Learn about how we created RS180 during the pandemic and about the exciting plans we have in store for Religious School 2021-2022!
“We are partners with you in raising conscious well-rounded Jewish children.”
– HEATHER EREZ
Director of Youth Education and Engagement
Lemonade out of Lemons
Temple Beth El of Boca Raton has weathered this past year of the pandemic by reinventing every aspect of synagogue life. We’re proud to say, we didn’t miss a beat. We turned our programming, services and religious school, virtual… literally overnight. The philosophy of optimism and creativity of the clergy and staff shows that “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Temple Beth El is literally overflowing with the spirit of lemonade!
In March 2020, no one could have envisioned the journey that all of us and the entire world were about to embark on. The religious school and youth group were in full swing. Our students were attending in-person classes. They were enjoying the comradery of their friends, and participating in a variety of fun youth group activities.
Suddenly the pandemic hit and everything ground to a halt. Overnight our children woke up to a new world. Their safe places were no longer safe for their health. They couldn’t visit or hug their grandparents, attend school or synagogue, play with their friends, participate in extracurricular activities. Everything was off limits.
Heather Erez knew we had to do something drastic to keep students involved for an indefinite period of time. She began an arduous process to research and develop a new religious school model.
At first we attempted to reopen as an in-person, socially distant, religious school, with class sizes of about ten students. Heather couldn’t have fathomed then, that we would still be closed for more than a year.
“There were so many different pieces to execute. To create a good experience for a child learning virtually at home. We planned for that – but we also assumed the world was going to open up again,” she says.
Parenting During a Pandemic
Heather reached out to religious school families to get their opinions. There was a great deal of concern about too many virtual weekday classes already through their secular school. But everyone was cognizant of the fact that in-person learning could spread Covid to both the students and the teachers.
Many families were already struggling financially as the pandemic adversely affected their income. They wanted their children to stay connected to the temple. But they were concerned about paying full religious school tuition when their financial future was uncertain. Especially for virtual classes!
Based on that feedback, Heather knew she would be unable to compensate the teachers if there would be significant reduced tuition revenue. She kept thinking of new solutions, getting feedback from parents, clergy and staff, and retooling.
Eureka! RS180 for $180
In late June 2020, everything changed during a conversation between Heather and the temple’s Executive Director, Steve Kaufman. The door opened to endless possibilities. “I wanted Heather to feel free to create a new curriculum, abandon benchmarks and focus on the most critical areas. Still, she needed to keep everyone part of our community. Most importantly, we wanted to remove a financial burden for our families,” he said.
She reached out to educators across the country to see how others were coping with this challenge. Soon, Heather found a new online year-long religious school curriculum specifically created for the pandemic year. We decided to give it a try and to only charge our families $180 for the year. Now, there would be many less expenses to budget for, such as staff, supplies and other overhead. Also, it was a 180-degree pivot from our current way of teaching.
Heather then took on the daunting task of creating the curriculum. She created weekly lessons and collateral material. She sent out email and text reminders to the families.
Our clergy would be her supportive partners in teaching. Brigitte Livingstone and Perle Gasse provided crucial administrative support. Izabela Tenenboim and Amanda Brensel of our Marketing and Communications team created the graphics and web pages for the RS 180 online portal. That way, families could access content at their convenience, even if they couldn’t make it to virtual class.
The Pivot Worked
“Before Hebrew Through Movement, I only knew Hebrew words from prayers, and now I’m learning how to actually speak Hebrew!”
– STELLA GROSS
4th grade daughter of Lauren & Alan Gross
The launch of Religious School 180 during the pandemic was a complex endeavor. But the result is a huge success. Our enrollment which had been dwindling due to the uncertainty of the pandemic was now soaring.
The choices allowed families to participate in all or some of the programming. The sessions were also recorded for viewing anytime.
For those who wanted Hebrew only, it was offered live on Thursdays.
Every week Heather provided a new fun “Challenge” option on the RS180 portal to get the children thinking. The first Challenge asked them to interview 3 people who they felt represented safe space to them. She offered a personal example of how she felt safe in her mother’s arms. The children responded well to this! They offered a variety of great answers about where they felt safe, even offering up drawings and photos.
