Experiential Jewish Education in the times of COVID-19

Photo credit: Samuel Lewis / ImageReflex

By Beth Ellen Young, RJE

With COVID-19 numbers on the rise, how can we create a communal Chanukah educational experience that brings to life the values of community and gratitude? Temple Judea embraced that challenge, inspired by ideas from Or Ami. Through the creative application of 5 key strategies, we successfully welcomed congregants to our Chanukah Drive-By filled with opportunities for experiential learning and engagement.

Strategy #1 – Create a sense of journey, real or perceived

As participants arrived they received a map for the event. Their starting point was identified – as well as the end point where they received donut holes (pre-packaged in bags of 5). The map identified lots of stops along the way. To be clear, participants in the Chanukah Drive-By were driving around the block and there was really no danger of them getting lost! But receiving a beautiful map raised the participants’ level of engagement and excitement.

Strategy #2 – Clergy and staff were visible, identifiable, and not approachable

This is a COVID-19 strategy that is at odds with so much of the relationship building that is the foundation of meaningful educational experiences. However, we are living through a pandemic and need to find ways to meet engagement and education goals while not risking anyone’s safety. By placing staff members in “scenes,” they had a role, were able to interact with participants who remained in their car, but were easily able to maintain a 6 ft physical distance and do all of this while wearing masks.

Strategy #3 – Involve multiple senses

There was a lot to see during the Drive-By so we knew we were engaging the sense of sight. We were providing participants with coffee and donuts (at the end of the event so they didn’t take off their masks before leaving) and this covered taste and smell. We wanted to add music to create the Chanukah party spirit. However, blasting music means that people talk louder and move closer to one another and we definitely did not want to support those behaviors. Our solution? The map contained a QR code directing people to a Chanukah Spotify playlist. Participants could turn the music down when approaching interactive stations and turn it up when they were waiting in line.

Strategy #4 – Create methods for active participation

We heavily utilized QR codes as a way to create interactive opportunities without actual interaction. An example – one scene was set with our cooking instructor getting ready for Chanukah and putting latkes on a plate. If you scanned the QR code you got a prompt to begin a story, “I was just putting the last latke on the plate for Chanukah, when all of a sudden…” Those in the car were invited to complete the story.

Strategy #5 – Create opportunities for personal (and family) reflection

At other points along the drive-by, participants were asked questions that offered space to think about the miracles in their lives and their wishes to our congregational community during this Chanukah season. Rather than doing the reflection through private, quiet moments, participants did this while they were sitting in their car waiting to place their coffee order. But the impact was the same of personalizing their experience that morning and focusing them on the values of gratitude and community.

Throughout this pandemic, there are so many things that we can’t do and so many things that we have lost. Temple Judea’s Chanukah Drive-By provides a replicable model for communal celebration, engagement, and learning. It was a blessing to create a safe way to have these moments of connection, interaction, and joy.

Beth Ellen Young, RJE is the Senior Director of Education at Temple Judea in Coral Gables, FL.