What’s in a name? More than you think.
This September many children are returning to religious schools in New York synagogues in person for the first time in over a year. Jewish educators anticipate some kids will have anxiety about being around other kids and teachers they haven’t seen for a long time. So Jewish educators like Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal, director of Youth and Family Education at Central Synagogue, are adopting creative ways to strengthen bonds between kids. And names are in the spotlight.
“In the beginning building community is about learning each other’s names,” Rabbi Rosenthal says, “So we’re planning icebreakers and name games to do that.”
To help religious school educators like Rabbi Rosenthal get a jump on what to expect when students return in person, The Jewish Education Project, UJA’s primary partner in the educational arena, had a great idea. Why not offer a webinar connecting them with Jewish camp professionals who’d already dealt with this process and could share lessons learned over the summer.
“It gave us a foundation to build from as we return,” says Rabbi Rosenthal, “and also highlighted how to support parents in this process, especially when some families may have faced loss and everyone has different levels of risk tolerance.”
The webinar was just one of the ways The Jewish Education Project, with UJA’s support, is helping educators as the pandemic continues to evolve. Other resources include a Jewish Educator Portal with opportunities and distance learning resources for educators across the Jewish community, digital learning refreshers with tools educators can use to help students thrive, professional development, and an online series about mental health and emotional learning as students step back into the classroom.
Getting back to a semblance of normal comes with a whole set of challenges. It’s important for Jewish educators to be aware of the different issues that may arise when kids return in person to religious schools. Yet this awareness is part of a core principle in place well before the pandemic — and long-supported by UJA.
“Our role as part of a synagogue is first and foremost for kids to have a place where they can feel included,” notes Rabbi Rosenthal, “and part of the Jewish community.”