She created “Family Schmooze” on the portal. And each week suggesting pertinent discussion questions to open up conversations between parents and their children.
“Previously, every teacher did this work for their own grade – for RS180 it’s just me and the clergy and one native Israeli teacher to help,” said Heather.
The native Israeli speaker was brought in to teach “Hebrew Through Movement” online, which is modern Hebrew. Students are having a great time, as it is conversational and they have begun speaking with one another about the things they like, they can count, they know what grade they are in and quite a bit more!
A new curriculum focused on five Jewish values which reflected different areas of PTSD for children. The first module was finding safe space and the second was finding strength and resilience.
They also talked about heroes in the community; how you can be a hero and how that ties into Jewish heroes in the Torah. Sometimes being a hero during a time like Covid, is simply doing a good deed at home or being helpful to someone.
“As a family we enjoyed how religious school was once a week and an hour. As an educator, I have found there is so much more deep down inside these kids that they are holding onto and a lot of it is not obvious to us and it takes a lot for kids to open up. These activities allow them to open up and realize in a time of crisis they do have comfort around them.”
Mother of Harrison, Grade 5
Heather explains, “In Judaism when we discuss our holidays, we always talk about how Jews have had to dig deep to make it through whatever we were dealing with. Hopefully soon we will be going through our own exodus and coming out of this. But right now my focus is to help parents and kids work through these issues and empower them.”
(in Yiddish, that’s “Bursting with Pride!”)
Despite the challenges, our students had a great year.
Every one of our B’nai Mitzvah students kept up with their studies at this all-important time in their lives. B’nai mitzvahs were held in the sanctuary with Covid-safe protocols, and allowing additional family members and guests to join in via Zoom or Livestream. This milestone was memorable and meaningful for our students and families.
Every week on Zoom, Cantor Lori Brock and Cantorial Soloist Michelle Auslander Cohen worked with their students on the prayers.
Rabbi Jessica and Rabbi Greg held two online one hour 7-week mini courses for high school students. Whenever students found something of interest, they could simply pop in. We had a steady group attend.
Confirmation class met online with Rabbi Dan and Heather following the regular curriculum. As for the postponed 2020 ceremony, in March 2021, we finally held it in person and had 15 people in the building at a time, creating meaningful memories.
This year since we are in people’s homes on Zoom every week, we have gotten to know each other well. Heather and the clergy always want to be seen as people the children or their parents can come to if they are struggling.
As we look toward the future and welcoming everyone back in-person, we have many more exciting and enriching plans in store. Thanks to the strong foundation we built during RS180, we learned that we can overcome any obstacles in our path and develop innovative programming for our children that will be impactful no matter the circumstances. As just a small sampling of the many things in store for our children of all grade levels, we are extremely pleased to share how we continue to evolve and give you a sneak peek at some highlights from Religious School 2021-2022 to look forward to.
Hebrew Through Movement
We are delighted to be continuing this conversational Hebrew program for our elementary school age students.
- Sundays at the Beck Family Campus
We look forward to seeing smiling faces back in person once again
- Beyachad for 3rd-5th Graders
This popular pre-pandemic program will continue once again in-person offering students and their parents a chance to attend religious school together.
On Tuesday evenings, our 6th graders will be rotating from in-person at the Beck Family Campus, then online every other week.
A variety of new programs will be introduced to engage our teens. There will be leadership opportunities, Beyachad Teen (for teens to attend with their parents) and a two-year curriculum in partnership March of The Living focusing on both the Holocaust and Anti-Semitism and how these topics are still relevant today.
There are many more exciting plans in store and we invite you to visit our Religious School 2021-2022 registration page to read about the engaging curriculum, and view our exciting video that shows all we have to offer your children at Beth El’s Religious School 2021-2022.
For any questions about registration, curriculum or tuition, please contact Heather Erez, Director of Youth Education and Engagement [email protected] or call 561-391-9092.