Midreshet Lindenbaum Launches Unique Virtual Beit Midrash Summer Program for Teens
The Maria and Joel Finkle Overseas Program at Midreshet Lindenbaum is always looking for new ways to strengthen young women’s Torah learning and connection to Israel. Realizing that COVID-19 had left teens around the world without plans for the summer, staff utilized the online-teaching skills they developed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic to create a brand-new online summer high school program: “A Taste of Torat Eretz Yisrael.”
Twenty-four girls from New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Texas, Michigan and Toronto participated in the one-of-a-kind program which combined three weeks of Torah study with classes on Judaism, the Land of Israel, virtual day trips, and social activities.
“We committed to providing a meaningful, content-rich program for teens,” explains Rosh Midrasha Rabbanit Sally Mayer. “I’ve been extremely impressed by the dedication of the staff and the enthusiasm of the students.”
A Personal Touch
Although the students couldn’t physically learn together in the beit midrash in Israel, Midreshet Lindenbaum brought a piece of the learning directly into each of their homes.
During the first week, each student received her own Tanach in the mail, personalized with a message inside from Midreshet Lindenbaum, inviting them to the real beit midrash in the future. It was one of many touches to show each participant how much she was valued, and to connect her to the program and the learning.
Each girl selected to participate in either the Tanach or the Gemara track, which formed the centerpiece of her learning during the three-week program. Students who chose to focus on Tanach delved into various Torah characters, exploring their stories, motivations, and considering how we might act today in similar situations. Gemara students completed the fourth chapter of Masechet Ta’anit, and got a glimpse into life during the time of the Temple in Jerusalem. Students learned as a group and then used break-out rooms over Zoom to study in chevrutot (pairs), just as they would in person.
“We really tried to replicate an in-person learning program as much as possible, including group bonding and social activities,” relates Mayer.
Building Excitement from a Distance
Group activities included Israel-themed scavenger hunts with Scaventures; a Jerusalem-themed art class; and a challah bake. Students also enjoyed virtual field trips to different Talmudic towns, including Zippori, Beit Alfa and Tiberius, as well as a visit to the first modern Jewish city, Tel Aviv. Through the various tours, students learned about ancient and modern-day Israel, exploring the many similarities between life long ago and our lives today.
According to Rabbanit Mayer, “Recognizing that these girls have been learning over Zoom for months already, we knew we had to design a dynamic program to maintain their interest. Over and over, our teachers shared how refreshingly enthusiastic the students were, how engaged they were in the learning and in all of the programs. I have also received so many letters of gratitude from parents who really appreciated what we provided for their daughters, especially during this challenging time.”
One such parent was Elise Passy – mother of a summer program participant as well as mother of a Midreshet Lindenbaum overseas program alumna. “It was so wonderful to hear my daughters talking together about their shared experiences at Midreshet Lindenbaum,” she wrote. “Thank you so much for thinking of our teenagers during a difficult summer and providing creative, diverse experiences to engage them with Torah and with Israel.”
In the farewell ceremony, students expressed appreciation to Midreshet Lindenbaum for developing this creative and meaningful program for them to learn and explore both the worlds of Torah and Israel throughout history. Says Yakira Schonbrun of White Plains, New York: “It was amazing to be in an environment in which everyone wanted to learn and grow.”