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.
When the Covid-19 pandemic forced closure of all schools, the Jewish school community in Los Angeles didn’t have to look far for support – BJE has had professional networks in place for years, including day school, early childhood and part-time religious schools.
Almost immediately, BJE began to convene the various professional networks by zoom, and participation is at an all-time high.
It is a centuries-old habit to try to reduce wisdom into short aphorisms or sound bites (“do unto others…”), and to understand or label our experience of major calamities in a similar fashion (“when the going gets tough…”).
When BJE’s March of the Living program was cancelled due to the pandemic, the staff worked quickly in order to provide the 220 participating teens with a meaningful experience despite the disappointment. After participating in a virtual Yom HaShoah program with the survivors who would have traveled with the group, Ann Mizrahi from de Toledo HS and Sabrina Cohensedgh from Milken reached out to BJE’s Liat Vorobiev and Maya Aharon to ask how they could be more involved with the program.
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.
On Friday, May 15th at 2:30 PM teens, parents and survivors came together through a Zoom meeting to hear the incredible story of Estelle Nadel, BJE March of the Living Holocaust Survivor. While on the March, teens typically have the opportunity to hear the stories of our Survivors each day as we travel from site to site. Since we were not able to do this with teens this year, Survivors will be sharing their stories of resiliency, strength and endurance with teens, family and friends through the BJE March of the Living Survivor Talk series.
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.