Launched in the spring by the Israeli American Council, or IAC, the Ofek Learning Hub offers classes on an array of topics related to Judaism, Jews and Israel in Hebrew or English (or both). The idea is to maintain and cultivate American Jews’ connection to Israel even at a time when travel to Israel is not possible because of the coronavirus.
Ofek Hub’s development is part of the IAC’s general approach to identifying needs in the American Jewish community and coming up with innovative ways to meet them. Founded by Israeli Americans living in California, the IAC has made this sort of startup mentality part of the organization’s DNA.
In this case, Ofek Hub was created to meet the urgent needs of North American Jews left without an educational framework when COVID-19 suddenly forced them to shutter their schools, synagogues and Jewish community centers. Its small virtual classrooms (10-15 students) encourage interaction between students and teachers, as well as among students. The program’s mostly Israeli-American teachers have been trained to utilize the latest online learning tools specifically suited for distance learning. Most of the classes run for five sessions and cost $65.
While many of the classes are directed at young children, teens and adults use Ofek Hub, too. So far, more than 1,600 students have taken over 100 courses through the program.
Although the hub was born in response to the pandemic, it’s not just for the pandemic, highlighting Ofek Hub’s broader mission to help Jews in the Diaspora strengthen their ties with Israel, Israelis and the Jewish people as a whole.
Ofek’s courses include Hebrew ulpan language learning (beginner to advanced) as well as classes on Israeli innovation, Israeli culture, food, music and diversity, the Israeli martial art of Krav Maga, the effects of technology on children, a course geared to bar- and bat-mitzvah kids, book clubs and more.