Creating a (Virtual) Community

By Aleza Kulp, Educational Director & Program Coordinator

I generally thought I was prepared for any challenge. That was definitely the case until March 3, when I received a call from one of the teachers in our school. She explained to me that she now was under quarantine for two weeks, as she attended the Young Israel of New Rochelle. At first, I thought to myself, challenge solved. We can have a substitute to cover the class and all would be fine. Within hours, that all changed and a decision was made to cancel Religious School.

When would we be back in session? At that time, I hoped before Passover. I began planning for our Model Seder and felt all was fine. That thought changed within days and I knew I would have to think quickly on how to create a community for our Religious School children online.

Thankfully, we have already been teaching Hebrew virtually as an elective for children in our 3rd through 6th grade classes, and I immediately began planning ways to teach about Pesach to our children. We can sing Mah Nishtanah together online. We will review the symbols on the Seder plate.

As we began our “Religious School @ Home” sessions, I recognized that these children needed so much more than the material. They needed connection! They needed to see that others their age also felt scared, anxious, and confused. They need to feel validated for their thoughts and fears. How was this going to work? I am not a therapist or a social worker, but I am someone who loves teaching and loves every child I teach. I realized that was all I needed. I explained this to our teachers knowing they also cared about their students. This is what we set out to do each afternoon and Sunday morning.

Over the past month, we offered various “lessons” about Purim and Passover, Hebrew reading, games and even a great lesson on Jewish Art to the children. We held weekly Tefillot with Cantor Goldberg and had PJ Library Story Time and ShaJam with Tkiya for our little ones. We created a virtual community for the children of WJC where they could come to feel safe and loved. What holds for the next month in our area, I do not know, but I do know I am now ready to face the challenge and be there for our children.

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