Rabbi Bill S. Tepper
While pursuing my education degree in the late 1980s I spent several two-week sessions as a student teacher in various Greater Toronto Area high schools. Among my challenges, during the first few days in particular, was locating the classrooms where I was to teach. I always gave myself a head start. Alas…my two-week term of service ended just when I had successfully learned to navigate my way through the building!
As a rabbi, resource person and participant in Holy Blossom’s Youth Education Center [YEC] classes, I am again being called on to apply navigational skills, though in a quite different manner than if I were in a brick-and-mortar institution. As I write these words, the YEC is – out of concern for student and teacher health – taking place via ZOOM. Prior to the start of our Sunday morning and Monday evening classes, I receive by email the ZOOM links for each grade level. Over the next two hours, I travel through cyberspace from one class to the next, greeting students and teachers, sharing ideas, teaching our traditions, and reading stories. Together, we endeavour to experience our learning in as interactive and dynamic as possible, students being encouraged to employ the virtual ‘raised hand’ signal to speak or contribute their thoughts by way of the Chat Box. On Sundays, during the final thirty minutes of learning, all students and teachers ‘assemble’ in one [cyber] location to enjoy and lend their spirits to an upbeat t’fillah that incorporates music, song, prayer, blessing and more stories.
At YEC, our gifted teachers and enthusiastic students of Jewish learning persevere in navigating the challenges posed by the pandemic. And as Jews, for whom ongoing learning – of both the young and younger – is imperative, all are to be praised for their enthusiasm and ingenuity. It may not be the in-person nor brick-and-mortar mode of learning we once took for granted. But when it comes to navigating our cyber classrooms there’s a good deal to be proud of, all the same.