By Laurie Rappeport. Today the majority of formal Jewish education in North America takes place in day school and afternoon/Sunday school frameworks. Students learn the rudiments of Hebrew reading and writing and study about Jewish holidays and history together with other Jewish kids from the same Jewish community.
In addition to the general knowledge gained during these sessions, the programs aim to imbue the students with a sense of their Jewish heritage, a connection to Israel and to aspects of religious observance.
It has always been a challenge for the Diaspora Jewish community to provide Jewish kids with a strong sense of their heritage and as the years pass it is growing harder. Public school students want to use their after-school time for sports and other enrichment activities as opposed to attending an afternoon or Sunday School class and for many day school students their schools’ day school curriculum can seem dull and boring.
A new paradigm is slowly becoming the norm in the world of Jewish education. Online classes present new educational opportunities by engaging the students in a dynamic and vibrant online classroom experience that involves them in the subject matter and encourages them to explore Judaism on their own terms.
There are a number of different options that Jewish educational institutions can use to include web classes in their curriculum. Professional Development courses for staff members teach online tools that enable the teachers to create curriculum themselves and facilitate online synchronous, asynchronous or blended classes with their students. Professional Development courses also include ideas for introducing Hebrew reading and writing to young learners in a way that makes learning the new language meaningful.
There are also online courses which schools can include in their daily schedule. These courses introduce new teachers who “meet” the kids online and provide specialized instruction in subjects that range from core curriculum topics such as Advanced Gemara, Hip Hop Hebraics and Themes of Tanach to enrichment subjects which include Ethiopian Integration, Ancient Israel, Contemporary Jewish Issues, Tikkun Olam and an in-depth examination of the Arab-Israeli Conflict.
Special audio-visual programs enhance the lessons and draw the students into the material. Due to the opportunities offered by online education, each student has the opportunity to relate to the topic at his or her own level. Students don’t need to “take turns” in order to participate in lesson plans — the entire class works and participates simultaneously as they research a subject, express their thoughts and collaborate on projects.
The online education model can be used by Jewish homeschoolers and other families and communities who want to identify Jewish learning solutions that will bring their children into a Jewish learning environment that inspires and engages them. Families that live in a remote areacan access the online education option to provides a connection to the Jewish community as the promote their child’s education. This includes JconnecT Jewish learning /identity programs for Bar and Bat mitzvah aged students.
Laurie Rappeport made aliyah to Safed, Israel 30 years ago from Detroit. She works in the field of education, utilizing different forms of formal and informal educational models for young Jewish learners of all ages. Laurie is also involved in a wide range of projects which are aimed at bringing visitors toSafed to enjoy the religious, historical, cultural and artistic sites and experiences that the city has to offer.