Jewish Journey Project – From Innovation to Self-Sustaining
July 15th, 2016
Celebrating its fourth year, JCC Manhattan’s Jewish Journey Project (JJP) is an innovative supplemental Jewish education program for 3rd – 7th graders based on four visionary pillars: flexibility, innovation, collaboration and community. Together with congregational partners from around the area, JJP has engaged more than 800 children and their families by using the rich and diverse history of New York City as an experiential “classroom.” Some of its most popular courses are Architecture: DIY Jewish Building, In the Footsteps of American Jewish History: A Walking Course, JJP NYC Museum Hop, and FoodCraft: The Jewish Culinary Tradition.
In addition, JJP’s innovative Hebrew Homepage is an internet-based, one-on-one video conferencing Hebrew-language learning model with college students as tutors. Each student engages in a weekly 30 minute online session with their tutor (that they both schedule), choosing from a Learn to Read Hebrew track for beginners, a Reading Fluency for Prayerbook Hebrew, and soon a Modern Hebrew track.
Hebrew Homepage was a wonderful experience for our family. While I was initially unsure about “virtual” teaching, the kids were actually more engaged than they ever seemed to be in the classroom setting. The secret ingredients in this approach are the wonderful tutors who are knowledgeable and great with kids. This was especially true for my son with special needs. Not only did he get 1:1 support that matched his pace but his tutor was highly sensitized to his unique learning style and flexible with lesson plans.
—Lisa Fleisher, parent of JJP student
Synagogues and families tell JJP they are interested in the benefits that the Hebrew Homepage can offer all students, whether or not they are enrolled in JJP. Responding to this demand, JJP will roll out the Hebrew Homepage as a stand-alone service that any congregation or student can subscribe to, to strengthen their Hebrew acquisition. As a way of becoming a sustainable venture beyond the pilot funding phase, Hebrew Homepage will become a fee-for-service program that will help offset the philanthropic contributions that launched JJP.
Along with Hebrew Homepage, JJP, in partnership with Behrman House, continues to offer Shalom Hebrew, a free app that teaches the alef-bet and basic Hebrew decoding skills through a variety of modalities, including animation, images, slideshows, texts, sound cues, customized flash cards, interactive readings, activities and games, and recordings. And, since JJP engages many families with little or no previous involvement in Jewish institutional and synagogue life, it developed an alternative B’nai Mitzvah ceremony—a Brit Atid. Over the course of a year, 7th grade students and parents meet six times for family learning, and students meet weekly in their own class, Judaism On One Foot: Bring It Home and Making It Your Own. Students also study individually with a teacher to read and discuss their Torah portion, and develop a response to this portion that might be a video, musical performance, or an interactive experience for guests. The actual Brit Atid is a communal celebration where families and friends gather to share their presentations on their Torah portions.
In just four years, JJP has demonstrated how innovative educational experiences—with New York as its “classroom”—engage all kinds of families in Jewish life. Now, with JJP’s new sustainable Hebrew language instruction model, even more families will be able to access meaningful Jewish learning.
The Jim Joseph Foundation has awarded two grants to the Jewish Journey Project totaling $500,000.