Pupils con­nect with Ju­daism

The Jewish Chronicle - - JC SPECIAL - BY NATHAN JEFFAY Stu­dents toured a vir­tual in­ter­ac­tive mu­seum

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

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