Since 1987, the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation has been working to rebuild Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe, opening schools, kindergartens, youth centers and summer camps in areas devastated by the Holocaust. With the launch of its online learning platform in 2012, the foundation focused on bringing formal Jewish education to areas where the Jewish presence isn’t large enough to sustain a brick-and-mortar facility.
Begun in Poland in 2012, the Lauder E-Learning Schools now provides online instruction in Hebrew and Jewish studies to more than 250 students in six European countries.
This isn’t some automated, computer-based learning program. Rather, it connects students via video with real teachers and other students in far-flung areas for live, video-based classes and discussions. Instructors teach the students in their native language and interact with them in real time.
The program also brings children and their families together in person multiple times a year. The program is entirely free of charge, and each participating student receives a tablet computer that permits two-way video, so the instructor can see the kids and vice versa.
“The Lauder Foundation saw that they were catering for people in capital cities, but there were still many children living outside of these cities where it was not possible to go to day schools,” said Gafna Ganova, one of the deputy directors of the Lauder school in Prague, whose e-learning program educates 42 Jewish kids ages 7-18. “So we created a program for families that either live in other communities where there are no Jewish schools or who live completely detached from the Jewish community.”
In Germany, where over 100 students from 36 cities participate in e-learning, the program offers a wide range of learning opportunities, including a special track for bar- and bat-mitzvah age teenagers that culminates in a trip to Israel, and a program for older teens called J Teens, in addition to adult learning. The 100 spots for this year’s Berlin Shabbat gathering sold out within hours, and the long waiting list prompted the foundation to seek out additional capacity.
In addition to Poland and Germany, Lauder e-learning programs are available in Slovakia, Hungary and Greece. Because many Jewish parents themselves lack Jewish knowledge, some of the programs also include online courses for adults.
Read more at JTA.