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Working together helped these Jewish day schools adapt to the pandemic

In Jewish life, the Hebrew word kehillah, meaning congregation or community, bears immeasurable significance. So much of Jewish practice is based on coming together as a kehillah, and connecting in a meaningful way with family and friends in both good and bad times. Central to any kehillah are three foundational pillars – family, education and Jewish practice/culture. In mid-March, as the global pandemic forced us into our homes and caused schools and synagogues to shut their doors, our kehillah felt temporarily threatened.

In the face of a growing global health crisis, we quickly pivoted to invent and learn new tactics to educate our students from afar. With the help of technology, we fought to maintain those connections virtually to our Greater Boston day school kehillah.

For nearly four months, all of our schools participated in what will be remembered as the first and largest remote learning experiment ever conducted. With great pride, we saw our students adapt quickly and succeed in this new environment. They continued to engage in their learning, collaborated with one another, and creatively connected with their school communities during this time. That’s not to say there weren’t difficulties along the way, but we strove to meet those challenges head on. And with the help of Gateways and Combined Jewish Philanthropies, we focused on the needs of each individual student – joining in thousands of unique partnerships with them and their families to ensure no student fell behind.

As is true for many areas of Judaism, our success in remote education came from creating and adhering to a number of guiding principles. First, the health and safety of all constituents is paramount. Second, we are committed to ensuring equity and access for all students to a robust learning experience. Third, we aim to always meet the social and emotional needs of our students and faculty. Fourth, we will be nimble in response to rapidly evolving guidelines. Fifth, it is imperative to maintain transparent and effective communication, and sixth, we must prioritize community building throughout.

In doing so we found a new sense of unity without uniformity in the Boston Jewish day school community at large.

At the same time, our Jewish day schools in Greater Boston collectively took this extraordinary opportunity to reflect on our individual and communal strengths and shortcomings in order to ensure we came out of this circumstance better and stronger than we came into it.

To that effect, we created five working groups designed to leverage the collective wisdom, experience and expertise of the professionals across our schools. A school leaders’ group, a joint medical advisory board, a joint technology working group, a joint mental health professionals’ working group and a joint special education working group, both of which are being facilitated by Gateways.

Together we are identifying and effectively solving the issues our individual and collective communities face – from equity of access to inclusion and everything in between – especially as they are exacerbated by the ongoing threat of the global pandemic.

Looking back on the semester, we are incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished. Both from a continued education standpoint – having maintained a full 8am – 3pm daily schedule for more than 2,000 students across Greater Boston – and from a foundational standpoint. Our increased approach to joint collaboration has enabled us to form a more dynamic day school network that will continue to uplift our institutions and communities far into the future.

We don’t yet know what the fall will bring. But in any situation, we know our strong, flexible programming will ensure that students continue to be inspired by their Jewish values and meaningfully engage in Jewish life and learning. Above all, health, connection and kehillah will be nurtured and prioritized. We will do everything in our power to ensure that our students will continue to thrive, find joy in learning and be supported and guided as they navigate through and engage with our increasingly turbulent world. We are a diverse community and stronger together for it. And the strength we find from that diversity, which has enabled us to face new challenges and ensure that every child can find their right academic fit, will continue to lead us.

It’s not the successes or failures themselves, but what we take and learn from the experience overall that will continue to shape us as institutions moving forward. The greatest opportunities often lie in those crucial moments of crisis. Just as we’ve done, we would encourage other schools and kehillot to experiment in new models of collaboration and collective partnership – beyond standard best practice sharing. Be open to stepping outside the box and to hearing the perspectives and ideas of new and different teams. Institutions that might have once considered themselves competitors can instead lean on one another’s strengths to discover how they can make every school stronger. In taking this approach we will undoubtedly continue to see success across our day school kehillah both virtually and in-person for many years to come.

This article was written by the below members of the Greater Boston Jewish Day School Collective.

Adam Fischer, Head of School, The Rashi School

Amy Gold, Head of School, Epstein Hillel School

Brian Cohen, Head of School, MetroWest Jewish Day School

Dalia Hochman, Head of School, Gann Academy

Esther Ciment, Head of School, New England Hebrew Academy

Rabbi Dan Rodkin, Head of School, Shaloh House Jewish Day School

Rabbi Jordan Soffer, Head of School, Striar Hebrew Academy of Sharon

Rabbi Uri Feldman, Head of School, Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael

Rebecca Lurie, Head of School, Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston

Scott Mattoon, Chief Executive Officer, Maimonides School

Shira Deener, Head of School, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School

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