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Jewish Education is Virtually Zooming Right Along!

Two weeks ago, Lily Coltoff highlighted the symbolic role of the number seven in Judaism. This week’s Shabbat Smile continues with this “seven motif,” all weaving an overall message about virtual Jewish education during this pandemic and beyond.

1) To open, I invite you on a musical, whimsical st/roll down memory lane, by listening to and/or learning the lyrics to an age-old Israeli song – suddenly relevant to our virtual Zoom world!

Zum [Zoom] Gali Gali
(hyperlinked to recording of song)
Ha-chalutz l’mahn avodah, avodah l’mahn ha’chalutz:
The pioneer is for the work. And the work is for the pioneer.

For one-time Zionists over a certain age, raised on the lore of immigrants turning now-Israel’s parched desert land into green, arable land, this pioneer song was standard fare. I offer it up now, refreshed, revisited, and renewed through the Zoom lens of 2020: doused in COVID-19, it fertilizes the current call for a new kind of pioneer. The crop we pioneers plant and nurture is our children’s Jewish education. Enjoy the music and/or the metaphor and/or the contemporary messaging.

This pandemic demands of us to be(come) pioneers through Zoom and other similar platforms.  (In jest, I call those of us cemented to our Zoom-screens “Zoombies.”) An example of courageous yet cautious and planful pioneers is documented in this article, showcasing four sleepaway camps that succeeded in remaining open without any COVID-19 outbreaks. (I can attest, as my daughter was a counselor at one of them.)

2) “Chanoch LaNa’ar Al Pi Darco – Educate a child according to their way” (Proverbs 22:6)

As Jews, we were lightyears ahead in understanding multiple learning styles. This proverb validates that each child learns differently. We apply and reinforce this concept each Passover through the Haggadah’s “Four Children.” It is incumbent on us – as teachers, parents, and leaders – to a) recognize the need for varied teaching styles and to b) remain adaptable.

I assert that this pandemic has forced each of us to tap into our inner child: (re)learning how to learn, how to communicate, how to connect; and, most relevant, how to teach most effectively. After a decade or so of trying to wrest our children and ourselves off excessive screen time, we are now challenged to keep them cemented to screen time – at least during instructional learning. How might we do this most effectively? How might we do so with students who have disabilities, ranging from learning disabilities to physical disabilities to chronic illnesses?

3) With these questions in mind, early into COVID-19, RespectAbility organized two convenings for leading educators of Jewish education-driven organizations. Challenges, solutions, frustrations and ideas were put on the Zoom table. Among the involved organizations were (listed alphabetically):

We also curated our Jewish Education-COVID-19, Virtual Education Resource. If you know of additional resources and websites to add, please send them our way to curate.

4) While we prepped for our #ADA30 Summit 2020 — which included a webinar focused on Virtual Education (from a secular lens) — we were also hard at work curating a comprehensive Virtual Education and Students with Disabilities Resource Guide. We hope this guide helps support you and your students during this daunting school year.

5) School in Israel is already underway. With empathy, we have much to learn from her struggles containing COVID-19, its impact on students, teachers, and parents: juggling how to sustain a livelihood and mental health and positive parenting whilst home schooling. Said Dr. Hagai Levine, a professor of epidemiology at Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health, “If there is a low number of cases, there is an illusion that the disease is over. . . . But it’s a complete illusion.”

We in the Diaspora are but a few steps or wheelchair lengths behind. Students and parents worldwide are struggling to stay afloat academically, emotionally, physically, and fiscally. Add to this the needs of students with disabilities in general, and students with chronic illnesses in particular, and, well . . . we must keep plugging, pioneering, innovating. We must keep trying new approaches. We will continue to identify pitfalls and failures. And we will continue to identify successes and best practices. We at RespectAbility will continue to share the latter.

6) Dr. Chaim Ginott, an Israeli early-education pioneer, once said:  Children are like wet cement: whatever falls on them makes an impression. Our efforts with virtual Jewish education will, indeed, make an impression. Hopefully a positive one.

7) As I opened with the age-old Israeli pioneer song “Zoom Gali Gali,” so I close. We are the pioneers for this pandemic’s work. And this work is for us. We may not literally be turning a desert green or making it arable; but together, we are virtually working to turn our Jewish education platforms’ deserts green and arable. Hopefully, following in our tradition of educating our children according to their individual ways, we may succeed in cementing worthwhile and long lasting, positive impressions. Ken Yehi Ratzon. May it be so. To this end, please continue to share tips, tricks, and ideas.

Shabbat shalom!

Debbie Fink

In our Jewish Disability Perspectives newsletter, RespectAbility welcomes a wide spectrum of voices. The views expressed in each Jewish Disability Perspectives contribution are those of the guest contributor.

Meet the Author

Debbie Fink

Debbie Fink was the Director of Community Outreach & Impact for RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities.

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