How do you teach seventh graders when you not only have rambunctious masked pre-teens sitting in the classroom, but you also have students sitting at home, logging in over the internet because they’re in quarantine?
That’s the question that Rabbi Zev Kahane, who teaches Jewish studies at the Moriah School in Englewood, faced as this school year got underway. And of course, he was not alone with that question — after several months of only remote learning last spring, Jewish day schools greeted their students in person this fall. Still, they had to keep many students at home in any given week, whether because they had been exposed to the covid-19 virus, had traveled out of town, or were self-quarantining to guarantee a covid-free bar or bat mitzvah celebration.
Rabbi Kahane and 11 colleagues from seven local day schools got some help in answering that question from the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, which funded professional training in hybrid learning for them last fall.
That training was possible, federation officials said, through the generosity of Arthur and Joyce Joseph. The longtime Teaneck residents were community leaders before they moved to Maryland after a 2006 auto accident. Arthur Joseph died in 2012, and Joyce Joseph died in May 2020.
Back in 2008, the Josephs set up an endowment fund at the Federation dedicated to professional development for Jewish educators.
“This year, in light of the pandemic, we tapped into this resource,” Robin Rochlin, the managing director of the federation’s endowment foundation, said. “I see it as a real tribute to what an endowment can do. You plant seeds one year and you don’t know what the future holds and what the needs will be.”
The training was delivered by an educational coaching company, BetterLesson, which had been recommended by Prizmah, the center for Jewish day schools. It took place on Zoom over the course of two evenings.
“Something that was really nice about it was being together with most of the other Jewish schools connected to the federation,” Rabbi Kahane said. “We were teachers from all different schools, teaching different levels — elementary, middle, and high school teachers — teaching history, Tanach, Gemara. We’re all teaching different things and different ages but we really were all struggling with the same things. There was a lot of collaboration and a lot of conversation.”
In addition to Moriah, the schools that sent teachers for the training were Ben Porat Yosef, the Frisch School, Naaleh High School for Girls, Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County, Torah Academy of Bergen County, and Yeshivat Noam.
“One of the big takeaways was you have to find the three or four techniques that fit your style of teaching and your students and that work for you the best, and focus on those and make them amazing,” Rabbi Kahane said. Follow-up one-one-one training “to really home in on some of the skills” is scheduled for after winter break, he added.
Rabbi Kahane said that “the hybrid approach, with some kids on Zoom and some in the classroom, is more challenging” than online only classes. “When some are here and some are on Zoom, it’s very hard to figure out how to run a classroom,” he added. “The training “gave us different tools to help us facilitate this concurrent learning. They showed us different ways to multitask and split up the lesson.
“We learned about a lot of really awesome technology tools that help make hybrid teaching easier. If you’re using certain websites, you can really bring kids from outside the room into the room, because everyone’s on the same interface.”
Have the challenges of teaching in 2021 hurt the students’ education?
“Academically, the school has risen to the challenge,” Rabbi Kahane said. “Everyone is getting academically the same education they would be getting in a regular year. In terms of developing a resiliency and ability to push oneself and try new things, they have grown more than student in regular years. The kids’ ability to push themselves and overcome things and stand up to challenges is really amazing.”
The Arthur and Joyce Joseph endowment fund is one component of the federation endowment foundation, which distributed more than $3.3 million in grants last year. More than $1 million of that distribution came from permanent endowments such as the Josephs’.
“The point of an endowment fund is to provide resources to sustain and support your charitable causes in perpetuity,” Ms. Rochlin said.
How much does it cost to fund an endowment?
“Our Dor L’Dor Society starts at a hundred thousand dollars,” she said. “It can be in one’s lifetime, or through a bequest or an IRA designation. We invest the money and make a distribution on an annual basis to the cause and purpose the donor has chosen.
“Most are to fund the annual campaign, to sustain the mission of the federation as needs evolve. That allows for flexibility in the use of funds to meet the challenges of the day. Or you can establish a fund for your specific interest — whether to assist for seniors, for Jewish continuity, for Jewish education, or support for Israel — so the donor has some ability to prescribe how the funds will be utilized.
“If your specific goal is to support Jewish education, then it doesn’t matter if 50 years from now or 100 years from now if there’s one Jewish school in Bergen County or 15 schools. You know that Jewish education will be supported.
“We tell the story of planting seeds for tomorrow. The whole point of endowments is contributing back in a very meaningful and personal way. You know you’re doing good in the world not just today but in an everlasting way. We plant trees even though we know we may not be around to see our grandkids enjoy the shade.”