The coronavirus has disrupted much learning across Massachusetts, but not at B’nai Tikvah in Canton. The students at this South Area Jewish congregation remain enthused, engaged and energized by a variety of creative educational opportunities.
The religious school, which before the pandemic offered a unique two-day-a-week program bolstered by family and community programming and events, continues to do so, restricted only by the confines of Zoom and the imagination of lead teacher Michelle Langmead.
Classes are still held on Tuesdays and Saturdays with students divided into three age groups. They meet together for services and separately for individualized Hebrew instruction. To assist in learning, students in grades four to six benefit from the knowledge and experience of older retired teachers who are fluent in Hebrew. This “L’Dor v’Dor” (from generation to generation) learning benefits from 21st-century technology. Students and tutors meet in Zoom breakout rooms, using computer tools to highlight, underline or write on the screen, allowing the learning to be more hands-on. As with pre-COVID classes, the individualized Hebrew learning enables each child to be successful at his or her own rate.
On Saturday mornings, students participate in the congregation’s Shabbat Zoom service, with older students helping to lead prayers. Cantor Joshua Grossman, who teaches the older students as well as preparing them for their bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies, notes that the Zoom format can be challenging. Whereas in past years the students lead prayers in groups, now just one at a time will be the leader. “The students no longer have backup, but they deserve a lot of credit for being successful in this format,” he said.
Melanie Greitzer, B’nai Tikvah’s vice president for education, stated: “I am really impressed with how the teachers have embraced new teaching practices and adapted their lessons to keep the kids engaged in the virtual learning environment. They are coming up with new ideas and are continually incorporating creative lessons to maintain the students’ interest throughout the year.”
Perhaps the most enthusiasm for B’nai Tikvah’s pandemic learning goes to the new Sunday Funday program, which alternates between projects on Zoom and in-person physically distanced activities in the synagogue’s parking lot. Although not required, participation in Sunday Funday is high.
“The projects are fun and very creative,” said parent Monique Bulotsky Weaver. “Michelle drops off bags of supplies at our homes so if we are not together at the temple we can participate on Zoom.” Her daughter Tahlia loves the opportunity to be with friends at religious school programs and particularly enjoys the Sunday Funday cooking sessions. “We’ve baked challah, cookies and mandelbrot,” she added. “In the parking lot we’ve done things like make mezuzot out of Legos and paint kindness rocks for the temple prayer garden.”
Seventh grader Ava Baizen particularly enjoys doing presentations for Cantor Grossman’s class. “We make slideshows or videos where we each do a part in our homes and then one person puts it together,” she said. “For Hanukkah, we each got assigned a famous figure in the story. We worked as a class to figure out the layout of the project, then we worked individually on our pieces. Sometimes we got help from others and some of us worked together on some parts, so we basically get a chance to work with everyone on the projects.”
Religious school students and their parents participated in a number of very successful programs during the week of Hanukkah, including the above presentations, which were viewed at Shabbat services; a Zoom Havdalah service, a physically distanced holiday party in the parking lot, with the older students leading games based on the Hanukkah theme; a drive-by menorah-lighting at the temple; and a family candle-lighting event on Zoom.
In addition, Langmead delivered a Hanukkah package to each family for at-home holiday activities. Thanks to funding and gifts from Sisterhood and Brotherhood, each family received candles, dreidels, recipes and a 20-page book designed by Langmead to aid in Hanukkah celebrations.
Langmead also collaborates with other religious schools to bring entertainment programs to the students. For Hanukkah, students at B’nai Tikvah and other East Coast temples enjoyed a performance by an internationally known improv comedy group. In January, Langmead is organizing a paint day with an art therapist and will be delivering paint, brushes and canvases to each participant.
“I am very grateful for all Michelle and the other teachers are doing; they are making religious school a great experience for the kids under the circumstances,” said parent Julie Goodman. “It is a good combination of fun and learning, and the kids are really staying connected with each other and the temple. Even though we can’t be in the building, the religious school is making sure we feel like a community.”
For information about B’nai Tikvah, visit bnaitikvahma.org or contact Elissa Gordon at 781-828-5250 ext. 1. B’nai Tikvah is offering discounted rates for new members. To learn more about the religious school, contact Michelle Langmead at teachers@BnaiTikvahMA.org.
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