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From Virtual to Reality: Jewish Online School Hosts First In-Person Gatherings

From Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Tokyo, Japan, children log into the Nigri Jewish Online School (JOS) at all hours for customized Jewish learning. It’s the Jewish school that never sleeps — catering to students and families across the globe. Since its inception in 2010, meetings between students have been completely virtual. But in June, for the first time ever, JOS hosted meticulously planned in-person get-togethers, to the delight of students and their families. 

Global Reach, Individual Impact

JOS has seen much success with their online programming, and currently has over 400 students internationally. Its student body is diverse both geographically and in terms of their educational backgrounds and needs. 

JOS is equipped to accommodate students for a full-time, rigorous day school program, a Hebrew school curriculum, or personal tutoring sessions. Many JOS students seek an online learning platform because of lack of access to in-person Jewish schooling in their area, while others are homeschooled or otherwise prefer online learning to a traditional classroom setting. Parents say that children of all backgrounds are warmly embraced, and the administration and teachers continuously work together to accommodate every student’s needs.

Mrs. Shira Tannenbaum of Bettendorf, Iowa, moved out west nine years ago for outreach purposes and job opportunities, and currently has five children enrolled in the school. “The class sizes are small, which I think is part of the secret key to success in an online program,” says Tannenbaum. She also credits the personal attentiveness of the JOS staff, including JOS Principal Mrs. Chanie Hertzel. “Mrs. Hertzel takes the time to get to know the students and the parents, and has introduced innovative extracurricular programming to the school,” she says. Tannenbaum says her children have formed lasting connections with their teachers and friends through the platform.

Mrs. Tova Brody of Baltimore, Maryland says her children love attending the Jewish Online School. She describes how the children create songs and slideshows, and bond with their teachers and classmates over Zoom. Like Tannenbaum, Brody also commends the attentiveness of JOS staff. “You email a question, you immediately get a response,” she says. 

While their school may not be traditional in form, the heritage and skills the JOS students gain are as traditional as Jewish education gets. They practice the Mah Nishtana (the Four Questions) in preparation for Passover, and bake honey cookies together over Zoom in honor of Rosh Hashanah.

A Time to Gather

But while the students are thriving with JOS’s online model, there was still much excitement among the school community surrounding face-to-face meetings between classmates. In the spirit of the “Hakhel Year” the “year of gathering”, they finally made it happen.

In ancient times, Jews would assemble together every seventh year in Jerusalem to hear portions of the Torah read by the king of Israel. In the modern era, the Lubavitcher Rebbe always encouraged Jewish people to utilize the Hakhel Year to increase in unity through special gatherings. It was a perfect motivation to get the kids together.

“We wanted to create a sophisticated program that would be engaging for the students and their parents, but also simple enough to be run by the host families,” says Mrs. Hertzel

JOS staff prepared all-inclusive “party in a box” packages for host families in each region, complete with everything from game supplies, crafts, and snacks, to labels, instructions, and branded swag. Thirteen groups gathered throughout the United States at centralized meet-up locations. Over 100 packages were mailed to students who live far from those rally points, who were encouraged to make their own Hakhel events with their families and Jewish friends.

“I was blown away by the attention to detail in the package. We received a fully printed schedule and all the supplies we needed,” says Mrs. Brody. To be at the meetup she hosted, one family drove for three hours from Virginia. The camaraderie was well worth it. 

“It was beautiful to see the children give tzedakah, make brachot on the food, and say pesukim (Torah passages) together,” says Brody. “JOS has created a community.”

Mrs. Hertzel says she hopes to arrange more in-person programs for the future, including Shabbatons. 

In the meantime, there will always be at least one JOS class going on somewhere in the world — for as their motto goes, JOS is there for every Jewish child of every age, at any place and any time.

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