PEABODY – The goal of Chabad of Peabody’s Hebrew School of the Arts in West Peabody is to engage children with a sense of their Jewish identity, said Raizel Schusterman, director of the school and wife of Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman.
The Hebrew school aims to foster a love of Judaism and pride in being Jewish, while helping students discover the Torah, the history of the Jewish people, and the land of Israel, along with mastering how to read and write Hebrew, according to the school’s website.
It does this by engaging students’ imagination and attention with a multi-sensory, hands-on approach through arts, song, and dance.
“The students really experience what they are being taught,” Schusterman said. The school offers a Mommy and Me program for newborns to age 3, a First Taste program for kids ages 3-5, Hebrew School for students ages 6-13, and a Bar/Bar Mitzvah Discovery Course.
To foster their Hebrew reading, the school uses the Aleph Champ Hebrew reading system, which is designed to move students up through various levels as they attain more knowledge of the language, similar to the way martial arts students earn different colored belts as they become more proficient. Students start out as “White Aleph Champs” and then move up from there.
“They are motivated and have clear goals,” Schusterman said of the program.
She said the school’s philosophy is that every Jewish child is entitled to a Jewish education, based around the saying: “‘Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn,’” she said.
Schusterman said students receive a different Hebrew School education than many of their parents experienced decades before. “We have a bunch of students who have graduated and have stayed connected to the rabbi as a friend and mentor,” she said.
To foster Hebrew School students’ connection to their heritage in the Holy Land, the school is using the Israel Quest curriculum, which uses such tools as virtual reality, topography, theater, and filmmaking.
“This experience is bound to capture the attention of every student,” Schusterman said. “It’s more like a hands-on activity, the kids are up and moving each lesson. It’s really important the kids come out excited and engaged.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the school had an enrollment of 50 students, Schusterman said. Classes went virtual last year, and this year the school is offering a Zoom option but more students are attending in person. Students wear masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“We are very careful about that as well,” Schusterman said.
Membership in Chabad is not required, and there are no requirements as far as education level or affiliation. Many students come from unaffiliated or interfaith homes. The school offers discounts and scholarships for those who may not be able to afford the tuition.
“We believe every child deserves a Jewish education,” Schusterman said.