Our Venture of the month features a congregation that has gone through a systemic change process while working with Jewish Learning Venture. This month, we are featuring Or Hadash, who revised their school curriculum to better accommodate students and their families. Education Director Barbara Weisman discussed how this process both challenged and invigorated the Or Hadash community, and how the result of her work with Dr. Gloria Becker and Jewish Learning Venture has improved the student experience at the Hebrew school program.

JLV: Please describe the change, innovation, or transformation your organization has achieved:
OH: Last year, I noticed that attendance was sluggish on the mid-week day of our school program. It prompted me to personally poll each family in our Hebrew school program and the consensus was that it was difficult to navigate getting children to school due to both parent and child obligations. In order to meet the needs of our families, we combined our Tuesday and Sunday hours to create a one day a week program. Dr. Gloria Becker worked with us to streamline our curriculum and move to a trimester model which enables us to create units including a semester of intensive learning which differs for each grade. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive in the execution of our newly redesigned program this year.

Additionally, I am particularly proud of an Or Hadash initiative that I implemented a few years ago. It is called Mensch2Mensch Mentors. In previous years, our volunteer Mensches (comprised of valued members of the Or Hadash community) utilized their considerable skills and passions to volunteer as guest teachers in our school. They shared their talents and passions regarding Jewish life and learning with our students. In our new program, we started with those people, and added others, who agree to allow one of our students to call them at least once a week. At that time, they and the student will go over a focus prayer for about twenty minutes over the phone. Mensches also share their insights and Jewish stories with their young friend. Mentors also encourage students to meet them at Or Hadash for services and community events. The program launched with a face-to-face session where the adults, students, and the students’ parents all met over breakfast to meet and get to know each other. Students have been calling their mensches regularly and the program has been a huge success. The pairs will be called up to the Torah for a group aliyah on our upcoming Shabbat B’Yachad.

JLV: How did Jewish Learning Venture help you achieve what you described above?
OH: Dr. Gloria Becker helped shepherd us through the school model and curriculum review process. Her facilitation in working with our Curriculum Committee was invaluable. She helped us to step back and get a bird’s eye view. This enabled us to create enduring understandings and redesign our program. We are thrilled with the results and feel that our Or Hadash community has grown in the process.

JLV: What words of wisdom would you share with other organizations who are interested in making a similar change?
OH: It took a great deal of courage to undertake such a drastic change. Or Hadash is a really special community and we were able to work honestly and collaboratively to ask key questions and take a hard look at where we were and where we wanted to go. I would encourage others to bring their communities together to undertake this work. I feel that there was a great deal of bonding in undertaking this work together.

I would like to thank Dr. Gloria Becker and Jewish Learning Venture for their help in working with us on our curriculum redesign. Your help was invaluable!