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JEC is Reinventing Supplemental Jewish Education

By Jewish Education Collaborative

Do the words “Hebrew school” conjure less-than-pleasant memories? You’re not alone. Federation’s Jewish Education Collaborative (JEC) wants you to think about supplemental, part-time Jewish learning differently—and they want places of learning to change how they think about it, too.

JEC aims to boldly reimagine Jewish education in our community. Today’s families need new models and fresh teaching methods to engage kids (and families!) in learning that excites them and makes them feel proud to be Jewish.

JEC’s top priorities include:

  • Investing in teaching talent
  • Innovating in and beyond the classroom
  • Strengthening Jewish learning networks
  • Changing how and where kids learn
  • Changing perceptions around Jewish education

Great things are happening in part-time Jewish education in Atlanta. Programs offer personal choice, hands-on learning experiences, and online options for busy families. One parent remarked in a recent survey, “My son absolutely loves religious school and learning Hebrew. He looks forward to every class. We’ve started new traditions and look forward to discussing what he learned!”

JEC partners closely with JumpSpark, Jewish Abilities Atlanta, and PJ Library, as well as a variety of national organizations. And every week, JEC meets with the education directors of partner institutions, including 15 local synagogues, the MJCCA’s Club J, and Jewish Kids Groups (JKG) to discuss implementation and progress of new initiatives.

The funds that JEC receives from Federation’s Partners Fund support our local partner institutions and help them to implement new and innovative strategies. So, when you support JEC, you’re also supporting these vital institutions that shape the next generation of Jewish learners. By donating to Federation, you can be part of a revolution in Jewish education.

To make your contribution, click here.

Online Hebrew Instruction for Unaffiliated Families

By CARING, Jewish Education Collaborative

Atlanta Hebrew Connection is growing! This exciting online program for Hebrew language learning is the product of a partnership between the Jewish Education Collaborative (JEC) and ShalomLearning, a nationally renowned Jewish education organization. What began as a pilot program involving learners from three local synagogues has grown to include six congregations for the upcoming school year. In addition, Atlanta Hebrew Connection will now be open to individual students who are not affiliated with a synagogue or religious school.

Atlanta Hebrew Connection focuses on teaching students to decode Hebrew, learn prayers, and understand their meaning. It offers small classes, flexible scheduling, and excellent instruction right at home. Key components include:

  • Synchronous, small group learning sessions (3-5 students in each)
  • Excellent curriculum and instruction methods
  • Top-quality teachers
  • Social connections among students from different parts of the community
  • Choosing a class time that works best for your family
  • NOT having to battle Atlanta traffic in the middle of the week!

“My son didn’t know Hebrew at all and now when we go to Shabbat services, he shows me all the words he can read. It’s awesome!”

“I love that I don’t have to rush through rush hour traffic. Yay virtual! My son LOVES learning Hebrew, and their teacher is wonderful.”

For more information about Atlanta Hebrew Connection, please contact Rabbi Elana Perry: eperry@jewishatlana.org.

A Gift to Honor Religious School Teachers

By COMMUNITY, Jewish Education Collaborative

Howard Newman had the idea to create a gift in honor of his late wife, Sylvia. He knew that Sylvia’s passion was Jewish education and she taught in the religious school at Temple Kol Emeth for many years. Howard met with Rabbi Elana Perry, who directs the Jewish Education Collaborative, and together they crafted the Sylvia Newman Memorial Teachers of the Year Award, honoring excellence in teaching at Atlanta’s supplemental religious schools. This is the second year that the award will honor a veteran religious school teacher and a new religious school teacher.

Erin Johnson teaches 2nd-4th grade in the Kesher program at Ahavath Achim Synagogue. Throughout her 6 years on the synagogue faculty, she has gone above and beyond in the classroom, developing creative curricula that inspire further learning among her students. Through dynamic storytelling and hands-on project-based learning methods, Erin has engaged both children and parents, and she has served as a leader and role model for fellow teachers, as well.

Josiah Wolff is a 6th-grade teacher at Temple Beth Tikvah. As a new teacher, he has become adept at making learning come alive for his students in “out-of-the-box” ways. Having taken advantage of every opportunity for professional development throughout the year, including an intensive year-long cohort, Josiah is a true role model, not only through the kindness he shows to others, but also as a lifelong learner himself.

Atlanta Leads the Way in Hebrew Language Instruction

By COMMUNITY, Jewish Education Collaborative

Atlanta innovates again! The Jewish Education Collaborative (JEC) is excited to announce that for the 2021-22 academic year, four Atlanta synagogue schools are piloting The Atlanta Hebrew Connection – an exciting community online program for Hebrew language learning. The Atlanta Hebrew Connection focuses on teaching students to decode Hebrew, learn prayers, and  understand their meaning. It offers small classes, flexible scheduling, and excellent instruction right at home. Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Temple Kol Emeth, Congregation Shearith Israel, and Temple Sinai have all signed on to the program, created by Shalom Learning, a nationally renowned education organization. 

