Many Jewish Day Schools and part-time Religious Schools have, in recent years, embraced Project Based Learning, a creative and engaging educational approach. Project Based Learning calls on students to investigate and respond to a complex question, challenge or real-world problem. Through collaborative investigation, students gain knowledge and skills; often, they are asked to share what they have learned with a larger audience.
Recently, I attended (via Zoom) a BJE professional development program for directors of education of part-time Religious Schools. As school year 2019-2020 drew to a close, educators were focused on “big picture” thinking, looking ahead to next year. In a keynote address, Dr. Miriam Heller Stern, Director of the Schools of Education of Hebrew Union College, spoke of nurturing creative Jewish sensibilities through education.
Each time I venture out amidst the pandemic that has, already, taken so many lives, I think about what changes in behavior (beyond behaviors directly related to containment of the virus) might be appropriate in response to the events of recent months. One answer came to mind as I visited, via Zoom, a thirty-minute pre-school session engaging (somewhat) the attention of my grandson and his two year old classmates. During that time, I reflected on words that the teacher sang with her students: Modeh ani (“I thank You”), a declaration traditionally recited on waking up each day.
A Talmudic sage suggests reading each week’s Torah portion twice in Hebrew and once in (Aramaic) translation. In that spirit, I look forward – when not sheltering in place – to perusing the coming week’s Torah reading each shabbat afternoon, after its opening verses are publicly read as part of the afternoon (minchah) service. Lately, between daylight savings time and spending the entire shabbat at home, I have added a look at the coming week’s haftarah, the selection from the prophets associated with the weekly Torah reading, to my late Saturday afternoon preview list.
Monday night/Tuesday, May 11-12, marks Lag B’Omer, a “minor holiday” in the Jewish calendar. Lag B’Omer is the 33rd day in the count of days and weeks linking Passover and Shavuot, a period that used to begin with an “omer” (literally, sheaf), a wave offering of a measure of barley, at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Talmud includes reference to events during the Omer period that rendered it a time of mourning, albeit the 33rd day was/is celebratory.
For students across the world, this pandemic has created a seismic shift in their current education. It is becoming increasingly possible that for many, the remainder of the school year will be conducted virtually, with no return to campus. This may mean forgoing most of the usual celebration and ritual associated with the end of the school year, and for graduating students, possibly even missing the chance to walk in a formal graduation ceremony.