For Military Families Far from Jewish Life, ShalomLearning Offers a Free Way to Connect
May 28, 2020
Ten thousand Jewish men and women proudly serve in the U.S. military, stationed across the country and the world with their 15,000 family members. For those with children who are stationed in areas without Jewish life, finding a way to give the next generation a proper Jewish education can pose a challenge. The transient lifestyle of military families complicates issues further, making it difficult for continuous learning in a physical space. Now, nonprofit organization ShalomLearning is doing its part to help, by providing its cutting-edge online Jewish education and teacher training programs to U.S. military families free of charge.
“Military bases are often located in places without much Jewish life. While chaplains and lay leaders find creative ways to engage their local communities in meaningful ways, organizing and implementing their own Hebrew school is a whole different animal,” said ShalomLearning CEO Josh Troderman. “We have found that the need is there, but that existing Hebrew schools are often underfunded and lacking time, training, and pluralistic inclusive resources. Why should an entire generation of Jewish children, whose parents are literally heroes, go without a Jewish education? There is a great need for a solution that can connect Jewish children on U.S. military installations worldwide both to Judaism and to one another. These families are serving our country, and we want to serve them.”
In partnership with JWB Jewish Chaplain’s Council®, ShalomLearning is offering the use of its highly regarded programs (now in over 160 synagogues across the U.S.) to Jewish military families in three distinct forms:
The traditional classroom: At two Hebrew schools, located on military bases in Spain and Virginia, the students cherish their time with one another and their teachers. However, the institutions struggled without a curriculum or adequate resources for additional home learning. ShalomLearning has provided these schools with both. The teachers are now able to select materials and plan their lessons accordingly, while students now log in at home to augment and reinforce their classroom learning. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these schools have transitioned to online-only, also through ShalomLearning’s platform, but all look forward to returning when allowed.
The virtual classroom in Japan has united Jewish children stationed on Army, Navy, and Air Force bases around the country and in other countries by aligning groups in the same time zones. These students all meet online at a designated time for a class facilitated by a ShalomLearning-trained local community leader. The virtual classroom allows them to interact with and learn from one another in a manner that was previously impossible.
The homeschool model: Four families living on a base in Washington State have utilized ShalomLearning’s online platform to connect their children to their Jewish roots, history, and traditions through the Judaics values curricula as well as the Hebrew learning programs. Each family has a designated teacher (usually the parent that is home with the kids while the other is deployed or a lay leader in the community) that is being trained through our virtual webinars and growing mentorship program.
“Our lay cantor and I started a Hebrew school last year for the kids in our community at U.S. Naval Station Rota, Spain. We initially focused on drawing out Hebrew terms from the Parashat and tying Jewish values to the text. And thanks to the partnership between our supporting organization, the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council, and ShalomLearning, we now have a structured curriculum to follow that includes values education and Hebrew that we can use throughout the year,” said Amanda Gipson, a Jewish lay leader on U.S. Naval Station Rota, Spain.
Amy McFarland, a mother whose children are enrolled in Hebrew school with ShalomLearning, said: “As a Jewish parent of two young boys (8 and 11 years old) who is stationed overseas for a civilian DOD assignment, I couldn’t be more thrilled with the opportunity to have ShalomLearning as a resource for my sons. Fortunately, we have wonderful lay leaders of our synagogue (located on a military base) who volunteer their time to teach my sons Hebrew and Jewish Studies. The lay leaders use ShalomLearning as a resource to extend the boys’ learning. This has been a big blessing during the quarantine because the boys continue to learn remotely with our lay leaders and ShalomLearning in virtual Hebrew school.”
Gipson added: “We simply would not have been able to keep giving classes during the confinement without having support from the JWB and access to online learning with ShalomLearning. ShalomLearning’s professionals have been in constant contact with us to offer tips for giving virtual classes and to be sure we are all on track. It’s a real booster to know that we have that support because it can be difficult sometimes living in an area where we don’t have a bigger Jewish community to lean on.”
ShalomLearning was founded in 2011 to fill the need for an innovative, relevant, and accessible religious school program that keeps children engaged. ShalomLearning offers online, in-person, and blended learning programs for supplementary Jewish education for pre-K through 7th grades and provides professional development opportunities for educators. Curriculum offerings include pluralistic, Jewish values-based Judaics classes, Hebrew programs, and more. For more information, visit https://www.shalomlearning.org.