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Drawing our Students Close to Torah even during the Pandemic

05/12/2021 10:13:44 AM



During this period between Passover and Shavuot, it is customary to study a particular tractate from the Mishnah (Oral Law) known as Pirke Avot which translates to Sayings of our Fathers. 

What makes Pirke Avot interesting and unique in that it is the only tractate of the Mishnah dealing solely with ethical and moral principles. These ethical principles guide us as to how to live a fulfilling and meaningful life.

In Pirke Avot 1:12, the famous teacher Hillel states, “Be of the disciples of Aaron… loving humankind and drawing them close to the Torah...” 

During the pandemic, our CJL Faculty continued to draw our students close to Torah through our virtual program.  As a result of last year’s CJL virtual experience, we started the year strong and continued to build on those strengths as the year progressed. We now know which contexts are the most appropriate for virtual learning and when virtual learning can be most effective. Some aspects about our virtual program were unexpectedly enlightening.

Virtual Learning can be effective, enjoyable and convenient:

Collaboration and Creativity - Through our Zoom classes, we successfully transmitted Jewish content and were able to do so collaboratively and creatively.  Our 1st – 4th grades were involved in a new curriculum called La-Briut, meaning “To One’s Health,” specifically designed by the J.E. C. C. (Jewish Educational Center of Cleveland) to address the conditions of the physical, social and emotional issues presented by pandemic. Virtual learning also provided us with the opportunity for our for our students to hear from unique speakers such as Zehava Tesfay, Director of the Jewish Agency for Shlichut, who shared her family’s journey from Ethiopia to Israel with us.  Our Kitah Vav (sixth grade) students learned with an Israeli Shinshin (young Israeli adult) currently in Israel, and also had a virtual tour of Jerusalem with an Israeli tour guide. 

Small group Hebrew learning – Beginning in Kitah Gimmel (3rd grade), we instituted small groups of Hebrew enrichment, groups of 3 – 5 students who learned/reviewed Hebrew with a member of our CJL Faculty and/or Madrichim (Teen Aides). In addition, our Kitah Vav (sixth grade) students took part in “Hebrew Boot Camp,” which involves a series of ten individualized Hebrew sessions with one of our TINW Hebrew Boot camp tutors.  Not only were these small/individualized Hebrew sessions effective in teaching Hebrew, but they were also enjoyable.  The students and teachers got to know one another personally which they are not always able to do in large group Hebrew classes.

Convenience Matters – In small focus group sessions from parents, we heard from parents that the virtual learning format allows for greater accessibility and convenience, particularly for students in the upper grades (6-12).  This year, students who would have missed classes due to a sports practice or vacation were now logging into their classes from the side of a soccer field or at a cabin in the woods.  Our CJL classes had consistent attendance rates of 80% or higher throughout the year, including students who already celebrated their b’nei mitzvah, an attendance rate that reflects and at times even surpassed, attendance rates for in-person classes in years past. 

Socialization/Connection Remain Integral to Jewish Education:

                In-Person Learning is still vital to Jewish education, particularly in the younger grades (K-5). We missed our CJL Sunday morning kehilah (community) connection during which we would all gather in the sanctuary to sing, pray, and welcome the morning.  Zoom breakout rooms (a virtual classroom which brings together a small group of students) are not a substitute for students walking and chatting through the CJL halls together. The CJL (Center for Jewish Learning) is a place where students live, learn, and connect to Judaism and to each other.  Socialization and developing peer relationships remain an integral part of the Jewish education, and we will need to focus on recreating these experiences for our students when the pandemic ends.

Looking Ahead to 2021-2022

The most repeated letter/word in the Torah is the Hebrew letter “vav” which combined with a vowel means “and.” This Hebrew letter/vowel combination should guide us toward making decisions about CJL for next year.  Our goal is to include virtual learning and in-person learning.  We will continue to offer small group Hebrew enrichment and experience Hebrew as a kehillah, community.  Our students in the upper grades will enjoy the accessibility of virtual learning and come together to celebrate and connect to one another. In the spring of 2021, our CJL Faculty planned in-person, outside CJL classes for each grade, and we watched as our students flocked to attend them.  As one of my professors Rabbi Jan Katzew recently stated, “Judaism has never just been about survival but about also about flourishing.”   Jewish education including the CJL did not just survive during the pandemic – we also reinvented how we do things. Our plans for next year will build upon what we have learned during this past year and half. In-person learning will be paramount to our program while technology will continue to play an important part in maximizing the effectiveness of our educational content. We look forward to sharing more of our plan for CJL 2021-2022, a program which will reflect the definition of a flourishing, enriching experience for our students and our families in our ongoing mission to draw our CJL students and families close to Torah.

Do you have feedback/thoughts about the CJL?  I would love to hear from you! Please contact me at




Sat, July 31 2021 22 Av 5781