Online Hebrew makes sense for busy families who have had to carpool their kids to Hebrew school in Atlanta traffic. Synagogue school educators have collaborated on the new program with guidance from the Jewish Education Collaborative (JEC). Rabbi Elana Perry, Director of JEC says, “We’ve found that compared to in-person Hebrew instruction, children learn Hebrew just as effectively, if not better, in an online setting.”   

Key components of the Atlanta Hebrew Connection include: 

  • Synchronous, small group learning sessions (3-5 students in each) 
  • Excellent curriculum and instruction methods 
  • Top-quality teachers 
  • Social connections among students from different congregations and/or parts of the community 
  • Choosing a class time that works best for your family 
  • NOT having to battle Atlanta traffic in the middle of the week!

No More “Doing Things the Old Way”

By Jewish Education Collaborative

No More “Doing Things the Old Way”
By Rabbi Elana Perry, Dir. Jewish Education Collaborative

The old narrative of “doing things the way they’ve always been done” is long gone in Atlanta. Watch for new and exciting programs coming to supplemental Jewish education this fall!  

Four synagogue education teams, comprised of educators, clergy, and lay leaders, recently completed the “Leadership, Vision, and Change” cohort experience, which was designed and facilitated by the Jewish Education Collaborative of Greater Atlanta. This eight-month program propelled organizations forward, embracing exciting and compelling Jewish learning, managing change, and strengthening leadership skills. As a result of their work, each team is preparing to launch a new innovative educational program in the fall.  
Connecting families to other families and deepening learning for all ages was elevated throughout the pandemic, and it continues to be a priority for several religious schools.  

Temple Kol Emeth is launching a fresh family engagement strategy, including increased grade-level family education programs, new family Shabbat experiences, a twice-monthly alternative virtual program for family learning with the Rabbi, and a family retreat. Temple Beth Tikvah is expanding their “Sababa” program, weaving joyous, school-wide family learning experiences into the fabric of their year. Temple Sinai has a new alternative family track called “B’Yachad.”  

Rachel Moldovan, Director of Youth Learning and Engagement at Temple Sinai, says, “Our community is craving connection! We are looking forward to building community among our Sinai families – including the entire family – with our new B’Yachad program. Students get the best of both worlds with this alternative program, engaging in peer-to-peer learning on Sundays and participating in family learning and community building experiences on Shabbat.”  

In addition to these exciting opportunities for increased family learning and engagement, Congregation Or Hadash will implement an entirely new B’nai Mitzvah program, which spans grades 4-9 and lengthens the arc of engagement for learners.  

Educational leaders have been listening to the needs of their students and families, and each of them has a different creative response. As a result, religious school families can look forward to fresh new ways for Jewish learning to come alive! 

Jewish Educators Bounce Forward, Not Back

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Education Collaborative

What will Jewish education look and feel like when the trauma of this pandemic is finally over? Will religious school simply return to “normal”? And if it does, will it meet the needs of Atlanta’s students and families?

In the field of psychology, there’s a concept known as “Post-Traumatic Growth” (“PTG”) which proves that it’s possible to grow stronger, more driven, and more resilient, because of the trauma we face. Ultimately, it’s not the trauma itself that causes growth, but rather how individuals and organizations interpret and respond to it.

One path after trauma seeks only homeostasis, to restore balance and return to life as it once was. That might sound nice, but it would ignore the lessons we have learned throughout this challenging time and would not lead to progress.

There is also a path after trauma, that, with support and intentionality, can lead to meaningful transformation. PTG holds a very important idea: We don’t bounce back from challenges, we bounce forward.

Jewish educators can plan and strategize for the future we want to build beyond the present reality. But we cannot – and should not – simply bounce back to the ways of the past.

Jewish educators in Atlanta are using the framework of Post-Traumatic Growth to think about how we move ahead in Jewish education.

  • How can we view the current situation as both a trauma with consequences, and an opportunity to “reinvent” or improve on the status quo of Jewish education?
  • How can the pandemic serve as a catalyst for growth and change?

Leaning into creativity and learning from the successes and failures of the past 10 months, Jewish educators are focusing on new ways to meet the needs of Jewish families today. They’re embracing and exploring:

  • Educational Technology
  • Social-Emotional & Values-Based Learning
  • Relationship-Building
  • Family Learning & Engagement
  • New Places, Spaces and Times to Learn

From PTG we learn that individuals and organizations can achieve a higher level of functioning as a result of addressing and learning from trauma. With time, Atlanta’s Jewish learning, and Jewish community, can emerge stronger than ever.

A Vital Boost for Jewish Preschools

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Education Collaborative

For many families with young children, Jewish preschool is their first meaningful step into Jewish communal life – a welcoming and safe space to explore Jewish tradition and meet other Jewish families. Atlanta’s 22 Jewish preschools have provided exactly those kinds of connections; however, when the COVID-19 virus hit, many Jewish preschools closed, teachers were furloughed, and families felt stranded. 

