Ohr Torah Stone’s high school and post-high school programs adapt to the new reality by moving their curricula online; in doing so, expanding their reach to new populations
In the ever-changing coronavirus environment, Ohr Torah Stone’s high school and post-high school faculties have been working around the clock to monitor and meet their students’ evolving needs. Although the realities and the restrictions have changed, student learning hasn’t missed a beat. In fact, many OTS teachers are working harder and dedicating more hours now than ever before to support their students’ studies and ensure their emotional wellbeing – this, while they themselves are coming to terms with their own families’ challenges and concerns.
Moreover, while moving their entire course curricula online, OTS institutions have also added additional classes and programs which enable the schools “without walls” to reach a broader community and meet the increased thirst for community and emotional support.
“I’ve been truly inspired”
For students in OTS’ various post-high school programs, in particular, enrollment represents an opportunity to fully immerse themselves in Torah study and Jewish connection over an intensive period of time – a unique experience in most people’s lives that is difficult to replicate.
The staff of Midreshet Lindenbaum‘s Maria & Joel Finkle Overseas Program worked tirelessly to ensure that while parents were informed of the evolving situation and their daughters began to fly home, the cycle of learning never abated and students were offered ongoing opportunities to connect with their teachers and peers. For students who came to Israel expecting to spend a full school year immersing themselves in Jewish exploration, the shock of having to interrupt their studies was traumatic. While the dormitory remained open throughout, most students decided to fly home as the crisis grew, and many left without a full opportunity to say goodbye to their friends and teachers.
Midreshet Lindenbaum staff understood that particularly now, the students craved continuity – a continued opportunity to learn and connect to their community of teachers and role models – as well as to their peers, who have become like family. Teachers continued to offer in-person classes for as long as possible, and transitioned online as soon as students began traveling home. To accommodate students in time zones across the English-speaking world, from Australia to England, California and New York, teachers adjusted their schedules, often giving classes late into the night.
The Midreshet Lindenbaum team also added creative opportunities for bonding and community-building, such as a virtual end-of term reflections and a challah bake open to students, their mothers and sisters, and a student organized Zoom Hallel so they could all sing together on Rosh Chodesh.
“I’ve been truly inspired,” says Rabbanit Sally Mayer, Rosh Midrasha at Midreshet Lindenbaum, “not only by the students’ commitment to continue their learning given the current circumstances, but by the dedication of our excellent and caring faculty, who are making themselves available at all hours of the day and night. Not only did the cycle of learning never stop, but if anything, it has expanded – we have our first-ever ‘Nisan Zman,’ and we are seeing parents and alumnae who are joining in our learning as well.”
Online Learning on the IDF Bases
Indeed, recognizing that current students aren’t the only ones in need of support and strength during these challenging times, OTS post-high school programs have also reached beyond the current student base, opening online classes and other forums to alumni, parents, and even students registered for the coming year.
At the Robert M. Beren Machanaim Hesder Yeshiva, one of OTS’ two post-high school yeshivot, the transition to “zoom learning” has not only enabled the full curriculum to continue, but has offered a larger community of parents and alumni to participate. As a hesder yeshiva, Machanaim students combine yeshiva learning with full, three-year service in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Once they become soldiers, the young men often miss the intensive time they enjoyed studying Torah while in the yeshiva. With all classes now on online and recorded, they are able to enjoy Machanaim classes whenever they have the time. According to Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Shlomo Vilk, over 500 students, alumni, soldiers and parents have been participating in these round-the-clock learning opportunities.
Young women serving in the IDF through Midreshet Lindenbaum’s three branches in Jerusalem, Lod and Carmiel are likewise enjoying the new model of online learning. “Learning at Midreshet Lindenbaum was among the most meaningful experiences of my life,” testifies IDF soldier Meira Levi. “I absolutely loved the learning, the teachers and the relationships I developed with the other girls. The continued connection to my Lindenbaum family has been a really huge sense of support since I began my army service.”
In the Hadas program, religious Israeli women first spend a year immersed in intensive Torah study at Midreshet Lindenbaum, and then continue on to full military service in the IDF, all the while enjoying ongoing support from their Midreshet Lindenbaum rabbis and teachers. In addition to participating in several Shabbat programs throughout the year at Midreshet Lindenbaum, Hadas soldiers look forward to twice-monthly base visits from their teachers – a crucial source of support during what can be a very challenging period in their lives.
Now, with the staff unable to visit the IDF bases in person, they are offering many alternative opportunities for connection and learning through recorded classes, zoom “check-in” sessions and ongoing WhatsApp groups, which offer a supportive forum for any and all questions and discussions.
“Knowing that despite the current situation, I still have somewhere to turn for halachic questions, a place where I can share my experiences with people who understand, and opportunities to enjoy classes with the teachers I love gives me so much strength – especially at times like these,” Levi says.