Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Strengthening Diaspora Jewish Identity Through e-Learning

Last week the Prime Minister's office announced that Israel would be investing billions of dollars in the coming years to strengthen the Jewish identity of Diaspora Jews.  The announcement was made as part of the government's initiative to reverse the trend towards assimilation by helping Jewish communities throughout the world find strategies that bolster their members' Jewish identity.

One successful program, the Lauder e-Learning School, is already functioning in many countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The school offers online Jewish education for young Jewish students who live hours from a Jewish hub and have no access nearby to Jewish education. The majority of these students have little Jewish background but they are excited about learning and enthusiastic about the program. The parents also have minimal Jewish education -- some grew up without even knowing that they were Jewish -- but they want their children to have the opportunities for Jewish learning that were denied to them. 

The program offers Jewish education classes — both Hebrew courses and a wide range of Jewish studies” curriculum. These courses are supplemented by elective instruction in three foreign languages (German, French and English) to broaden the students' education and draw the students to the school. Students are invited to select any of the free classes that are offered on weekday afternoons, and they meet online in age-specific groups. Instructors, who were trained and are mentored by Jerusalem EdTech Solutions (JETS Israel) director Smadar Goldstein,  present the computer conferencing classes online and the students interact, answer questions, and complete assignments on tablets which are provided by the Lauder e-Learning School.  

So far almost 50 young Jewish students have taken part in the program. These youngsters are often the only Jews in their public school classrooms and the e-Lauder school is their sole opportunity to interact with other Jews in their own age group.  In addition to their online activities the students are invited to participate in an annual weekend Shabbaton in Warsaw hosted by the Lauder-Morsaha School. They are also invited to attend the annual Ronald S. Lauder Foundation summer camp.

The Lauder e-School was designed with the long-term goal of reviving Jewish life in Eastern Europe. The school's administration works with the Jewish leadership of each of the countries in which is functions including Germany, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic. A similar program is slated to open in Moscow next year. The Warsaw e-School, founded two years ago, is the latest facet in Poland’s Jewish revival, which is bringing Polish Jewry to the level of any small Jewish community in Europe.

For more information about the program, see a Jewish Week article entitled"Poles Apart

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