BEVERLY – Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly has reimagined its religious school this year and themed it around the Shmita or sabbatical year in which fields are supposed to lie fallow.
The Sylvia Cohen Family Learning Project of Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester is asking its Hebrew school students: “What to do?”
And Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott and B’nai Abraham are both teaching students to recognize Hebrew words through a program called “Hebrew Through Movement” that will have kids getting out of their chairs while learning Hebrew commands.
This fall, North Shore temple religious schools have opened to in-person instruction with added precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Here is a look at what these schools have to offer in 2021-2022.
Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester
The Sylvia Cohen Family Learning Project held its opening day on Sept. 12 with 34 students in grades kindergarten to 7.
The school’s theme this year is Mah La’asot, which is Hebrew for “What to do?”
“The idea is Jews are doers,” said Phoebe Potts, director of family learning. This includes during the High Holidays when they study Torah, perform the Tashlich ceremony, build a Sukkah or unroll a scroll for Simchat Torah.
The school year started with “Festive Gatherings of the Tribe,” three consecutive Sundays of Jewish celebration and learning for families centered around the High Holidays. Late last month, the temple unrolled the Torah scroll in the temple’s parking lot for the holiday of Simchat Torah, which marks the beginning of a new cycle of Torah readings.
In March of 2020, when the pandemic hit, the school went remote at Purim “and we never stopped,” Potts said. “So we never missed a day.” The school was well attended – about 80 percent of families attended 95 percent of the time.
This year, Potts is employing a “Bubbe and Zaide Brigade” of grandmothers and grandfathers who volunteer to Zoom in with the kids while they are at religious school to coach them in Hebrew. This is a real example of L’Dor V’Dor, generation-to-generation, Potts said.
Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly
At TBA, students and teachers were back on Sept. 19, wearing masks inside and doing as much as possible outdoors, said Education Director Deb Schutzman.
The school is offering free pre-K classes, a special new-student price of $180, Hebrew Through Movement, and programs for students and family based on Shmita.
Under Jewish law, Shmita is the seventh year of an agricultural cycle during which the land is allowed to lie fallow. It’s “a year of rest, reset and radical rejuvenation,” according to the temple’s website.
The school has spent a lot of time re-evaluating “what we teach and how we teach,” Schutzman said. Major physical changes include renovations to classrooms, including paint and new tables, thanks to a generous donor.
Schutzman said the school is focusing on Hebrew this year to make learning about Judaism and prayer more meaningful.
Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott
According to Center for Jewish Education Director Janis Knight, COVID-19 precautions include students using hand sanitizer and attending Shabbat classes outside under tents. Enrollment is between 65 and 70 students.
“Students do not enter the sanctuary without masks,” Knight said in an email. Tuesday afternoon classes for grades 2 to 7 meet in well-ventilated spaces away from preschool students, she said. Students eat their snacks outdoors and wear masks when inside. The faculty is fully vaccinated and temple staff take part in pooled COVID testing once a week.
This year, sixth and seventh graders have a choice of electives. One focuses on learning how to chant and lead the prayers of the Shabbat morning Torah service. The other takes a deep dive into the meaning of several prayers in the Torah service with Rabbi Michael Ragozin.
“By learning approximately 30 key vocabulary words per prayer and really beginning to own the words, they will have a stronger connection to the actual language of the prayers,” Knight said.
CJE is also introducing Hebrew Through Movement for students in kindergarten through sixth grade
Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody
Opening day for the religious school at Ner Tamid took place Sept. 12.
Rabbi Richard Perlman and Religious School Director Susan Sugerman aim to help children learn to live their lives Jewishly.
When the religious school reopened about four years ago, it offered an online option on Tuesday afternoons, and about 30 percent of students took advantage of it. Thus, when the pandemic hit, Ner Tamid had an advantage over other temples when it came to remote learning, Perlman said.
Last school year, students came back to class on Sundays with school online on Tuesdays.
This year, the religious school will be offering “mini-classes” involving individuals coming in to talk to students, including an Israel Defense Forces soldier. Students will also learn about Ashkenazi and Sephardic foods and Israeli folk dancing.
Temple Tiferet Shalom in Peabody
The temple had a great outdoors Simchat Torah celebration on Sept. 26, said Bryna Rosen Misiura, president of Tiferet Shalom.
“The weather was beautiful. The music, dancing and food were great! So much fun dancing with the Torahs!” she said in an email.
“Our religious school is in-person this year. We have a mandatory mask policy in place, and students are socially distanced when inside.”
Misiura said they are grateful to be back in person with an enrollment of about 65 students in kindergarten through grade 7, pre-confirmation and confirmation classes.
“New to the curriculum this year are Jewish-holiday-themed boot camps,” Misiura said. “This is center-based activity run during religious school, in which students, along with parents, refresh their knowledge of the holiday, as well as Jewish values and traditions, through a range of activities.”
Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead
On Sept. 12, Temple Emanu-El kicked off its religious school with an outdoor event that included an open house, a Sukkah decoration-making activity and presentations by local beekeepers.
The event also served as an introduction to Cantor Rosalie Toubes, who is the temple’s new family engagement and pre-K through third grade coordinator.
Last year amid the coronavirus pandemic, the religious school was conducted via Zoom on Sundays and in-person during the week until Hanukkah, when the program shifted online, said Temple Educator Rabbi Allison Peiser.
The remote learning seemed to work for many families. “In some ways, we had better enrollment than in past years,” she said.
This year, masks are required inside the temple but not outdoors, and those eligible to be vaccinated will have done so, she said. This fall, religious school is in-person, as no family has asked for a remote option. Enrollment is approximately 95 students pre-K through grade 12.
Temple Emmanuel of Wakefield
Temple Emmanuel of Wakefield’s Chai School is holding in-person classes with masks and social distancing, with the option of shifting to remote learning if necessary.
Classes are led by Jewish educator Brenda Dolan and Rabbi Greg Hersh, and allow students to explore their Jewish roots regardless of their level of observance. There will be individualized bar and bat mitzvah classes for students ages 12 and 13 with Rabbi Hersh.