June 14, 2024
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Friendship Circle Relishes Second Year of Hebrew School

Friendship Circle wrapped up its second year of Hebrew school earlier this month with another year of experience and fond memories under its belt.

While the director of Friendship Circle, Zeesy Grossbaum, was amazed with last year’s turnout, she was even more impressed with how much progress the students made. She said they were able to work out all the kinks last year so both staff and students came in with learning styles to adapt to, and an overall idea of what to expect.

“This year was just a whole new level,” Mrs. Grossbaum said. “It just felt like a whole other place.”

The Grossbaums started the Hebrew school after they learned that the organization Jewish Education for Special Children (JESC) was closing its doors after 30 years of service. For the Friendship Circle director, a lack of Jewish education for children with special needs was “not an option.”

The school, which reached about 50 students this past year, is held for three and half hours on 25 Sundays during the school year. The students are divided into eight classes based on age and ability.

Classes are taught by qualified teachers and each class is equipped with a staff member, usually a high school student, who provides extra or one-on-one support for some students. After formal class time, students take part in recreational activities like gym, art and music that also reinforce topics they might cover in class.

For this past Pesach, students participated in a seder at school in order to learn about some of the customs of the holiday that they can participate in with family members. The younger students even made their own haggadot that were filled with pictures of them acting out some of the traditions at the seder table.

Parents like Moshe Kinderlehrer, the publisher of The Jewish Link, are pleased with the projects their children bring home and with the overall experience their children are having. He is grateful that his son, who participates in the program, is receiving a Jewish education. He speaks as a parent and as a long-time supporter of Friendship Circle.

“We’re happy that, as parents, we knew what was going on in the classroom,” Rabbi Kinderlehrer said. His son often came home with materials that explained what activities they had participated in. “That was really meaningful to us.” He is excited to witness more growth in the years ahead.

Mrs. Grossbaum likes to keep the activities interactive. For a lesson on brachot, the school’s curriculum director, Chevee Szokovski, organized a bracha fair as an opportunity to teach students a new mitzvah. Students visited different tables with foods and activities to try and learn the appropriate bracha—they ground wheat for mezonot, made fruit kabobs for ha’eitz and shaped challah for hamotzi.

The teachers use the program Aleph Champ to teach students to read Hebrew, Mrs. Szokovski explained. She will be working full time next year as Friendship Circle’s program director. Teachers keep the lessons multisensory in order to best engage their students, and conduct formal assessments twice a year for feedback on their learning.

“At the end of the day they should really love it,” Mrs. Szokovski said of the curriculum’s impact on students. “They should really feel like a part of the Jewish people.”

Both Mrs. Szokovski and Mrs. Grossbaum hope that next year will be even more beneficial for both staff members and students. Mrs. Grossbaum is thinking about expanding the formal education time during the three-and-a-half-hour period in order to maximize the curriculum’s effects, and introducing more interactive workshops for students.

“The program is growing,” she said. She wants children to experience an education similar to what they would have in a Hebrew day school. “I want to keep Judaism alive for all of them.”

If you would like to register your child for Hebrew school, if you’re looking to join the staff or volunteer for Friendship Circle or if you’re a professional or amateur photographer looking for an opportunity to get involved, please email [email protected].

Elizabeth Zakaim is a student at The College of New Jersey and a Jewish Link contributor.

 

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