Dear Talmud Torah Families --
Your students have been remarkable! Over the past six weeks, we have all experienced unprecedented disruption in our normal patterns of living, and yet have turned that disruption into opportunities for finding new ways to partner with you for the benefit of your children’s Jewish journeys. We can certainly agree that it has not been an easy road, and yet it has been one that has offered us glimpses into our very souls--asking us to seek new paths in support of those ideals that we consider essential to us, to our families, and to our community.
Who can still clearly recall the first days of mandated social distancing and school/business closures? In truth, it was only a few weeks ago, and yet it seems as if the information-overload we have all experienced has caused it to fade like a distant memory. To give you a sense of the road we have traveled together, and to provide some additional context as to how Talmud Torah pivoted to our current Distance Learning plan, I’d like to share an excerpt from an email response I wrote to one of our long-time community supporters who inquired early-on about our ongoing need for resources in light of the impending chaos:
April 6, 2020
“I hope all is well with you and your extended family in the midst of these most unusual times!
When I saw the weekly community update just before Shabbat, I was both heartened by the fact that the Jewish Federation was shining a light on the importance of Jewish Education within our community, as well as distracted by the unspoken message that might be perceived by others regarding those individual schools/institutions who were NOT mentioned in this update. So, let me share with you what we have done at Talmud Torah, how we have accomplished it, why we didn't request Phase 1 Emergency Funding, and what our plans are moving forward to carry us to the end of the school year.
I couldn't be prouder of the immediate response we made (in support of our students and their families) to deliver meaningful and interactive educational experiences, both in terms of content and continuity, in spite of our need to do so through distance learning modalities. Upon the announcement of the pending closing of the JCC campus, I cancelled classes for two days and asked my team to create a plan for the delivery of two weeks of curricular content using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous instruction. [By comparison, public schools closed for WEEKS, not days, to prepare and put a plan into place!]. Synchronous learning primarily for our older students was accomplished via Zoom (we had the foresight to have established accounts months ago), and the asynchronous learning (for both younger and older students) was primarily project-based, all followed-up with individual faculty phone contact with families. Our adult tutoring staff also jumped into action and worked with individual students. The immediate need for only two weeks of content was dictated by the approaching proximity of our already-scheduled Spring and Pesach Breaks, which began on March 29. Beginning after Pesach, we will have completely transformed our program to all-synchronous, interactive learning for all of our classes via Zoom classrooms. My assumption is that we will not be able to return to the physical classroom for the last five weeks of school (our school year ends on Thursday, May 21).
We opted not to apply for Phase 1 Emergency Funding for two reasons: (1) The additional costs for Talmud Torah to transform the deliverables of our program to a virtual one were minimal—our investment has been in terms of personnel, man-hours, and commitment, not infrastructure and devices. We have been able to succeed because of our staff's pre-planning, expertise, commitment, and creativity. Many of our digital resources and hardware had already been acquired and/or newly-created by us over the past 18 months, so there was no immediate need for major expenditures at this time; and (2) There are FAR GREATER needs in the community for immediate emergency funding than our organization! When I see and hear of the extreme needs of places like Sholom, whose residents are at the greatest risk from this pandemic, I do not want us to receive one dollar in assistance that might otherwise go in support of life-or-death situations! We run a fiscally-lean and fiscally-responsible organization that can (at least in the short-term) handle the few additional expenses that have surfaced because of COVID-19. We are committed to sustain our excellent program and retain our teaching and administrative staff. We will certainly turn to the Jewish community for additional support as unusual and/or emergent needs arise, but in the short-term, we want to support the community by being as self-sufficient as possible.”
Our needs will certainly evolve as we anticipate the coming school year, as will our sensitivity to the needs of all families within our Talmud Torah community. If you are in a position to help us meet future needs, we invite you to step forward and share your resources. We will continue to find ways to include every family that wants their child to benefit from what our school has to offer--providing our students with the tools for living an intentionally Jewish life!
Hazzan Jeremy Lipton, Head of School