one of the training webinars.
May your hunger for Jewish Learning continue to grow, and my prayer for us all is to continue cultivating an attitude of gratitude- hakarat hatov!
I hope everyone enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and friends. The holiday weekend brought so many opportunities to think of others, extending all the way to Giving Tuesday. Although ShalomLearning did not add to your inbox flurry of worthy organizations on Giving Tuesday, I hope you’ll consider adding ShalomLearning as one of your recipients.
ShalomLearning became a non-profit to better serve our partner congregations. Our goal is to support them and their staff to provide a meaningful Jewish education to their families. We are working together to create the next generations of strong, caring Jewish leaders.
While we have a pricing model, it doesn’t cover the true cost of creating the constantly evolving, engaging program we offer. In addition, we tout that money should never be a reason a religious school doesn’t adopt the ShalomLearning program. When budgets are short, we find donors, like you, to help cover the difference.
Please reach out to me to discuss giving opportunities or donate online today: www.shalomlearnig.org/donate