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26 April 2013

Hebrew and Judaics, maybe not what you expected.

By Orna Eldor-Gerling
Executive Director
MoEd, a Jewish Afterschool Community
Chevy Chase, MD

When the children of MoEd spoke about Jacob and Eisav, immersed in matters of inheritance, the girls broke out in a loud protest about the unfairness of biblical law that favors boys. When we discussed Megilat Ester one of the children asked how come Esther existed without a father and a mother…

MoEd is a different kind of educational program. We believe in kids’ natural curiosity, and build their Jewish education on the knowledge and experience they and their friends bring, combined with a good dose of information presented in fun, informal, creative and unique ways.

MoEd is a grassroots program created by a number of families aspiring to bridge the gap between the choice they made to send their kids to one of the county’s excellent public schools and their personal need to give the children an in depth Jewish education infused with Hebrew. MoEd breathes new life into the hours children of working parents have to spend in after care, by providing a different, fun way to involve them in their heritage and the larger community of Jewish kids.

We understand that after a long day at school, some kids need to relax, some need to blow off steam and other just want to play with friends. We try to meet the kids where they are. As human beings, we all like stories, and thankfully stories are a large and wonderful part of our Jewish heritage… so we are master storytellers. We not only read the stories, we do our best to bring them to life and engage. When we told the story of Noah’s ark – the group launched into a lengthy discussion about the kinds of birds Noah sent, which was first, how many times was each sent and more. It gave kids an opportunity to make the story their own, interjecting what they know about it (and about birds…)

Children arrive at MoEd between 3:30pm - 4:00pm; they get off the bus and run outside to play. At 4:15 one of the kids rings the bell and everyone comes rushing in, we wash our hands, say the Brachot and have snack. The program begins around 4:30 with circle time, where we discuss the day’s events, listen to the kids describe their day, and then discuss the current topic we are working on, listening to what the children have to say about it and involving them in the discussion. Finally, we lay out the plans for this afternoon.

We play a lot of games. Many Israeli games lend themselves nicely to educational content. Games like “Havila Hegia” (Pass the Parcel) are used to teach colors and numbers, “Yam Yabasha” (Sea and Land) to repeat and practice words, “Amudu” (Freeze) “Tofeset Tsvaeem” (Color Tag), and many many more. We employ quizzes, trivia games and connect the dot worksheets to the task of repeating Hebrew texts and specific words.

We use a lot of crafts, put on skits and if you drop by on one of our full days – you may find the kids cooking or baking.

Yesterday we went out to the park, to celebrate Lag Baomer. The kids collected wood and learned how to start a fire and then, sitting around the fire we talked about the holiday, Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, Rabbi Akiva and the Jewish revolt against the Roman empire, we roasted potatoes, marshmallows, and cooked some delicious mint tea.

As the founding director of the program looking back on a very successful first year, there are some shining successes and there were a few challenges as well.
When I see the children engaged in real discussions, borrowing tidbits from their lives and thus bringing their Jewish heritage to life, I can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment. There is also no better feeling than to see how much kids love to come to the program, they love the atmosphere, they love their friends and yes… the also love the content we provide. It is also great to give parents the peace of mind that comes with a great afterschool program.

After hurricane Sandy, we made a decision to open MoEd when all schools were still out. The hurricane had already moved out of the region and children (as well as parents) needed to get out of the house. I made a few phone calls and sent out a mass Email - in no time at all 18 children gathered to meet in their afterschool community, giving everyone a much needed break. This turned out to be one of our greatest days at MoEd.

On the other hand, one of the more frustrating moments for me was an Open House we had planned where 26 people RSVP’d, and out of those only seven showed up. Outreach for a new program is always a challenge, while many people find the idea appealing, actually joining requires a different drive.

While the idea of using the after school time to connect kids to Hebrew and Judaics in a fun and engaging way is very straight forward, simple and smart, actually doing it can be quite a challenge. An afterschool program like ours must always keep in mind that the kids come to the program after a full day of school, and have little desire to sit and learn. We must also remember that a child’s happiness is largely dependent on their ability to find a friend or playmate to connect with.

I feel that over this past year MoEd has more than withstood the challenge. Day in and day out, the program skillfully finds ways to provide Jewish content in a fun, informal ways in a relaxed social setting, and has become a warm second home for 24 lucky kids.

Click here to visit MoEd's program page on this site

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