July 21, 2024
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A New Chapter for Jewish Education: Friendship Circle Hebrew School

Bright orange T-shirts greet students as they walk into The Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey on Sunday mornings. The bright smiles on the staff match the orange on their shirts, and the students instantly respond to their warmth. RYNJ buzzes with Torah learning as these students come to the Friendship Circle Hebrew School program. The Friendship Circle Hebrew School began in September 2015, as an extension of the Jewish Education for Special Children (JESC) program, also housed at RYNJ. As JESC closed its doors, the board approached Rabbi Moshe and Zeesy Grossbaum of the Bergen County Friendship Circle, and asked that they incorporate Jewish education into their activities.

The Grossbaums quickly flew into action and hired qualified staff to help develop the curriculum and provide a nurturing environment. They are thrilled with the way the first year has gone thus far. They have seven classes, with students ranging from age 5 up to a post-bar/bat mitzvah class, taught by engaged, skilled and dedicated teachers, with teachers’ assistants and behaviorists to assist in the classrooms.

Nancy Brophy has worked with Friendship Circle for ten years, and did the hiring and intakes for the Hebrew School. When Zeesy Grossbaum approached her about the school, she knew this had to be a real school, with a structured curriculum and the ability to address the various needs of the students.

“If we do this, it must be truly individualized for each kid,” Brophy stated.

She implements curriculum tailored to each child according to his or her needs. If someone in a younger grade is on a higher reading level for Hebrew, they find a way to give the student the instruction they need.

“We speak to their parents and classroom teachers in order to replicate behavior plans,” explained Brophy. For instance, if a child has a one-to-one assistant Monday through Friday, they make sure to provide that on Sunday as well. “Friendship Circle Hebrew School is part of the global development for the child,” Brophy asserted. Brophy also added that the Hebrew School professionals continue to impress her each week. “We have been extremely fortunate in our staff,” she acknowledged.

Shternie Litzman was also brought in as the educational director. She knew the schedule could not be passive learning, and worked to break up the learning into a sit-stand model where the students would transition between active learning and listening.

“Those who can learn, must,” stated Litzman. “This is a real curriculum. Next year will not be repetition, but a continuation building on this past year.”

While all the subjects are enjoyed, parsha is a definite favorite. When Grossbaum and Litzman were determining which areas of Judaic studies to focus on, they asked parents for suggestions, and the requests were overwhelmingly in favor of parsha learning. Grossbaum explained the pride and excitement she feels when a student comes and tells her he cannot wait to hear the parsha of the week.

“To bring Jewish curriculum to the Friendship Circle activities has been a huge sense of pride,” Grossbaum said. “The Rosenbaum Yeshiva has been incredibly generous and amazing to work with. They really gave us the space we need to make this work,” she continued.

Looking forward, Grossbaum, Litzman, Brophy and the entire staff hope to build on the success of this first year and use everything they learned to make an even stronger year to come.

By Jenny Gans

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