Congregational Learning Has a New Look During a Pandemic

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Photo courtesy of The Temple-Tifereth Israel

The world of education changed overnight with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic – and synagogue educational programs were not immune. Thanks to the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland (JEC), a Federation beneficiary agency, students in Cleveland and across the country were able to continue their studies through a new and innovative learning approach.

Called “La-bri’ut: To Our Health and Wellness,” the JEC’s curriculum focuses on five Jewish values: Sukkat Shalom (a shelter of peace); Ometz Lev (inner strength); G’vurah (courage); K’hillah (community); and Hesed (kindness). These were chosen to match five caregiving principles for people who face trauma: creating a sense of safety, calm, self- and communal- efficacy, social connections and hope

JEC’s Senior Director and Director of Curriculum Resources, Nachama Skolnik Moskowitz led the effort that included an esteemed team of educators in our community and across the country to develop a learning approach that addressed children’s needs and fit the reality of learning in the time of the pandemic. La-bri’ut’s structure includes 30-40 minutes of a Zoom meeting that builds community, introduces content, then launches at home learning opportunities that take the theme to a next step.

“We needed to rethink the standard model of teaching, mainly because this wasn’t a standard year of learning,” Moskowitz said. “For younger elementary children, there’s a box with an engaging hands-on activity and for older children, there’s a compelling challenge. Our team researched each activity and put together videos corresponding to that week’s lesson. For the older students, we had them create their own comic book based on the origin stories of famous Jews – some from the Torah and some from present day.”

The La-bri’ut curriculum has quickly become regarded as a gold standard for congregational education. It’s currently used by over 10,000 students at 225 congregations across the country, including Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, Beth-Israel - The West Temple, B’nai Jeshurun Congregation, Congregation Shaarey Tikvah, Kol Halev, Temple Beth Shalom, Temple Emanu El, and The Temple -Tifereth Israel locally.

One of the most unique aspects of the JEC’s curriculum is that it was fully designed to be taught remotely. “We still have a 30-minute live class; activities and at-home learning challenges are able to be completed independently from the actual class time,” said Rabbi Stacy Schlein, the former director of learning at The Temple-Tifereth Israel who now serves as Director of Educational Capacity Building at JEC. “What makes this such a great tool for any Jewish child is the hands-on structure and design being very user-friendly and the easy access to resources.”

Debbie Chessin, director of education for The West Temple and member of the curriculum design team, saw the new learning approach as a way for students to continue to have a sense of Jewish identity, even when they’re not able to step inside the synagogue. “The curriculum we were able to create in this two-month period of time was just extraordinary,” said Chessin. “The students are understanding the values behind it, and I see it when they’re sharing their projects with their fellow students. They’re creating something in a meaningful and thoughtful way, and that says it all – it’s making an impact in their lives. For the kids in our community, they see The West Temple as their Jewish home. This tool is something that helps us all come together. It’s grounded in Jewish values and I wanted to make sure our kids knew they were a part of that.”

For more information on JEC’s La-bri’ut curriculum, contact Melanie Halvorson at mhalvorson@jcfcleve.org or 216-593-2868.

Stories like these are made possible by the generous support of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s annual Campaign.

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