AS A teacher, Chana Kanzen did her best to bring Jewish studies into the modern age.
Frustrated with photocopy handouts, worksheets and textbooks, she spent hours designing PowerPoint presentations to mirror the methods used to teach mainstream subjects.
In 2011 she quit her job at the Sacks Morasha Jewish Primary School to run Jewish Interactive UK, an organisation committed to bringing “Jewish education into this century”.
But as her experience in the classroom showed, it was not an easy task.
She says: “Some teachers have a fear of not being able to use the technology. But that’s no excuse. We are doing a disservice to children if we don’t give them skills they need in this century.
“Our children are brought up in a digital and virtual environment, whether we like it or not.
“There is a real danger of disengagement if we don’t change our attitude.
“There’s a massive hole we need to fill. We’ve passed on Jewish knowledge from generation to generation and it’s vital that chain continues. How that knowledge is passed on is just as important.” Kanzen, 40, a member of Adani synagogue Magen A v r a h a m , has managed to get seven t e a c h i n g apps into 30 primary and s e c o n d a r y schools. But while the resources are designed with an Orthodox outlook, changes have been made to accommodate all movements, from Reform to Charedi.
“Some schools want a rabbi with a beard to lead a prayer in the programme, and others want a woman,” she says. “We are never going to please everyone but we got around that by
THEY EVEN USE BIRDS TO KEEP THE CHARACTERS GENERIC
taking away the human element and making our main characters birds — they’re more generic.
“We have worked with some Charedi schools, but they’re not all using our products. Sometimes, they don’t want to use the internet so are looking into tablets that will be offline.
“In Stamford Hill they’re not using our products at all. The very Charedi schools are not ready for this.”
Three years ago, Kanzen, a mother of three, ran the organisation from her kitchen in Finchley, north London. Now it is based in JHub’s office in West Hampstead. There are also offices in South Africa and Israel, and plans to open one in America.
She believes the technology education group’s popularity stems from a renewed interest in Jewish education, a fact that has seen her and her staff work 20-hour days.
“There has been a huge invest- ment in Jewish schools,” she said. “There’s demand so we supply. Our aim is to digitise the whole Jewish curriculum so it can be taught at home as well.
“A lot of the new Jewish free schools have non-Jewish pupils. This technology can help them, or people not practicing, learn about their heritage in a colourful and fun way.”
For now, she is focussing on expansion but one day, she does hope to return to teaching.
Tapping into knowledge: tablets are now regular teaching aids