Pupils connect with Judaism
IN AMERICA’S Jewish schools, e-learning is taking off as a tool for teaching Jewish studies. At the start of the last academic year, an online Jewish studies college opened its virtual doors, offering cutting-edge lessons in Bible, rabbinic texts and Jewish history. The Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy exemplifies out-of-thebox thinking — its programme on the prophet Elijah, for instance, involved an “interactive museum” where students could take an on-screen tour at their own pace through Elijah-themed displays, drawing on the Talmud, Bible and art.
“The texts in Jewish study are timeless but sometimes there’s a disconnect between how students are studying in other subjects and in Judaics, and I think that the onus is on educators to find ways to bridge that gap,” says Chana German, founder and director of the academy. “We are providing students with a really engaging way for Jewish studies, putting students in the driving seat.”
The academy is aimed at high-school pupils and has been running in 35 Jewish American schools. Online courses involve activities, assignments and virtual classes for which pupils from different schools “meet up” with each other and their teachers, who are in Israel (the academy is a project of the Lookstein Centre for Jewish Education at Bar Ilan University, near Tel Aviv).
“The kids loved it,” says Leah Spector, Jewish studies principal at the Agnon School, Cleveland, Ohio. “And I loved the way they were thinking about the text deeply. I liked the creativity.”
So far the academy has focused on America, where Jewish schools have to offer a wide variety of Jewish studies courses to meet the widely varying expectations of parents. But this academic year will see the academy promoting its courses to British Jewish schools that want to expand their range of subjects, or introduce innovative educational approaches.
Online Jewish studies are not only for the young. WebYeshiva.org runs courses for adults and describes itself as “the world’s first fully-interactive, live, online yeshivah”. Courses are free and suit learners from a range of backgrounds, including beginners in Jewish studies. Subjects include Bible, Talmud, Jewish philosophy and Yiddish.
Some American universities offer Jewish studies courses online for students all over the world — and at Rutgers University they are free. Rutgers courses, which do not lead to a degree, include “the history of Zionism” and “the Inquisition and the Jews”.
Teachers in Israel join American pupils in an online classroom