Jewish Online Learning Program Provides “Taste of Israel”
by Laurie Rappeport
The importance of creating a strong and meaningful connection between students outside of Israel and young Israelis is at the core of a new form of Jewish online learning which is growing among day schools, afternoon Jewish enrichment programs and Jewish homeschooling families. The JETS program pairs Israeli teachers with North American students in asynchronous, synchronous and blended learning sessions that enable the students to “taste” a bit of Israel as they learn about various Jewish culture, tradition, concepts and issues which face Israel and the Jewish World.
Jewish online learning has been slow to reach the levels of other public and parochial distance learning programs but it is beginning to catch up as educators, families and communities become increasingly aware of the power that online learning has to motivate students as they explore their Jewish heritage and connections with the Land, people and State of Israel.
The courses are taught as either video conferencing sessions or through interactive activities in which students each use their own PC or iPad device to communicate with the teacher, ask questions, post on a virtual blackboard and submit their thoughts to open-ended questions in an expressive learning environment.
There are a wide range of class options available including classes on Contemporary Jewish Issues, conversational Hebrew with Hip Hop Hebraics, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Basic Judaism, Israel History, Ancient Israel Through My Eyes, Tikkun Olam and more. Students meet with the teacher online as they carry out assignments and interact in a way that allows them to think deeply about each topic, bring their own experiences into each session and integrate the subject matter into their lives in a meaningful manner.
The world of online learning also provides a vibrant framework of Jewish Learning for homeschooling students, students who don’t have access to a supplementary religious school system or students who haven’t integrated into a regular Hebrew School environment. JconnecT brings together Jewish pre-adolescents and teens from all over the country for Sunday Morning Live classes. The dynamic environment creates a virtual community in which students study at their own pace and explore subjects of personal interest. A core aspect of the program involves the collaboration of the regional Margolin Hebrew Academy of Memphis where JconnecT students join Margolin kids for Shabbatons and other social events.
Online Jewish education models also supplement school twinning programs. A unique “Shutafut” – Partnership – distance learning project offers twinned classroom opportunities where students in Israel and in North America “meet” virtually as they study similar material, discuss subjects of mutual interest and learn more about each other’s lives via a natural classroom environment. Internet “blackboards” allow the students to view each other’s work, comment, ask questions, collaborate and communicate.
JETS and JconnecT courses are non-denominational and are designed to provide quality pluralistic Jewish education for pre-teens and adolescent. Additional programs are also offered to public and parochial schools and to adult study groups and groups of senior students.
Laurie Rappeport made aliyah to Safed, Israel 30 years ago from Detroit. She works in the field of education, utilizing different forms of formal and informal educational models for young Jewish learners of all ages. Laurie is also involved in a wide range of projects which are aimed at bringing visitors to Safed to enjoy the religious, historical, cultural and artistic sites and experiences that the city has to offer.