Preschool directors and teachers worked hard to maintain a strong connection with their families athey navigated the best way to reopen their schools. But in reality, the schools were hit hard with lower enrollment numbers and rising costs for staffing, COVID-safe adaptive spaces, and PPE necessities.  

Thankfully, Federation’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund provided crucial funding for reopening. It allocated $100,000 to assist with reopening costs, including, but not limited to: new sanitation supplies and PPE including masks, gloves, disinfectant, cleaning supplies, no-touch thermometers, electrostatic foggers, and washing stations.  

Following a second organizational needs survey, the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund directed an additional $100,000 in scholarships to families at 12 of our Jewish preschools. Sixty-five families and 98 children have received scholarship assistance and the impact has been profound. 

The global pandemic and financial impacts are still unfolding and creating significant needs for scholarships in the Jewish preschool sector. Families are finding themselves in serious financial distress due to under employment, and at the same time, they count on Jewish preschools for their children’s care. Jewish preschools are often at the core of a family’s connection and belonging in the Jewish community.  

Federation’s funding strategy was to invest in preschools that are sustainable, have strong leadership, and support from their host institution (when applicable). Criteria were developed in order to evaluate eligibility for preschool re-opening grants. Ultimately, the goal was to keep as many children enrolled as possible and allow parents to remain in the workforce. The funds were made available so that families enrolled in the fall are able to continue into winter and, in some cases, new students can join in winter as well. This funding is a one-year infusion of additional support for tuition assistance needs during the 2020-21 school year. 

One grateful family said: Unfortunately, due to COVID19 our financial situation was significantly impacted when my spouse, the main provider in the family, lost his job back in April 2020. This has resulted in losing over 70% of our household income resulting in a challenging financial reality for us in general and questions about our ability to continue covering our son’s daycare costs specifically. Thanks to your generosity my son is able to continue attending his preschool, he is happy and we’re happy knowing he is in a safe environment dedicated to continuing his Jewish education.“ 

Creativity and Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

By Jewish Education Collaborative

By Rabbi Elana Perry, Director Jewish Education Collaborative

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” they say. Many people in the Jewish community think of part-time Jewish education as the “old dog,” imagining that today’s children are enduring the same rote lessons in Hebrew School that they remember from childhood. In reality, supplemental Jewish education has been changing rapidly, even before Covid-19 turned the world upside down. And it is because of the unprecedented ability of our educational leaders to pivot and innovate, that part-time Jewish education will grow and thrive in the months and years to come. 

The ability maintain connections, has been key. And while some people may be skeptical about what can be accomplished from a distance, Atlanta’s Jewish educators are proving that anything is possible. In the face of the global pandemic, religious schools throughout metro Atlanta transitioned quickly to online platforms like Zoom to deliver engaging and interactive virtual learning. As Temple Emanu-El’s Diamond Family Religious School Director Beth Blick says, “From Kahoot! and YouTube to BimBam and [online] “field trips,” our students have continued to learn with a larger focus on staying connected to their community.”

At Congregation Etz Chaim, faculty members created their own online videos and have met in small groups and with individual students to keep them engaged with Hebrew, while utilizing additional online games for interactive learning. Congregation Bet Haverim hosts Netflix watch parties featuring Jewish-themed films with older students and provides fun weekly “mitzvah bingo cards” for kids to complete with their families. 

Jewish Kids Groups created JKG at Home, broadcasting on Facebook Live every weekday afternoon. Favorite sessions have included interactive Jewish Art and Hebrew Yoga online. Some families have enjoyed the experiences live, while others access the recorded content at a time that works best for them. 

Students in Temple Sinai’s Noar Sunday program celebrated Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, by choosing real-time interactive electives such as Israeli Army training, pita-baking, or maker-space technology. And Congregation Beth Shalom has used Zoom to make sure to keep students connected to their beloved Shishin, Yael, dialing in from across the world. 

Congregation Or Hadash scrapped their curriculum entirely and shifted to a “gym-like” schedule, offering live subject-based classes, allowing families to self-select how and when they participate. “Our main goals,” said Director of Education Rachel Herman, “are to offer flexibility for our families, to stay connected with one another and to foster community.”  

I can jump into a Zoom classroom and immediately see the joy on the kids’ faces in seeing their TBT friends,” says Temple Beth Tikvah Religious School Director Suzanne Hurwitz. “It’s reassuring that we are able to remain connected and productive in these times.” 

Jewish tradition teaches us: “One should always be flexible like a reed, and not hardened like a cedar tree. For the reed, when the winds blow, moves with the wind... But the cedar tree, when the strong southern wind blows, is uprooted and turned on its head” (Avot D’Rabbi Natan, 41). Atlanta’s Jewish supplemental education leaders – directors, teachers, clergy, and more – have embraced the role of the reed. They have moved swiftly as demanded by this moment in time, demonstrating flexibility and creativity to support and enrich Jewish families during an incredibly challenging period. And while nobody has a crystal ball to say what the future will hold, whether our children can learn in-person or from a distance, it is because of the unprecedented ability of our leaders to pivot and innovate, that part-time Jewish education will grow and thrive in the months and years to come.