Amidst the uncertainty in the world, Hebrew school students at Temple Israel of Boston logged into Zoom rooms more than once a week last spring for optional moments of spirituality.

The students were continuing lessons they had begun in person before the pandemic, learning Mussar middot, or qualities, including humility, patience, gratitude, compassion, silence, truth, moderation and loving kindness. They were also discovering the importance of mindfulness as a pathway to a meaningful and joyful life.

“Meditation was something I was nervous about when we moved online, but Zoom lends itself very well to meditation,” said Roberta Axeloons, assistant director of education at Temple Israel, who earned her master’s in Jewish education from Hebrew College. “It’s not just because of the mute button.”

Temple Israel was one of four pilot locations in “Awareness in Action,” a Hebrew College partnership with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality (IJS) that supports educators and their students in developing spirituality, attention, social and emotional skills, resilience and character as a foundation for lifelong thriving. The program was initially offered in day schools, but IJS began piloting it in Hebrew schools last year with help from Hebrew College. Temple Israel was one of the first locations.

For educators, the program offers a dual personal and professional growth opportunity, according to Marion Gribetz, director of educational initiatives at Hebrew College. In order to effectively teach the practices to their students, willing educators first learn the practices themselves, which then inform their teaching. Hebrew College is piloting the program at Temple Israel, as well as at other Boston-area shuls, including Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Temple Beth Zion in Brookline and Temple Isaiah in Lexington.

“For educators who complete the program, the result is a deeper connection to their spiritual core, to Judaism and to their students; less reactivity and greater responsiveness and wisdom; and greater resilience,” Gribetz said. “All of these are skills teachers can really benefit from during this difficult time in order to remain more balanced and connected and to better support their students. It’s very exciting, it’s experimental and we’re learning along the way.”

Axeloons said she was interested in bringing meditation to her students even before she learned of the IJS initiative. She feels lucky that Hebrew College, and Temple Israel specifically, were chosen for this pilot.

She said when Temple Israel students have the option to choose different “Spiritual Practice labs,” they are “over and over again” choosing meditation.

“It’s super hard for kids to verbalize that meditation is helping them, but the kids seem to really enjoy it. You can see their faces on the screen as they engage and close their eyes,” she said. “I have this theory that it’s a time where they don’t have to give. In every aspect of their life they’re asked to create, to write, to speak—meditation is a time when they can just be themselves. They don’t have to put out any energy into the world. They just receive the energy of the world.”

Learn more about Hebrew College’s professional development programs for educators.

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