July 21, 2024
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Ma’ayanot Awarded $20K Grant for ‘Personalizing Torah’

Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls’ “Personalizing Torah” is a new, research-based and Torah-focused project to expand the presence of God in its school’s religious education. Under the Jewish Education Innovation Challenge’s (JEIC) “God Expansion” initiative, Ma’ayanot was awarded $20,000 to inspire its students’ spiritual connections for real, meaningful and lasting religious growth.

Leading the Personalizing Torah project, Rabbi Dr. Jay Goldmintz of Ma’ayanot identified the current challenges in the Jewish day school education system and the consequent importance of new initiatives.

“We often teach texts and assume that students will walk away with the same messages, the same excitement, the same passion that we ourselves have as teachers and learners. But the truth is that for a variety of reasons, that has not always been the case,” said Rabbi Goldmintz.

CB Neugroschl, principal of Ma’ayanot, emphasized that “Personalizing Torah is about internalizing and personalizing students’ relationships with Hashem to consistently ask how Torah informs our lives. Torah study is not just about building facts and knowledge around Torah, but around building your own inner world. Ma’ayanot is very intentional that the time we devote for Torah study is about reflecting and asking questions in order to enhance our own inner spirituality.”

For the past two years Ma’ayanot has been experimenting with a small cohort of faculty looking at different avenues for religious growth. Personalizing Torah is the faculty’s united front to meet the religious and spiritual needs of the grade 9-12 student body.

Personalizing Torah has been fully functional in Ma’ayanot’s 2020-21 academic year since August. The project focuses on three aspects of religious growth, both in and outside of the classroom: its formal curriculum, mishmar program and religious guidance.

For its curriculum, Ma’ayanot seeks to reinvigorate and personalize students’ everyday classroom learning experiences by reassessing educational materials, classroom environment and student-teacher interactions.

“We want to encourage students to internalize and not just learn the texts for their knowledge base or to be able to spit them back on tests,” Rabbi Goldmintz emphasized. “We want to be able to do so in a way that is research-based, methodical and pedagogically sound. We want our students to have a passion for learning but also a passion for living Jewishly.”

Personalizing Torah envisions teachers as fellow learners with students. Neugroschl described the importance in normalizing the continuous religious struggle surrounding tefilla, reflection and faith, regardless of age.

The mishmar program, he explained, consistently engages students in their religious lives beyond the classroom. Once a week, more than 280 students meet over Zoom for evening sessions focused on a variety of interests related to their relationship with God. Each student has the opportunity to reflect on the impact of the session and submit a feedback form, which helps Ma’ayanot continuously improve these sessions.

Another tool is the school’s approach to religious guidance. Each grade level is assigned a religious counselor mashpeah to specifically address the religious experiences, needs and potential struggles of each developmental stage.

“We have a commitment for our students to deepen their relationships with Hashem and their own sense of self as young Jewish women: thinking, feeling, growing and stretching themselves for their own inner world,” said Neugroschl.

While the funding from JEIC is for one year, Rabbi Goldmintz explained that “Personalizing Torah is forever. We believe it can ultimately make a contribution to the field as well, but for now we are building a foundation, with thanks to the JEIC.”

By Olivia Butler

 

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