Thursday, May 21, 2020

How 1 Yeshiva Does Remote Schooling: An Example for All

When the Coronavirus hit New York - almost without warning - Jewish day schools, Yeshivos and Mesivtos had to scramble to find a solution for schooling kids from home while keeping them engaged - without free access to the internet.

Yeshiva Ohavei Torah in Riverdale is known for not only its top-notch learning in both Torah and secular studies, but its warm atmosphere and individualized attention. It's a place where no boy falls through the cracks. How could Ohavei maintain its unique atmosphere and commitment to excellence remotely?

In mid-March, when the Yeshiva sent the boys home from its dorms, Rabbi Chaim Pechter, the Menahel of Ohavei, instituted teleconferencing classes, and the full schedule of phone meetings went right up until Pesach- literally.

"We know the value and the potential of downtime," says Rabbi Pechter. "We are not just a school where boys learn and go home. We are responsible for filling their days with Torah and mitzvos."

While the teleconferencing lasted till Pesach break, some of the rebbeim felt a loss of the kesher they normally have with the talmidim. "One of the most hard-fought and hard-won values in our yeshiva is the trust of the boys," says Rabbi Pechter, "and the relationship between the talmidim and the rebbeim. Our rebbeim are so in-tune with them, and I was getting reports that they felt that some of the boys were not fully engaged. That's why I'm so thankful to Hakadosh Boruch Hu for Rabbi Tesser, our executive director."

Rabbi Yaakov Tesser did some intense research and found the perfect device through which to engage the boys without putting them in danger: a restricted Amazon Fire with a Kosher Zoom application. This device, available through KZoom, ensures that the boys will use only the Amazon device, hiding the ID of each meeting room to ensure using just the kosher screen.

"We handed them out to families right after Pesach, and the response from the boys and the parents has been tremendous," says Rabbi Tesser.

Yeshiva Ohavei Torah has just released a video featuring parents describing their experience during the yeshiva's transition time. Click Here to read more.

"We weren't going to lower the standards for our boys just because we had to suddenly create a remote school. We had to find a way to give them a complete program of studies, fully interactive - in a safe environment," Rabbi Pechter says.

The restricted Amazon Fires worked so well, that the Yeshiva's rebbeim began reporting increased connection with the boys. "I can see every boy. I can see if he's chapping the material. I can call on him and tell who's answering. I can see the reaction on their faces," says Rabbi Yehuda Goldfeder, 11th grade Rebbe at Ohavei.

In addition, Ohavei’s rebbeim make extra efforts to reach out to the boys one-on-one so that they still feel the strong sense of the Ohavei community, along with individual attention from rebbe to talmid.

Ari Kleinhendler, a 12th grader at Ohavei, says it’s going “remarkably well. At first I was very sceptical as to how it would be to have classes online, but it’s working out surprisingly well and everyone’s getting the programming down. The kesher is actually made stronger when we have to invest our energy in making the connection.”

Rabbi Tesser explains, "We received so many positive responses from rebbeim and parents that I started getting calls from other yeshivos asking about our setup."

"Of course we'd all love to be back in yeshiva," Rabbi Pechter says.  "But when Hashem sends you lemons, you have got to find a way to make lemonade. You can't settle for less when it comes to a bochur's education. You can't just say 'These are crazy times' and throw up your hands. Our mesorah can't wait. Torah learning won't wait. All this downtime the kids have at home needs to be filled with Torah, otherwise, what good can come out of this lockdown?"

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